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Tough time to run for City Council — and I hope plenty do it

What an interesting year to run for a seat on the Baker City Council.

In the same sense, you’re perhaps thinking, that swimming across the anaconda- and piranha-infested Amazon would be interesting.

I’ll concede that serving as a councilor has of late been an experience that couldn’t reasonably be described as tranquil.

In the past 14 months the Council has:

• Fired one city manager (Steve Brocato — or, to avoid potential confusion with city managers named Steve whose last name starts with “B” — Steve-1); had its top choice for his successor (Tim Johnson) first accept then reject the Council’s offer; hired a third person (Steve Bogart, or Steve-2); who announced that he’ll resign Sept. 23.

• Endured a campaign to recall from office two of the four councilors who voted to fire Brocato (Dennis Dorrah and Beverly Calder).

Pondering plastic bags, and plagued by ambivalence

I don’t hate plastic grocery bags.

I struggle in fact to muster even a respectable level of disdain for these ubiquitous totes.

Although this one time a sack, traveling alone and propelled by the desert wind, wedged into the rear derailleur of my mountain bike and mucked up one of the sprockets.

And since I was riding the bike at the time this intrusion was something of a nuisance.

But that paltry anecdote pretty well covers my personal antipathy for this category of container.

This makes me feel rather like an outcast.

How we've slunk: Kneeling before a machine, pleading for a nickel

The war is over.

And the machines have won.

This dismal outcome could hardly have been otherwise, what with the human race’s curious obsession with automation.

Curious or not, I can go along with this predilection for quite a distance.

I don’t much like the prospect of scrubbing my undershorts on a washboard, for instance.

Or anybody else’s.

And having tussled with a few grudging garage doors in my time — usually during a rainstorm — I appreciate the brilliance of the electric, chain-driven opener which hoists the door at the push of a button.

(I have averted this particular hassle for the past 15 years through the clever device of owning a home which has no garage. If I had a garage, though, it would be equipped with an opener.)

Giving voice to people who hide behind the cloak of anonymity

Gary Dielman posed the question, in a recent e-mail, why it is that the Herald allows anonymous comments to be posted on the paper’s Web site even though that practice is prohibited in the paper edition.

His question is a good one.

Timely, too, since barely more than a month has passed since we added the comment feature to our site.

My answer, in its simplest form, is that the Web page, though it shares the “Baker City Herald” moniker, is an altogether different animal.

If you’ll forgive my straining the limits of the analogy, I liken the newspaper to a lion in the zoo, and the Web site to a lion on the Serengeti.

The newspaper is a controlled environment, with its own versions of stout fences and padlocked gates.

We invite readers to tell us what they think, but we won’t publish their opinions unless they tell us who they are. And like a caged lion, their diet is limited: 350 words every 15 days.

Baker's stature preserved in stone; and what my brain's worth

You can tell a great deal about a town, I think, by having a look at its schools and its churches.

This exercise — literally, if you take a walking tour — shows Baker City to be a place of substance.

For a city which has never, during its 146 years, boasted an official population of as much as 10,000, Baker seems to me graced with an inordinate share of noteworthy houses of learning and of worship.

These are solid structures, constructed of stone and brick, heavy materials largely immune to the harsh climate of a mountain valley.

It is as if the people who designed and who assembled these buildings understood that this city, so unlike the mining boom camps that surrounded it, had real staying power, and that its constructions should reflect that persistence and prominence.

I like to believe that these craftsmen, were they ever of a philosophical bent, imagined while they were hard at their labors that a century on the quick footsteps of pupils would yet echo in the halls, that the preacher’s devotions would still wash over the penitent in their pews every Sunday.

Anyway I hope they did.

The wind blows a little piece of today into a forgotten homestead

We drove past an abandoned homestead the other day and my wife, Lisa, said that looking at the place made her feel a little sad.

I understand what she means.

