Let’s try something different with this edition of Your Weekend Reader: Instead of leading this week with stories about the grave dangers facing American democracy (not that those are going away), how about if we start with a handful of pieces that offer a glimmer of optimism? Then we can dive back into the state of our imperiled democracy. Ready? Let’s go.
Henry Fountain of The New York Times, who reported on last summer’s massive Bootleg fire in southern Oregon, recently returned to the scene of the fire and came away with an intriguing — and encouraging — finding: “Thinning of trees in overgrown forests, combined with prescribed, or controlled, burns of accumulated dead vegetation on the forest floor, can help achieve the goal of reducing the intensity of wildfires by removing much of the fuel that feeds them.” Researchers also are increasingly reaching out to Native American tribes, which have long experience at using wildfire to manage forests. The story quotes, among others, James Johnston, a researcher at Oregon State University, a proponent of thinning and prescribed fires. But not everyone is convinced, and Fountain talks to some of those folks as well.
Here’s a piece that ran in the New York Times Magazine at the end of 2021 that I missed, but it’s still worth your time: It’s an interview with Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and a climate scientist — and if you think the two are mutually exclusive, Dr. Hayhoe would like a word with you. This should help to somewhat ease the despair you feel about climate change.
Continuing with our string of uncharacteristically optimistic selections, here’s a short piece from The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, listing three reasons why he’s optimistic about the 2020s — despite all the evidence the decade has presented thus far. This is part of The Atlantic’s new batch of newsletters.
Are you struggling already with your set of resolutions for the new year? Relax: The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull is here to help, with an article that seeks to explain why some people find it easy to form new habits — and why the rest of us shouldn’t necessarily despair about that. (This piece also quotes the director of the University of Southern California Habit Lab, which sounds like a place I’d like to visit.)
That’s probably enough optimism for this week. Let’s get back to the peril facing U.S. democracy.
On his Fox News show Thursday night — yes, the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2020 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — Tucker Carlson told his viewers: “Jan. 6 barely rates as a footnote. Really not a lot happened that day if you think about it.” It was the latest example of how falsehoods and prevarications continue to cloud the truth of what happened on that dark day. The New York Times has a provocative piece exploring this latest big lie that threatens U.S. democracy.
I was happy to see the Gazette-Times devote an entire page to a transcript of President Biden’s powerful speech about the Jan. 6 riot — kudos to the Lee Enterprises national desk, based in Madison, Wisconsin, for pulling that together. If you missed that, the Times ran a transcript of the speech, with annotations from White House reporter Katie Rogers.
Let’s turn now to Oregon politics. The race to be elected Oregon’s next governor generated some big news this week. As you probably know, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s office announced that Nick Kristof, the former New York Times columnist, didn’t meet the state’s residency requirements and therefore could not run for the governor’s job. As expected, Kristof on Friday appealed the ruling straight to the Oregon Supreme Court. Now, you could look at this in a couple of ways: You could say that it smacks of Democrats like Fagan closing ranks to protect political colleagues from Kristof’s well-funded outsider electoral bid. But it was disappointing that Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer winner, rebuffed requests from journalists to release the documents on which he built his case for residency. Julia Shumway, of the increasingly essential Oregon Capital Chronicle, has the details about that. And here’s Jack Shafer of Politico weighing in against residency requirements — although, as he makes clear, he’s no fan of Kristof.
Meanwhile, as you may have noticed, Tina Kotek, speaker of the Oregon House, has announced her resignation from the Legislature. Her last day will be Jan. 21 — before the Legislature’s February session. Kotek said she was resigning now to focus on her gubernatorial campaign; under House rules, she wouldn’t be able to raise campaign money while serving in the Legislature. With Kristof on the sidelines (at least for the time being), Kotek and Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read are the Democratic front-runners, but Kristof has raised significantly more cash than either Kotek or Read, according to Alex Baumhardt, writing for the Oregon Capital Chronicle.
The big wild card in the race is the campaign by Betsy Johnson, the longtime Democratic legislator who’s running as an unaffiliated candidate. At the time of this November story from OPB, Johnson already had raised more than $2 million — and doesn’t need to worry about a bruising primary campaign.
On the Republican side, 11 candidates (thus far) are seeking their party’s nomination in the May 17 primary. And candidates still have until March 8 to file, although if you’re not in thick of things now raising money, as Kotek’s resignation suggests, late filers will have some catching up to do.
Finally this week: The Eugene Weekly is continuing a worthwhile effort it began in 2021: Writing full obituaries for every houseless person who died in Lane County in 2021. Bob Keefer of the Weekly explains how the effort began. I’m going to think about we can get something like that going for Benton County. If you have ideas about this, send me a note or leave a comment below.
As always, if you’re looking for arts-and-entertainment ideas for the weekend or beyond, I have you covered: Check out my frequently updated curated (and opinionated) calendar of arts events.
See you next weekend.