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The teacher who brought music to life for me

One of life’s great mysteries, it seems to me, is how each of us, as a child, came to acquire those interests which persist into adulthood, as stubborn as barnacles.

Sometimes there is no mystery, of course.

Take for instance the woman who became fascinated with the ocean the very instant, as a little girl, that she peered into a tidepool and felt the queer sensation of a sea anemone’s tentacles grasping her finger.

Or the boy whose first-grade field trip to Gettysburg spawned his insatiable curiosity about the Civil War.

Both of those examples involve rather specific hobbies.

But what about more general subjects — an abiding appreciation for music, to name an especially common example?

This affinity, I think, is one which most of us absorb over an extended period of immersion, as it were. This is quite different from the immediate experience of the girl on the beach or the boy on the battlefield, either of which, to belabor the analogy, is more akin to an inoculation straight into a vein.


Exaggerated fiscal ‘crisis’

The aspect of the sequester debate that annoys us most is that the dollar amounts involved are so much smaller than the level of anxiety implies.

Non-defense domestic agencies have to get by with 5 percent less.

Plenty of American businesses and households have had much larger chunks plucked from their income over the past five years yet they managed to continue operating without drastic effects.

Millions of Americans had their paychecks shrink by 2 percent since the start of the year when the payroll tax “vacation” ended.

Yet there’s no evidence of economic Armageddon.

But the government’s different, right?

Not really, no. For most affected agencies, just as with most businesses, the biggest bill is paying the people who do the work.

We find it difficult to believe that the federal government can’t maintain its current level of service if each worker has to miss an extra day per month, or if agencies have to close a half-hour earlier than they do now, either of which would achieve the 5-percent goal.

That’s no crisis. It shouldn’t be, anyway.

We’re not so naive to believe that the sequester won’t have economic consequences, but for every minor effect — fewer air show performances by military stunt pilots, for instance — there are woeful tales of kids being sent home from Head Start, or babies deprived of formula.

That the sequester plan includes at least as many of the latter as the former suggests to us that these cuts were poorly planned from the start. Rather than deal with its budget issues in a sober, responsible way, as most Americans have done, their government relies on hyperbole and fear-mongering.


Let voters decide on executions

We’re no more impressed today by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s change of heart regarding capital punishment than we were when he announced it in November 2011.

But we do agree with the governor on one point: Let the state’s voters decide whether executions should continue to be a possible punishment.

The Legislature is considering a bill — House Joint Resolution 1 — that would take that question to voters in the November 2014 election.

Even supporters concede, though, that the legislation faces long odds.

Voters reinstated the death penalty in Oregon in 1984 by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. That was three years after the state Supreme Court had ruled capital punishment unconstitutional.

Thirty years is a goodly stretch of time, and with a matter as important as the death penalty we think society, through elections, should reconsider its beliefs occasionally.

We hope, and expect, that Oregonians would reaffirm the death penalty as the proper punishment in a small number of murder convictions.

Although Kitzhaber’s criticisms of the state’s death penalty system would no doubt influence some voters, we’re confident a majority would recognize the flimsiness of his case.

In a recent letter supporting House Joint Resolution 1, Kitzhaber reiterated the charge he leveled in 2011 — that the death penalty in Oregon “is neither fair nor just; neither swift nor certain.” The governor also writes that capital punishment “is not applied equally to all.”

Yet one of the governor’s main complaints — that the only two murderers who have been executed since voters reinstated the death penalty are men, whom he calls “volunteers,” who waived appeals — seems to us a poor reason to oppose capital punishment.

After all, most people would interpret Kitzhaber’s accusation that the death penalty is “neither fair nor just” as meaning minorities are executed at a disproportionate rate, or that there exists some other demonstrable inequity in how executions are carried out in this state.

But it’s hard to see how it’s either unfair or unjust that two out of the 39 inmates on Oregon’s death row — both of them were white men — chose not to continue their appeals (beyond those that are legally required), while all the other inmates accept the full measure of legal protections afforded them.

