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The dark days when nuclear war seemed certain

I’m too young to have a proper fear of the atomic bomb.

I was born in 1970 — a quarter century after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By the late 1970s, when I was old enough to begin to comprehend such things, the threat of nuclear holocaust, though it seemed real enough in that Cold War era of the bellicose Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, had lost its immediacy and thus some of its potency.

When I was in school the experts had long since figured out that having pupils hunker beneath their desks wouldn’t help much if the Russian missiles were landing nearby.

The $15 minimum wage, and ‘Monopoly’ money

A government-mandated minimum wage of 15 bucks an hour sounds great, but when I see that figure I think of the stacks of money that come with a “Monopoly” game.

Especially those bruise-colored $500 bills.

It’s easy to insist that every worker should earn at least $15 an hour.

It’s also easy to plunk down $300 to buy Pacific Avenue.

In each case the money isn’t yours, and no dollar spends more effortlessly than the one you didn’t earn.

Winter blues: Planning summer backpacking trips

I got my flu shot this fall but I’ve been infected by a powerful seasonal virus anyway.

And no inoculation exists, so far as I know, for this affliction.

I’m obsessed with planning summer hiking trips.

That this inclination consumes me every year about this time, when our favorite trails in the Elkhorns and the Wallowas are obscured by snow and will not emerge in some cases for seven months, seems cruel.

Bacon: Out of the bedroom, back to the kitchen

The bacon magicians have gone too far.

I write this with regret.

(And a rill of saliva running down my chin.)

I hesitate even to suggest that anyone can love bacon too much.

Cardiologists no doubt would disagree, but those killjoys disdain all processed meats.

The problem is that entrepreneurs want to use the essence of bacon, rather than actual bacon, to sell products you can’t even eat.

Or shouldn’t try to eat, anyway.

Mariota restores luster to the Heisman trophy

I have a connection to Marcus Mariota that no one else has.

This is, I admit, a grandiose claim. But I make it with supreme confidence.

I don’t mean to suggest that I am acquainted with Mariota, the quarterback at the University of Oregon, my alma mater, who on Saturday won the Heisman trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.

I’ve never met Mariota.

Almost certainly I never will meet him.

A gate goes away and a boy’s world expands

For some months we had confined our 3-year-old son, Max, to his bedroom after dark by wedging a sturdy plastic gate between the door jambs.

I never felt quite right about this despite the necessity.

(Besides which I was prone to pinching a finger in the thing.)

The gate seemed to me the sort of tactic you would employ with a puppy you don’t trust not to soil the carpet and chew up the sofa.

Max, so far as I know, has not gone after the furniture with his teeth.

A diary can be the greatest gift you’ll ever get

Your most boring day can become a family heirloom, more valuable than any diamond.

But only if you write down the details, however banal they might seem at the time.

The passage of decades transforms the routine and forgettable rituals of life into memories that provoke laughter and tears.

I’m referring, as you’ve no doubt figured out, to a diary.

With rare exceptions — Anne Frank’s being the obvious example — diaries have very few readers.

Branded for life (or a while) as a failed elk hunter

So I went elk hunting for most of a week and the only blood I spilled was my own.

No one who has ever watched me fire a rifle will be even slightly surprised by this revelation.

There are, fortunately, just a few members of this club. Not that they would boast about their membership.

My injury, a minor flesh wound inflicted not by a bullet but by a 9-power rifle scope, was of course not my fault.

I blame the bull elk I was peering at through the scope.

Is a mandated vacation a civil rights violation?

The “right to infect” has replaced the “right to vote” as a litmus test of freedom in America.

Our civil rights torch-bearers aren’t what they used to be.

In the sad and segregated past we could root for true heroes such as Rosa Parks and James Meredith without a trace of ambivalence.

Their causes could only be described as righteous.

Half a century and more later, having dispatched with such odious matters as denying people a seat on a public bus or in a public university because their skin is black, America is left to quibble about matters that seem to me trivial by comparison.

Public snubbed in gym naming

By Gary Dielman

At the May 24, 2014, meeting of the 5J School District Board of Directors, the agenda contained this action item: “Naming the BHS Gym Peacock Court.” Board minutes record the decision: “Motion by Rich McKim, seconded by Kyle Knight, to approve naming the Baker High School Gym ‘Peacock Court.’ Vote: Approved by all board members — Andrew Bryan, Kevin Cassidy, Mark Henderson, Rich McKim and Kyle Knight.” The minutes contain no discussion of the motion.

About a month ago, when I learned about the naming of the gym, I was surprised that the Board had done so without first soliciting public input. I decided to find out why. Here’s what I discovered through contacts with Board members Chair Andrew Bryan, Kevin Cassidy, Rich McKim, and 5J Superintendent Walt Wegener.

In summary, these 5J administrators told me: That the Board unanimously voted to do it; that there was no discussion about involving the public, because it was no big deal compared with the really important educational decisions the Board makes; that the Board has the legal right to do it; and that I should expend my emotional energy on other matters. 

Obviously I’m not following that advice. Here’s why.

Board members were not elected to name buildings. Their function, as they told me, is to deal with the administration of a complicated, many-faceted school system. In office, and perhaps before election, they develop expertise to perform that role. But Board members have no greater — perhaps even less — expertise in naming buildings than the general public has.

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