Oregon’s primary election is right around the corner, COVID deaths in the United States are approaching the 1 million mark (that’s why flags are at half-mast this weekend), and Margaret Atwood is realizing that her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t fiction any more.
So, yes, this has been a busy week — and we’ll get to all that — but the big buzz lately at Your Weekend Reader has all been at our Black Hole Desk: This was a big week for news about black holes, a subject that has fascinated me since the release of that classic Disney movie “The Black Hole.” (In due time, that Neil deGrasse Tyson fellow will have to eat his words about how it’s the most scientifically inaccurate movie ever made.)
On Thursday, astronomers reported that they had created the first-ever image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy — hey, that’s OUR galaxy! The Atlantic’s Marina Koren does a nice job of explaining why this is so cool — and also answers the question that’s certainly on your mind: If black holes are so dense that even light waves can’t escape them, how can you take a photograph of one of them? This is a good question, and it proves that you’ve been paying attention.
Meanwhile, if you’re one of those people who would rather know what a black hole sounds like, science has you covered as well: Researchers working with NASA have “sonified” the pressure waves created by a black hole at the center of a huge cluster of galaxies in the constellation Perseus. You can take a listen by checking out this story from The New York Times. As you would expect, the sound is … well, kind of creepy. If you heard this sound coming from the house next door, you’d be worried — but you’d probably have other problems to take care of first.
A little closer to home, Election Day looms in Oregon: The deadline to return your primary election ballot is right around the corner — if you haven’t turned in your ballot by 8 p.m. Tuesday, it won’t count. (Ballots that are mailed and postmarked May 17 before 8 p.m. also will count — this extended deadline explains why winners in some primaries, especially close races, may not be apparent on Tuesday night.)
Despite some important primary races, Oregonians thus far have not been racing to vote: As of Thursday, TheOregonian/OregonLive reports, just 14.6% of registered voters have returned their ballots — a sign that either voters are agonizing over some tough choices or that they’re greeting this election with a big yawn. In Benton County, which boasts a compelling primary race for county commissioner, the number isn’t much better: Only 18.6% of ballots from registered voters had been received as of Friday afternoon. So dig out that ballot and get it in by the deadline.
Some additional political notes:
The Oregonian/OregonLive recently took a look at how much money Oregon congressional candidates raised in the period between Jan. 1, 2021 and April 27, 2022. Sen. Ron Wyden is well ahead of the pack: He’s raised $11.7 million thus far for a reelection campaign in which he’ll almost certainly face token GOP opposition. In the Fourth Congressional District race to replace Rep. Peter DeFazio, the leading fundraiser is Republican Alek Skarlatos, who’s raised nearly $2 million — a sign that at least some GOP donors think he can win this raise. The front-runner in the Democratic race for the Fourth Congressional District is Val Hoyle: As expected, the $782,440 she’s raised thus far outpaces all her primary rivals — but the Democratic winner likely will enter the general election facing a better-funded foe. The two Corvallis-based candidates for DeFazio’s seat, John Selker and Sami Al-Abdrubbuh, are well behind Hoyle: Selker has raised $185,189 and Al-Abdrubbuh has raised $42,561.
And a word to Democratic voters in Benton County: If you’re looking for a little more information about where county commission candidates Helen Higgins and Pat Malone stand on homelessness, I have you covered: Both candidates recently returned answers to a set of detailed questions about the issue, and I’ve posted their answers on my blog. Click here to read Higgins’ responses. And click here to read Malone’s responses.
Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has a new essay in The Atlantic about the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. In the piece, she writes that she stopped writing the novel “several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me.” Atwood also argues that Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision would pull the nation a step or two closer to having a national religion. Didn’t I read a novel about that a few years ago?
Speaking of politics and religion, here’s a piece from The Atlantic about how politics has poisoned the evangelical church. Brew yourself an extra cup of coffee and prepare to spend some time with this fascinating (and frightening) piece by Tim Alberta: You may come away with a different view of the word “discernment.”
Then brew another cup of coffee and read this new story from The New York Times about the 1 million COVID deaths in the United States. The story begins with a quite stunning representation meant to demonstrate what 1 million deaths looks like; it’s an excellent example of how a multimedia presentation can shed new light on topics that can be hard to express in words alone. Of course, as the Times story points out, some COVID deaths were inevitable. But 1 million? That did not have to happen.
Speaking of poetry, as we were last month (it was National Poetry Month! Have you forgotten already?), the Times has a lively profile of Ada Limón, that rare beast among U.S. poets: She makes a living solely from her poetry. The best part of the Times feature is that it includes excerpts from Limón’s poetry and includes a couple of recordings of her reading them aloud. Limón is currently on a book tour for her sixth collection of poems, “The Hurting Kind.”
In other breaking poetry news, Gov. Kate Brown has given another two-year term as Oregon’s poet laureate to Portland’s Anis Mojgani. Mojgani, the state’s 10th poet laureate, found creative ways around the pandemic during his previous two years, but Brown said that giving him another two years would allow him to tour the state — and it’s hard to argue with that reasoning. Here’s more about Mojgani, from The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Generally, I don’t like to tout my own work in the Weekend Reader — which is one of the reasons, perhaps, why my entrepreneurial freelance career could be going better — but I do want to call your attention to a pair of arts-related stories that you might have missed. First, the Oregon State University Theatre production of “On the Razzle” that debuts on Thursday will mark the last time that the main stage at Withycombe Hall will be used for a show. A story I wrote for the OSU College of Liberal Arts explains why — and talks to veterans of that stage about memorable moments. And here’s a story I wrote for Brad Fuqua’s Philomath News website about a production of “Always … Patsy Cline” that’s playing this weekend and next at the Marys River Grange Hall.
That’s all for this weekend. I see that “The Black Hole” is streaming on Disney+, so I need to rework all the rest of my weekend plans.