The evidence in fact shows that Oregon is more circumspect in how it enforces capital punishment than states such as Texas and Florida, where in some years more than a dozen inmates have been executed.

Ultimately, we hope we can trust Kitzhaber to keep his word regarding the voters’ intentions. In his recent letter he wrote that he respects voters’ will; yet in 2011 he thwarted them by blocking the execution of double-murderer Gary Haugen, who wanted to waive his voluntary appeals.

If the issue goes back to voters in 2014, and they reaffirm the death penalty, the exercise will be a futile one if Kitzhaber, or any of his successors, decides the governor’s opinion supersedes his constituents.’


Get serious in Salem

The effort to prevent mass shootings in the U.S. is about as serious as a matter of public policy can get.

We’re disappointed, then, by some of the recent maneuvers at the state Capitol, where the Legislature has been in session for almost a month and, ostensibly, also takes the issue seriously.

Although we don’t question the sincerity of any lawmakers we do wonder, in some cases, about their judgment and whether they’re efficiently representing their constituents.

Consider House Bill 3200, which was introduced on Feb. 22.

This legislation, promoted by Ceasefire Oregon, is, and we’re being charitable, constitutionally suspect.

The bill, besides prohibiting Oregonians from owning more than one so-called “assault weapon” and more than three magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, would require owners of such guns and magazines to “allow an inspector from the (State Police) to inspect the storage” of the guns and magazines.

The word “warrant” is conspicuously absent.

We’re pretty sure there are plenty of civil rights lawyers who would eagerly take on as a client someone aggrieved by that clause in HB 3200.

The truly insipid aspect of the legislation, though, is that even its chief sponsor, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Democrat from Portland, disavows portions of it, including that outlandish requirement for involuntary inspections of private property.

“In its current form, it’s a pretty flawed bill,” Greenlick told The Oregonian.

Yet that current form is the same form that Greenlick put his name on, along with seven other representatives and seven state senators who are listed as sponsors.

Greenlick further confuses the situation by going on to say, regarding HB 3200: “It’s not where they (most legislators) want to go and it’s not where I think we’re going to go. But it’s where we should be going.”

In other words, Greenlick likes the bill, except for that pesky “pretty flawed” part.

Introducing a bill such as HB 3200 accomplishes nothing except to inflame people who fear that even potentially reasonable legislation, such as mandatory background checks, is merely the first step toward government confiscation of all guns.

We welcome a robust debate about guns, both in Oregon and nationwide. Greenlick said that’s what he wants, too, and we take him at his word.

But we, and he, will likely continue to be frustrated if the public discourse is distracted by patently hopeless legislation such as HB 3200.


Driving can be frightening — even at a mere 2 mph

The biggest scare I’ve had while driving happened at 2 mph.

Which is a speed even a generally slothful person can easily manage while walking from the sofa to the kitchen to get a soda from the refrigerator.

But it felt to me like terminal velocity.

This exaggerated sense of my momentum had much to do with the nearly vertical slope that was separated from my left front tire by a sliver of snow-covered dirt road about the width of a skateboard.

Actually it had everything to do with that cliff.



Letters to the Editor for March 1, 2013

Thanks to volunteers who work in Special Olympics

I would like to give a big shout out to all the folks that work with the special people from the Special Olympics in the winter sports program.

That includes my daughter, Stephanie Tweit, and her husband, Bryan. Bryan took this task on about 20 years ago and Stephanie joined the program about nine years ago. They spend tireless hours teaching on the Anthony Lakes slopes every Saturday for a couple of months and then join them and lead the skiers in the Special Olympics program called SOOR — Special Olympics Oregon — at Mount Bachelor in Bend every year.

One of their students, Jamie McClaughry, recently competed in South Korea and returned with two gold medals in cross-country and finished sixth overall, and is riding a high from his accomplishments.

Stephanie has since set up a table for him downtown and invited folks to participate in an autograph signing. Can’t you just feel his excitement?

This is all accomplished with donated money from businesses and individuals from all over Oregon and volunteer instructors like Bryan and Stephanie.

Hats off to the volunteers. Nice job.

