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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns

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.


Bicycle and beer bottle caps: All a boy needs


When I was a kid the ingredients for a perfect day were a bicycle, a Hardy Boys book and some bottle caps.

Although I could get by with just the bike and the book.

The bottle caps were sort of a bonus — akin to getting two hits in a Little League game and then heading straight to Dairy Queen for a butterscotch sundae.

(As a light-hitting infielder, such a feat was about as rare for me as a Willamette Valley blizzard.)

The era of the bottle cap, at least as an attraction for a kid with time to burn, ended so far as I can tell somewhere around the Reagan administration, but whether its demise was gradual or sudden I can’t say.

I am writing here specifically of beer bottle caps.


A mechanical klutz, afraid of his dishwasher


The list of skills I wish I had is longer than many novels, and at its top are the ability to build things and to fix stuff that gets busted or stops working.

I don’t mean complicated things, like brains or nuclear reactors or jet aircraft.

I know how modest my limits are.

But aside from the occasional triumph of swapping a car’s starter, or assembling a stone wall that’s still standing after several years, my attempts at building and fixing even relatively simple items usually end with profanity and, frequently, a minor but painful flesh wound.

(Fortunately to my own flesh, most generally.)

I’m sufficiently self-aware, though, to realize that even my successful exploits, besides being rare, mainly result either from dumb luck or from the task being so simple that most fifth-graders could pull it off.

(And I mean no disrespect to fifth-graders.)


Feeling the pressure to put Baker in best light


I spent an hour or so on the phone the other day trying to explain what sort of town Baker City is.

This is not as easy as you might think.

At least not when the conversation feels more like an interrogation.

The man who called said he and his wife are considering buying a home in Baker City.

Of several towns they’ve visited, Baker City is by a large margin their favorite, he told me.

But he still has questions.

A whole lot of questions.


Taco Bell’s genius; and Sam Bass has a big fan


How many ways can you think of to combine ground beef, refried beans, various forms of cheese, and sour cream?

Not as many as Taco Bell can.

Probably it’s not even close.

The fast food giant employs people whose creativity with taco shells and tortillas is boundless.

(I don’t know what to call these people, but “chef” just doesn’t sound appropriate for a business for which, it seems to me, the ultimate culinary achievement is to offer the most calories per dollar.)


Outdoors can be a tough place for headphones


Somewhere along about the mid 80s headphones broke out of the home, and although they occasionally slink back inside they’ve never been quite the same since.

They’ve become disposable, for one thing.

Not by design, to be sure, in the manner of a diaper or a coffee filter.

If used as headphones traditionally were used — to listen to “Dark Side of the Moon” while you’re sprawled out on a waterbed, for instance — even the flimsiest set could last for years.

But modern headphones, which must be small and light because we expect them to deliver our music and our podcasts and our audiobooks while we jog and pedal and rappel off the north face of the Eiger, simply can’t withstand the rigors of the iPod, cross-training world for long.

Although you don’t even need to be especially energetic to destroy a set.


In Baker County, history groans, clatters, bangs


The train pulled out of the depot in a grudging way, building speed with a series of jerks and pulls that few modern machines can mimic.

Not that they’re intended to.

The engineers still rely largely on internal combustion to move us around, of course, but they’ve pretty much sheltered from us the explosive nature of the technology.

Cars, for instance, don’t rumble much anymore.

Most models emit instead an inoffensive whir, rather like a sewing machine.


Snowballs, an alleged rape, double standards


Is a real snowball fight worse than an alleged rape?

I pose the question not because I expect anybody will answer it.

My point, rather, is to illustrate how America’s obsession with athletes can contribute to situations that would be laughable if they were fiction.

Except they’re real, depressingly so.


Fake trees might fool the eyes, but not the nose


The traditional Christmas is under assault, and I fear the wounds will be mortal.

A cherished symbol of the holiday is being replaced by the ersatz concoctions of the chemists, who would swap the wild beauty of the snowbound forest for the antiseptic creation of the test tube.

If the genuine Christmas tree can’t survive then I fear the season’s decline in other areas is inevitable.

I can foresee the year when Muzak drowns out Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby on the hi-fi, when the celebratory dinner begins with dad plunging his carving knife not into a succulent turkey breast but into a glistening glob of tofu.


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