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The most important man hardly anyone knows


Philo T. Farnsworth should be as famous as Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell.

That Farnsworth is, if not unknown then certainly obscure compared with Edison and Bell, seems to me both a pity and the basis for a fascinating story.

It is debatable, but hardly hyperbolic, to claim that Farnsworth is the most significant inventor of the past 200 years.

What’s not in question is that Farnsworth invented electronic television.

Which is a technology that’s about as ubiquitous as the lightbulb and the phone, but vastly more influential.


Watermelon’s PR campaign rivals a politician’s

I did not realize that watermelon has the sort of public relations apparatus normally reserved for heads of state or platinum-selling rock bands.

Nor did I know that watermelon exudes citrulline and arginine, which sound like components of gasoline but which apparently are natural substances that confer health benefits.

But now I do know those facts — and much else besides about this truly miraculous fruit — thanks to the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

This organization, I was disappointed to learn, is not based in Hermiston.

That city of course is associated with watermelons in these parts much in the way that Walla Walla is known for onions.

In fact the promotional arm for the watermelon has its headquarters in Orlando, Fla.


Tumbleweeds on the ‘commute’; ode to VHS


Monday was a day of tumbleweeds.

The spring norther had come out of hibernation to perform impromptu bouiffant surgery on unprotected heads and sandblast exposed corneas with grit.

We call it March around here.

Also April and May, as the calendar and the Pacific cold front dictate.

My commute along Auburn Avenue passes the Ellingson Lumber Co. mill site, a flat and open expanse where the gales can propel tumbleweeds to a respectable speed.


Here’s hoping for competitive hoops tourney


The big numbers painted on the outside west wall of the Powder Valley High School gym tell the story of Badger basketball.

Each pair of numbers denotes the year a Badger sports team won a state championship.

Powder Valley has been a consistent contender competing against Oregon’s smaller high schools, those with an enrollment of 105 or less.


Cub Scouts remind me of newspaper’s legacy


The Cub Scouts were few in number but when the doors were closed they seemed to expand until the room, which can comfortably accommodate at least twice as many adults, felt full at the atomic level.

I fancied that I could hear the faint rasp of electrons colliding as they tried to carve out a little elbow room.

Actually I couldn’t hear much of anything except nine young voices, all going at once and sounding like a natural disaster, albeit one that doesn’t hurt anybody or knock down any buildings.


In Oregon, voter apathy not hard to understand

I used to write off registered voters who don’t vote as lazy, but my antipathy for their apathy is increasingly being shoved aside by sympathy for their plight.

Three recent examples from Oregon show that sometimes when you win at the ballot box the victory is fleeting.

I’m not referring to cases in which the electorate, fickle group that it is, changes its mind at a subsequent election.

That can be frustrating, to be sure, but it is at least consistent with democratic principles.

I’m much more troubled, though, when voters are in effect betrayed by the very people we elect to represent us.

During the past few years Oregon voters have had their will thwarted, to varying degrees, on three issues:

• Whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the state

• Whether condemned criminals should be executed

• Whether the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages will be defended against legal challenges


Warm front denies us the pleasure of the big snow


My almost-3-year-old son, Max, scampered across the slushy yard, whining that he had lost his plastic garden trowel in the pond. This plaintive claim struck me as curious because so far as I could remember we don’t have a pond.

Certainly we didn’t dig a pond or buy a pond or indeed even desire a pond.

But we got one anyway.

And it didn’t cost us anything except a few pairs of soggy boots.

(And Max’s missing trowel, which turned up not in the pond but hidden beneath a pail.)


Even with Democratic majorities, Baker went GOP


Remember when Baker County was described as “overwhelmingly Democratic” and “predominantly a Democratic county?”

Such a notion might sound farfetched, if not outright farcical, today, when the county is a Republican mainstay.

It turns out, though, that you needn’t go back so far as the Whig era to reach a period when Democrats boasted an electoral advantage among county voters at least as solid as what GOP candidates have now.

In November 1972, the day after President Richard M. Nixon was re-elected, this newspaper wrote that although Nixon, a Republican, received 55 percent of Baker County’s votes to Democrat George McGovern’s 33 percent, this was, and indeed it remained, “predominantly a Democratic county” based on party affiliations.


Snow surveying, a 78-year tradition, nears the end


They’ve been measuring snow up at Anthony Lakes for almost as long as they’ve been skiing on it.

Not constantly, of course.

But still this is a considerable span.

For perspective, when the first snow survey was undertaken beneath the imposing granitic prow of Gunsight Mountain, pretty much nobody outside the U.S. Navy had heard of Pearl Harbor.

Hitler wasn’t exactly a household name, either.

Unless your household was in, say, Berlin or Munich.


President puts his full faith in the government


President Obama got through several hundred words of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night without reverting to his favorite subject, which is government.

This doesn’t make the president unusual, of course.

It just makes him a politician.

All politicians like to prattle on about government. Sometimes they extoll its virtues and sometimes they lampoon its failures, but as an institution it never strays far from their minds.


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