Mel Cross

Baker City

Budget cuts will be costly to many Oregonians

The impact of sequestration on Oregon this year along will result in a loss of over $10 million in funding for our primary and secondary schools; loss of funds for the education of children with disabilities; less aid for work-study jobs which help students to finance the costs of college; loss of funding for protections of clean air and water; furloughs for Department of Defense employees and less funding for Oregon Army base operations; loss of Justice Assistance grants; loss of funding for job search assistance; lost access to child care assistance; reduced funding for child vaccines; loss of funds to help prevent and treat substance abuse and fewer HIV tests; loss of funds to provide services to victims of domestic violence; and, a loss of funds for providing meals to seniors.

And then there will be the years to come. It gets worse.

What are our representatives arguing about? It’s simple. The administration wants spending cuts (other than from Medicare and Social Security) and wants to increase revenue by closing tax loopholes that favor corporate America. That position is supported by a majority of Americans.

Rep. Greg Walden and his party want spending cuts only, including to Medicare and Social Security.

What do we want? Is Rep. Walden representing you and Oregon by doing what is best for our state, its residents, or is this all about politics?

Carolyn Hill



Letters to the Editor for Feb. 27, 2013

Now we know what’s killing all the honeybees

Now we know, at least, what is killing them. All across America honeybees are dying. They are down about 90 percent. And Albert Einstein, more famed for other things, several years ago said that when honeybees go extinct we will soon follow.

For a number of years their declining numbers remained a mystery. Viruses, fungal infections, pesticides and even signals from cell phone towers were investigated. All inconclusively. But now we know positively, and specifically. (In These Times magazine, March issue, has the article I cite here.)

It is neonicotinoid (neonics, for short) pesticides that are exterminating them and other primary pollinators. You would think this discovery, by means of which we can know how to save ourselves from extinction, might be front page news, but it isn’t.

These neonics, which are systemic pesticides chemically related to nicotine, are applied to seeds (of corn, sugar beets, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers and many other crops). Being systemic means the treated crops then carry the neonics not on, but in their pollen and nectar and, indeed, in every fiber of each plant. This neonic stuff is deadly poison to honeybees as well as other bugs. If it is so toxic to bugs it surely can’t be healthy for humans. And it’s in all the corn syrup and other corn products that we consume in almost all our store-bought food. Poisoned corn syrup sweetens all those soft drinks we drink instead of plain water. Could it be that our kids who have so many allergies these days are allergic not to the corn products but to the poison in the corn products?

One-hundred and forty-three million acres, in the U.S. alone, are planted with these treated seeds each year so it’s no wonder the bees are being exterminated. Germany, where the Bayer company which makes this stuff is located, prohibits its use there. And also France, which evidently appreciates what honeybees mean to us. But here in the USA the EPA, which was created to protect us, has granted an unconditional permit for its use here, and continues to vigorously defend its sale and use.

Dan Martin

Baker City

Let’s build on our local history, not erase it

Having read with interest the recent letters of Phyllis Badgley and Joyce Badgley Hunsaker, I want to add my voice of support to their voices of concern regarding the proposed name change of our airport.

Our first/early settlers and businesspeople in this valley continue to be due the honor and respect of having their names not removed, but remembered and even taught in local history classes. Time should not diminish their memory and contributions. History is to be built upon, not replaced.

The Baldock Slough is named for my great-grand-grandfather, William Henry Baldock. Though the Baldock name has died out, there are hundreds of us who live and work here still, who are direct descendants of those brave, sacrificing, and original homesteaders. Their legacy lives on, and their contribution continues to filter into our lives yet today, 150 years later.

Campbell Street is named for my great-great-great-uncle, John Jackson Campbell. There was a move several years ago to rename Campbell Street to Adler Boulevard. I will forever be grateful to the late Baker City historian, Pearl Jones, for her wise, strong and successful intervention to save the name of Campbell Street.

Remembering is important. Let’s not erase the past to honor the present. There are many other options.

Linda Wunder Wall

Baker City

Why did GOP senators vote against this bill?