It’s hard not to come off a trifle melancholy when you see a pile of weathered wood, crumbling concrete and rusted cans and realize that on some distant day children probably scampered happily around this very patch of ground.

Where today, like as not, you’d end up needing a tetanus shot if you got to messing around.

There are of course quite a number of homesteads in Baker County, and most of them could reasonably be described as abandoned.

And it’s likely that some of the people who did the abandoning were only too happy to be leaving.

This particular encounter wouldn’t have piqued my curiosity except that the homestead in question stands astride what seems to me an intriguing intersection — one which is technological and social as well as geographic.

Johnny Ballgame: Sports radio savior?

I have for the greater part of two decades lamented the inexplicable sports radio wasteland that is Baker County.

But just lately I have detected, like the ghostly whisper of a distant AM station at night, the slight sound of optimism.

It’s called the Johnny Ballgame Show.

And it is, in the estimation of the Baker City and La Grande stations that broadcast it, “Eastern Oregon’s only live and local sports talk radio program.”

I have heard nothing that refutes this claim.

The program, hosted by John Mallory, airs weekdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 1490 AM in Baker City and 1450 AM in La Grande.

Mallory graduated from La Grande High School in 1998. He earned a degree in radio/TV digital media production from the University of Idaho, where he did radio play-by-play for the Vandals and started his talk show in 2007.

I’ve tuned in a handful of times, and listened to maybe 90 minutes of Mallory’s program.

It is what it purports to be.

And it’s rather better than I expected.

I pity the fool: Moviemakers mess with a hallowed tradition

Hollywood can plunder TV until the end of days for all I care, but when filmmakers taint the legacy of Mr. T. . . . well, every man has his breaking point.

And with the arrival on the big screen of “The A-Team,” my tolerance for the movie industry’s machinations has at last been exploded into jagged fragments.

Which, now that I think about it, was the inevitable fate that awaited the lair of every bunch of haplessly stumbling bullies whom the A-Team thwarted.

And there was at least one of those per episode.

You know the type of villains I mean.

They fired more ammunition in 40 minutes of broadcast time than a band of South American mercenaries goes through in a coup attempt, yet nobody ever suffered a bullet wound.

Publishing change proves a winner

Since June 1 of last year, the most frequent question I hear is, “How’s that three days a week working for you?”

In short, it’s working very well, thank you.

A year ago this month we reduced our publishing schedule from five days a week to three in order to cut our delivery and newsprint costs, but also retain our resources — our people — so as not to reduce the quantity or quality of local news or customer service to our subscribers.

And it’s working. Support of our subscribers and advertisers has been terrific. We have increased the page count in each of our issues and provide a two-section newspaper instead of a one-section paper each publishing day. That has given us more color pages, and added more advertising and inserts to every issue. Subscribers get three beefy issues now instead of five thinner ones.

We kept our subscription price affordable, the same price as in 1997, but increased the price of store and rack copies to 75 cents. Although simple economics would say that we should lose customers by raising the price, every single issue of our rack and store copies have sold more than the previous year.

Admitting my small role in the demise of the movie rental store

The demise of the movie rental shop is nearly complete, and for the consumer another minor thrill has been replaced by a few dull taps on a keyboard.

I lack any legitimate grounds for lamenting this trend, however.

In fact I am as complicit as anyone in the eradication of a business that once seemed ubiquitous.

I have a Netflix account.

I have not browsed the aisles of a rental store for at least a couple of years.

(Although in my defense, neither have I ever acquired a DVD from a large, inanimate box.)

The recent announcement that Movie Gallery is closing its Baker City rental store saddened me largely because it reminds me that I have lived long enough to experience a commercial and cultural trend from its infancy clear through to its current death throes.

It’s not that I feel old, exactly.

But I’m more aware that 40 years (almost) is a pretty fair spread of time.

I imagine people were afflicted by a similar twinge a century ago when Ford really started cranking out Model T’s and the dominance of the horse was clearly on the wane.

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