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Defining free speech

We re-read the Bill of Rights and it turns out we remembered the text correctly: There’s nothing in there about the freedom to star in a reality show on cable TV.

We felt compelled to brush up on those first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution after reading about the plight of Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Louisiana family around which the A&E series “Duck Dynasty” revolves.

The dynasty in this case is the Robertson family’s business, which makes duck calls and other products for waterfowl hunters.

Until recently, “Duck Dynasty” had been quite popular but not particularly controversial.

Not all smoke is equal?

Do you smoke cigarettes?

Do you work indoors?

Go ask your boss if you can smoke at work.

The answer, of course, will be no.

Oregon law prohibits smoking at most indoor workplaces.

Courier’s lengthy legacy

The Record-Courier weekly newspaper has been a fixture in Baker County for more than a century.

And we’re pleased that the newspaper, which was started in 1901, will remain one.

But certainly things have changed.

For the first time in more than 80 years the Courier’s masthead doesn’t include the name “Brinton.”

The publication epitomizes the notion of a family newspaper.

Too cold for Baker? Snow way

The wintry storm — “Arctic blast 2013!” if you prefer the hyperbolic approach of TV news — swept across Oregon these past several days, leaving dozens of cancellations in its wake.

West of the Cascades, where many residents react to a skiff of snow almost as though it were radioactive dust, schools closed, highways became parking lots and officials warned people to stay inside lest they come down with frostbite or worse.

We Eastern Oregonians, though, being accustomed to frigid weather, are not so easily daunted.

County clear on gun laws

Baker County’s Republican Central Committee asked the county’s three elected commissioners to approve a resolution supporting the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

This seems to us a reasonable request, although the resolution has little if any legal significance considering the county commissioners have no authority to either write or to interpret the Constitution.

Commissioners do, however, swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and its amendments.

Big load not a big deal

The “megaload” that headed south from the Port of Umatilla Monday evening has attracted far more attention than it deserves, its monumental name notwithstanding.

The water purification machinery is being hauled by truck to a tar sands oil refining plant in Alberta, Canada.

The “mega” refers to the load’s size — 22 feet wide and 380 feet long. Because the load takes up most of a two-lane highway, the truck will travel at night. The route follows Highway 395 south to Highway 26 at Mount Vernon, then east on Highway 26 through Vale. About 25 miles of the route — from near Austin Junction through Unity to near Ironside — is in Baker County.

Golf course concerns

Quail Ridge Golf Course needs to open as usual next spring.

The city-owned 18-hole course is an important amenity not only for local residents, who have helped keep the course going with their tax dollars over the years, but as a tourist attraction.

That said, the city needs to be exceedingly careful in negotiating a contract with Bill Tiedemann, the only person to express an interest in managing the course and its restaurant and bar.

Homeless or not, kids need help

The word “homeless,” which conjures awful scenes of people shivering next to a sewer grate, seems worse still when applied to students.

A recent report from the state that counts 94 Baker County students — all but two in the Baker School District — as homeless is troubling to be sure.

But the situation is not as dire as the bare statistics suggest.

Most important, the state doesn’t define a “homeless” student as one who lives on the streets.

Full-day kindergarten a vital step

The Baker School Board has started discussing a vital topic — full-day kindergarten — and the board’s measured approach is appropriate.

All board members agree that full-day kindergarten would benefit Baker students.

Education experts say all-day kindergarten classes are crucial in helping kids read at grade level by the third grade. The importance of reaching that goal can’t be underestimated.

The days when we truly unite

They are the days, some tragic and some triumphant, that make the “United” in “United States” more than a political slogan.

They are exceedingly rare, these days.

A compelling case can be made that America has experienced just three such days in the past half century.

One of those happened exactly 50 years ago today — Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

On July 20, 1969, the nation again watched, equally transfixed but this time by joy and awe rather than sadness, as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.

On Sept. 11, 2001, we looked on, incredulous, as the Twin Towers crumpled.

What these days have in common, besides engraving their scenes in our collective memory, is that each almost instantly suppressed the grievances and societal debates that characterize our free society.

We shared, however briefly, an experience that elevated our commonality as Americans above our party affiliations or political beliefs.

We get back to bickering, of course.

This annoys us at times, to be sure.

But would we really prefer a different system?

We rail against the seemingly juvenile obstinance in Congress, and wonder why we ever elected these bozos.

But ultimately we appreciate that we can replace the bozos if they finally exceed our patience, that we can influence the direction of our country.

It’s unfortunate that a monumental tragedy sometimes is needed to remind us of these truths.

But on days such as today, when we remember one of these terrible events — one now two generations in our past — perhaps we can muster just a bit of that national unity.

We can resume our important arguments about Obamacare and other matters tomorrow. But for today we ought to celebrate America, and Americans.

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