In the recent vote on U.S. Senate Bill 1925, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the bill passed 68-31. Some 14 Republican senators joined the Democratic senators to pass this bill. However, 31 Republican senators voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Here is a list of senators who voted against the bill:

Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Blunt, R-Mo.; Boozman, R-Ark.; Burr, R-N.C.; Chambliss, R-Ga.; Coburn, R-Okla.; Cochran, R-Texas; Cornyn, R-Texas; DeMint, R-S.C.; Enzi, R-Wyo.; Graham, R-S.C.; Grassley, R-Iowa; Hatch, R-Utah; Inhofe, R-Okla.; Isakson, R-Ga.; Johanns, R-Neb.; Johnson, R-Wis.; Kyl, R-Ariz.; Lee, R-Utah; Lugar, R-Ind.; McConnell, R-Ken.; Moran, R-Kan.; Paul, R-Ky.; Risch, R-Idaho; Roberts, R-Kan.; Rubio, R-Fla.; Sessions, R-Ala.; Shelby, R-Ala.; Thune, R-S.D.; Toomey, R-Pa.; Wicker, R-Miss.

Ladies, be careful who you vote for!

Bruce Raffety

Baker City

Where are our representatives on travel management?

Over the last year I have actively pursued local and state representatives of Northeastern Oregon on the matter of Travel Management. Wallowa County has been exceptional in returning correspondence. Very little to no correspondence has come from anyone else.

Baker County Commissioner Fred Warner Jr. attempted on two occasions to answer, but quickly faded away, with one exchange from Tim Kerns’ wife over his work email and no correspondence back from Carl Stiff at all. Mark Davidson wrote a very short response April of 2012 that they were working on the issue, but no response since, with nothing from the other two. And, well Grant County just flat out does not respond.

Our state representatives have been all but derelict in their duties from what I can see. I do have to give Rep. Cliff Bentz some recognition as I do know he contacted Ms. Schwalbach on the matter in the summer of 2012, but that’s about all I’ve heard. Neither Mr. Ferrioli, Smith, Nelson nor Jensen have returned any emails in the matter and seem to be intentionally avoiding the discussion with the public.

What are they doing? Where is the voice of our representatives in the matter? Representing from a desk is non-representation, plain and simple. We need men and a woman willing to do the hard work of contacting forest leadership to ask what is going on, and then report to the public on a regular basis.

Representatives, where are you and what are you doing to protect our individual liberties? As one Forest Service employee told me last summer, people shouldn’t be so selfish about travel management; you can’t always have what you want. She’s right, we can’t, but we do expect to keep our God-given rights to Life, Liberty (freedom), and Happiness.

John D. George



Honor, with no resentment

We applaud the Baker City Airport Commission for making a difficult decision.

And, more importantly, the right decision.

Last week commissioners withdrew their recent request to the City Council to rename the city-owned airport from Heilner Field to Mabry J. Anders Field, to honor the 21-year-old Baker City soldier who was killed last August in Afghanistan.

The commission changed course after several local residents, including some city councilors, suggested that renaming the airport for Anders would either diminish the legacy of the late Joseph Heilner, for whom the airport was named, or would leave out the many other residents who, like Anders, sacrificed everything in the service of his country.

We’re certain the commissioners never intended to do either.

And indeed we believe that it’s possible to commemorate Anders without demeaning anyone else who is equally deserving.

But we also recognize that the commission’s proposal was certain to provoke emotional responses.

The airport has borne Heilner’s name for many decades, for one thing.

And for another, the issue of honoring members of the military killed in action is an intensely personal matter, so the likelihood is high that feelings will be hurt when a single soldier is slated for a particular honor, even when, as in Anders’ case, no such slight was intended.

The airport commission’s proposal to rename the airport for Anders was reasonable.

But of course that isn’t the only way to pay tribute to the man. We wholeheartedly support the new plan, which is to build a memorial to Anders at the airport through donations.

We urge the City Council to work with the commission and other supporters of the project to find a suitable place on the property for the memorial.

