Your Weekend Reader for Jan. 7-8

by | Jan 7, 2023 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

Perhaps no word in the English language has been devalued as much as “awesome.” It should be reserved for viewing photos of distant galaxies taken by the Webb Space Telescope — or when, you know, God is speaking to you from within a burning bush. It should not apply when the McDonald’s drive-through gets your order right.

But what exactly is “awe?” It’s not one of the six basic emotions identified in 1972. (Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this edition of the Weekend Reader.) But maybe it should have been, according to this fascinating story from The New York Times. Emotion researchers are pointing to new evidence that awe “is its own thing” — and that it may have psychological and physical benefits. (Like all Times stories I mention in the Weekend Reader, this requires a subscription — but my subscription allows me to “gift” free links to stories to readers; just leave a comment, and I’ll send you the link.)

Speaking of space — and we were, just a paragraph ago — here’s a cool story I stumbled across in The Atlantic, about how very large lasers are giving astronomers the ability to re-create the cosmos, without the hassle of traveling to take a close-up look at a distant nebula.

The horrifying injury to the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin during Monday night’s NFL game prompted a lot of thoughtful writing over the week. Hamlin remains in critical condition, after suffering cardiac arrest while making what appeared to be a routine tackle, but he seems to be making remarkable progress. The news about Hamlin is good, but lately, it seems to me, enjoying the NFL requires a sort of cognitive dissonance — you have to somehow ignore the fact that these players are literally putting their lives at risk for our amusement (and, frankly, the league has offered little more than lip service to the idea that it’s truly interested in protecting player safety). The Atlantic’s Mark Leibovich expresses these thoughts quite well in this piece. Here’s another piece, from The Athletic’s Mark Graham, that takes a somewhat harsher (if that’s possible) view of the NFL. But you know that we’ll be tuned into the games this weekend — and, gosh, the playoffs are just around the corner. Both The Atlantic and The Athletic stories require subscriptions.

Oregon sent three new congresswomen to the U.S. House of Representatives in November’s election. All three — Democrats Val Hoyle and Andrea Salinas and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer — were scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday, but that was delayed because of the stalemate over who would be the speaker of the House. That stalemate finally is over, with Kevin McCarthy emerging with what almost certainly will be a Pyrrhic victory, but it left the three congresswomen in a state of limbo for most of the week. Julia Shumway of the Oregon Capital Chronicle had the story. (By the way, the two Republican members of Oregon’s House delegation voted for McCarthy and all the Democratic members voted for Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader.)

Melissa Goff, the former mid-valley school superintendent who worked in Philomath and Albany, will serve as education adviser to Gov.-elect Tina Kotek. You’ll recall that Goff’s contract was terminated without cause by the Greater Albany Public Schools board in 2021; Goff said at the time that the termination was prompted by opposition from newly elected board members to her work on mask mandates and equity issues. Most recently, Goff had been working for the Oregon School Boards Association. Alex Baumhardt reported on the appointment in the Capital Chronicle.

Jazz musician and Portland native esperanza spalding — she now spells her name with all lower-case letters — has a new album out: It’s a live recording from 2018 of spalding singing jazz standards with the esteemed pianist Fred Hersch. In this interview with Kristi Turnquist of The Oregonian/OregonLive, spalding talks about the album, “Alive at the Village Vanguard,” and the work she’s undertaking to create a Portland retreat for artists of color. The story is exclusive to Oregonian subscribers.

This is the time of year when Oregonians around the state — from Wallowa County in the state’s northeastern corner to the Willamette and Columbia rivers — celebrate by taking a plunge into ice-cold waters. Most of the time, these are quick encounters with the freezing water — you splash around, get your face and hair wet (maybe) and then race back to warmth. But some linger in the waters: As part of a story for OPB’s Oregon Field Guide, Ian McClusky took the plunge. And lingered.

Professional musicians around Oregon are being asked to participate in the state’s first commerical music census. The goal is to gather data about how music contributes to the Oregon economy. Lawmakers funded the census to get a better sense of what they might be able to do to encourage the state’s music industry. You might be scoffing at this, you cynical person, but it’s worth remembering that the state already supports the movie and TV industry in Oregon — and it seems very possible that we’ve underestimated the impact of the music business. But there’s a deadline of Jan. 15 to fill out the census. Steven Tonthat has the story for OPB.

Here’s the answer to this week’s Weekend Reader quiz: The six basic emotions identified in 1972 are anger, surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear and sadness.

Speaking of anger, surprise, disgust, fear and sadness: I have a new series going on the blog: “365 Boxes,” which documents my struggle to clean out my garage — one box every day — and forces me to come to terms with my lifelong accumulation of stuff. There’s been a new post every day thus far this year, but I’m thinking that for today’s post, I might just break down some empty boxes, because the first week has been harder than expected. I now understand why it’s taken me three years to tackle this project. Here’s a link to the first post in the series.

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