Your Weekend Reader for Jan. 6-7

by | Jan 6, 2024 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

I hear there’s some sort of Big Ten Conference preseason football preview coming up Monday night, when the University of Washington — departing the wreckage of the Pac-12 Conference for the Big Ten next season — plays Michigan, that perennial Big Ten power, for the national championship. The Associated Press’ Paul Newberry has a column in which he makes the case that it’s hard not to root for the Huskies in this swan song for Pac-12 football as we know it. As for the prospects of a rebuilt Pac-12, headlined by its two remaining members, Oregon State and Washington State, Newberry is unfortunately blunt:

While those two lonely schools have vowed to carry on in some fashion, they would seem to have few options beyond fashioning some sort of merger with a second-tier league such as the Mountain West.

Even if the Pac-12 name carries on in some fashion, it will be a pitiful shell of the proud league it once was.

The bad news keeps coming for NuScale Power, the Oregon company working to develop small modular nuclear reactors based on technology developed at Oregon State University: Mike Rogoway at The Oregonian/OregonLive is reporting that the company laid off up to 40% of its 550 employees on Friday. The company has 550 or so employees, but these layoffs would have a disproportionate impact on Corvallis, where most of its workers live. (The company’s headquarters are in Portland.) This news, first reported by HuffPost, comes on the heels of a November setback when a consortium of Western power agencies scuttled plans to build a NuScale reactor in Idaho.

Portland International Airport continues to be in the news, in a bad way, after a window section blew out of a brand-new Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliner about 20 minutes after liftoff Friday evening. This Oregonian story says the sudden air rush ripped the shirt off a teenager who was sitting in the middle row, but no one was seriously injured. All the oxygen masks deployed, and the Alaska Airlines flight to Ontario, California returned safely to PDX. Alaska Airlines said it has grounded all its Boeing 737-9 planes for safety inspections. (On Saturday, the federal government ordered that all Boeing 737 Max 9 planes be grounded pending safety checks.) To paraphrase one of the many tweets about the story: This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you wear your seat belts on the plane.

Federal plans to install offshore wind turbines along the Southern Oregon coast are generating considerable opposition among residents of the area and others — including Oregon Natural Resources Industries, an offshoot of that Timber Unity group that sprang up in the mid-valley around 2019. Residents of the area say it hasn’t helped that the federal government has been unable to answer their questions about the project — but a manager with the effort says that’s partially because they don’t know all the answers yet themselves. Monica Samayoa of OPB had the story, which you can access through the Oregon Capital Chronicle website.

Robbie Sequeira, a reporter for Stateline (a nonprofit news organization that, like the Capital Chronicle, is a branch of States Newsroom), has a solid story about how states and cities increasingly are taking a tougher line on homelessness. Portland and Grants Pass are mentioned in the story, and you could argue that Corvallis could be lumped into that camp as well. This story also can be found on the Capital Chronicle’s valuable website.

Speaking of the homeless, The Oregonian reports that Oregon has the third-highest rate of homelessness in the nation, behind only New York and Vermont. This story, by Nicole Hayden, does a good job of examining some of the reasons why, and doesn’t completely ignore rural Oregon either. The 2024 Point in Time count, by the way, is coming up at the end of the month. Experts agree that the count, one of the few bits of annual data we have to gauge the scope of the issue, is an undercount.

Here’s something that won’t surprise any working journalist: A pair of political scientists have found that coverage of local politics — in this case, mayoral elections — doesn’t increase traffic to local-news websites the way that, say, a heated national election would. Many of us (still) believe that increasing coverage of local news is one key to preserving news outlets. But if readers don’t care about local news such as a mayoral election, what will they care about? Could it be that Gannett has it right with its Taylor Swift and Beyonce beats?

Cheer up: Congress is returning to what it calls work. The New York Times’ Annie Karni has a short, but entertaining video about what to expect from the House of Representatives this session. It will be hard for House members to top their outstanding performance in 2023, when it look 724 votes and passed just 27 bills. In Karni’s words:

If you’re judging by laws passed, this was a really unproductive year. If you’re looking at Congress for entertainment value or for moments of political retribution, it was a really productive year.

The problem with that, of course, is … oh, never mind.

Let’s move on to happier news this week — assuming we can find it.

The Times has a useful piece about 10 enduring nutrition myths that nutritionists wish would just go away. If changing your diet in 2024 is among your new year’s resolutions, this might give you a tip or two. (Unlike the Times video piece above, this link is a freebie, even you’re not a Times subscriber.)

My calendar says the year now is 2024, so that means it’s no longer too early to be thinking about the Academy Awards. 2023 actually was quite a good year for movies, and so Kyle Buchanan, who has somehow talked himself into a full-time job covering awards season for the Times, has compiled a list of 13 movies he thinks has a shot at a best picture nomination. Not all of these will make the cut when the nominations are announced, but if you start your Oscar homework now by catching these movies, you’ll be ahead of the game. (“Killers of the Flower Moon,” one of the titles, makes its streaming debut Friday on Apple TV+. “Barbie,” “Maestro,” “May December” and “The Holdovers” are streaming now on various services — and some you can still check out at your favorite local theater.)

Did you find that your return to what we call “normal life” right after New Year’s Day was particularly painful this year? Relax: As novelist Isle McElroy explains in this piece from The Atlantic, the vibes for the first week of the new year always are off.

Finally this week: I don’t know if you would consider this a cheerful story, but I found it intriguing: I always thought that the end of the Earth would come in 5 billion years or so when our dying sun expands to the point where it consumes the planet. Now, it turns out that scientists aren’t so sure about that — sure, the sun is going to die, but Earth itself could survive. Here’s a story from The Atlantic explaining the possibility.

We won’t have to wait 5 billion years for the next Weekend Reader; we’ll gather here next weekend.

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