Your Weekend Reader for Jan. 29-30

by | Jan 29, 2022 | Miscellaneous, Weekend Reader | 0 comments

The intersection between the coronavirus and Oregon state politics has been a busy place for the last couple of years, and traffic at that crossroads was particularly heavy this last week. But “Jeopardy!” was in the news as well. Read on:

The Gazette-Times’s Joanna Mann had good coverage of the Alsea School District’s decision to ignore the state’s mask mandate. Alsea Superintendent Marc Thielman (a Republican candidate for governor) argues that masks are ineffective at stopping the spread of coronavirus and has gotten support from his school board. In response, the state Department of Education decided to withhold about $180,000 in federal COVID relief funds from the district. Thielman’s not particularly worried about that. The story got statewide play: Here’s a story from The Oregonian/OregonLive. And here’s a story from the Oregon Capital Chronicle. This is the sort of publicity that likely will help Thielman make headway in the crowded Republican primary field. In the meantime, oddly enough, a coronavirus surge kept Alsea schools closed this past week. When they reopen on Monday, masks will be optional, except on school buses.

Meanwhile, you may be wondering: Just how crowded is that Republican field in the governor’s race? Well, I’m counting a dozen candidates, and the deadline for filing isn’t until March. The Oregon Capital Chronicle reached out this week to some of the state’s lesser-known candidates, including Thielman, to prepare short profiles. For the record, here are the Republicans whom the Capital Chronicle lists as front-runners: Christine Drazan, a former minority leader of the state House from Canby; Salem oncologist Bud Pierce; GOP consultant Bridget Barton, from West Linn; and Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam. On the Democratic side, the front-runners are former state House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland and state Treasurer Tobias Read from Beaverton. Former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof remains mired in a legal battle over whether he meets the residency requirement for the job. And don’t forget that longtime Oregon legislator Betsy Johnson has filed to run as an unaffiliated candidate.

Speaking of Kristof: Longtime Oregon journalist Brent Walth wrote about him in a long piece for Politico. As you would expect from Walth, it’s a balanced, well-reported story — and it doesn’t shy away from the issues Kristof will have to confront in his campaign, even if the Supreme Court gives him a green light on the residency question.

Of course, the state’s response to the pandemic will be a big issue this year in Oregon politics. So let’s take a look at the latest state coronavirus data by ZIP code, as prepared by The Oregonian/OregonLive, using data from the Oregon Health Authority. The good news, such as it is, is that omicron appears to be plateauing in the state’s urban areas. It’s a different story in the state’s more rural areas, where vaccination rates tend to be lower. For the week ending Jan. 26, no Benton County ZIP codes were in the state’s top 10 in terms of new cases per 10,000 population — although 97331, Oregon State University’s ZIP code, ranked No. 11, with 95 new cases (332 per 10,000). Meanwhile, a pair of Albany ZIP codes — 97321 and 97322 — each reported more than 600 new cases during the week, and landed in the state’s top 10 in the number of new cases. (This particular story is available only to Oregonian/OregonLive subscribers. While I champion the importance of newspapers charging for full access to their websites, I still think that coronavirus stories should be placed outside their paywalls.)

The Oregon State University Board of Trustees on Friday approved the “presidential leadership profile” that it will use to guide the search for OSU’s next president. In many ways, as OPB’s Meerah Powell reports, the document is similar to the one that guided the board to its last presidential selection, F. King Alexander. Alexander, as you may recall, resigned after allegations surfaced about how he handled sexual misconduct allegations at Louisiana State University — allegations that the OSU board should have known about before making its decision. The search that brought Alexander to OSU was completely confidential, and so the board has vowed to proceed with a more public search this time around. Still, outside consultants working with the board on the search say that even publicly naming finalists may deter some candidates — notably, sitting university presidents — from applying. The argument is that candidates might jeopardize their current jobs if word gets out that they’re in line for a job elsewhere. That argument still seems weak to me, but even if it has merit, I would argue it’s considerably outweighed by the importance of a public institution running a public process for its top position. In any event, if you want to assess your chances to be named OSU’s next president, check out the presidential leadership profile by clicking here.

Lee Enterprises, the owners of the Gazette-Times and the Albany Democrat-Herald, is asking stockholders to help it stop a hostile takeover bid from Alden Global Capital. Alden Global is the predatory hedge fund that’s become notorious for buying newspapers and then instituting rapacious cuts in their newsrooms. Here’s the text of a letter Lee sent to shareholders this week; I didn’t get one, of course, because I recently sold my Lee stock. Speaking of Alden, I expect it will get mentioned in a “60 Minutes” piece that might air this Sunday about the tough times facing local newspapers. Here’s a preview.

Joni Mitchell on Friday said she would join Neil Young in demanding that her music be taken off Spotify. Like Young, Mitchell said she was upset that the streaming service had given a platform to those spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations — a particular swipe at Joe Rogan’s podcast. The flap is costing Spotify some subscriptions, but Rogan’s podcast is almost certainly more financially important to the platform than Young or Mitchell’s music. And it turns out that Young himself has played a role in spreading scientific misinformation: As The Daily Beast reported this week, he’s been a longtime foe of genetically modified food, despite the scientific consensus that they’re safe for consumption.

The Weekend Reader science desk also brings us good news this week: The James Webb Space Telescope has finally arrived at its destination, about a million miles from Earth. A few months of adjustments remain before the telescope will be able to study stars and galaxies from the beginning of time, about 13.7 billion years ago. Considering the complexity of the Webb’s launch and deployment, this truly has been a remarkable story thus far — and the best should be yet to come.

Finally this week, something surprising: Tom Nichols, a former champion on “Jeopardy!,” is arguing that maybe it’s time to — you should sit down now — retire the show. Here’s his argument, in part: While the game used to showcase “the smarts of the average citizen,” now it features players who are virtual “Jeopardy!” professionals. At the least, he argues, the show should reinstate its five-game limit on how many times a contestant can win. Apparently, the game show made some other news this week — but I’m not going to make the same mistake other newspapers did and spill the beans, especially if you’re a few episodes behind in your viewing.

That’s it for this week. See you next Saturday.

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

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