Ultimately, we hope this situation, rather than sowing a single seed of resentment, instead reminds us that we should never forget Anders and all those who died while trying to protect us.


Letters to the Editor for Feb. 25, 2013

Harry Reid doesn’t deserve to be a U.S. senator

I attended Congressman Greg Walden’s town hall meeting and was favorably impressed with some of the bills that the existing House has passed. However, it appears that most of them are being ignored by the Senate and therefore just sit with no action taken.

Obviously it is Senator Harry Reid who is dictating this refusal to bring these bills up before the Senate. The following information about Senator Reid is compiled from the February 2013 Judicial Watch publication. Senator Reid has been the Chinese ENN Energy Group’s most prominent advocate. His son Rory Reid is a principal in a Las Vegas law firm that represents ENN. He helped locate a 9,000-acre desert site in Clark County where Rory formerly chaired the county commission. Rory then put together a purchase for ENN that good old Harry brought to town. Purchase price $4.5 million. Two separate appraisals were for $29.6 million and the other for $38.6 million! However, this project seems stalled because there is no current market in Nevada for the green energy ENN claims it could produce.

 However, this is nothing new for the Reid family. The Senate majority leader secured $21.5 million to build a bridge over the Colorado River to connect Laughlin, Nev., with Bullhead City, Ariz., where Reid owns 160 acres of land. Senator Harry Reid has sponsored at least $47 million in earmarks that directly benefited one of his sons, Key Reid, who either lobbies for or is affiliated with these various organizations.

Whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, when is this political corruption going to stop? It is an absolute disgrace that one of the highest elected officials has all this power and continually flaunts it. Facts are facts.

He does not deserve to be a United States senator.

Gary McManus

Baker City


Online database a treasure trove of Baker’s history

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

I learned recently that a meteorite landed in Baker County during the Great Depression.

Or maybe it didn’t.

The surviving records on the matter fall somewhat short of conclusive.

Nonetheless, the lack of certainty about this possible extraterrestrial incident in no way detracts from the value of the digital treasure trove of which the meteorite story is but one glittering fragment.

I credit a couple of recent articles with leading me to this historical cornucopia.

Although to be honest, given that I have more than a passing interest in both history and geology I ought to have stumbled long ago across the online archives of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI).

I was looking for background first for a story about the new exhibit for the gold display at U.S. Bank’s Baker City branch, and later for an article about “Ghost Mine,” the Syfy channel series filmed last summer near Sumpter.

I didn’t dig up much that aided either story.

But I didn’t mind, because DOGAMI’s database is so rich in compelling detail that I could easily have dawdled half a day away poking around in photocopies of decades-old documents, some rendered in the rough scrawl of a long-dead geologist.

The website, by the way, is www.oregongeology.org/sub/milo/index-miningrecords.htm.

There’s a separate index for each county.

(Well, almost. Two of Oregon’s 36 counties — Benton and Clatsop — aren’t represented.)

Baker County boasts one of longer lists of documents, as you’d expect given the area’s extensive mining legacy.

One item caught my eye right off, in part because its title seemed to have little if anything to do with mining: “Baker Meteor Impact Crater Report.”

The one-page, typewritten report, dated April 23, 1968, bears the name of N.S. Wagner. That’s Norman Wagner, a DOGAMI geologist who was for many years in charge of the agency’s office in Baker City.

According to Wagner’s report, a meteorite supposedly landed during the winter of either 1933 or 1934 on a placer mining claim along Wilson Creek, about 10 miles southwest of Baker City.

The owners of the claim found the alleged impact crater when they arrived in the spring to start mining for the season.  Wagner, going off the miners’ story, describes the crater as a “trough some 10 feet wide by 15 feet long,” 

The miners also noticed that a large branch had been snapped off a tree beside the trough, and “chunks of frozen ground were reportedly nested in the branches of some small trees located adjacent to the end of the trough.” 

Wagner mentions a photograph of the scene that a friend of the miners supposedly had, but if the geologist obtained the photo, or learned anything more about the incident, it seems that no record of his findings survives.

Beyond the obvious lure of this tale — meteorites are pretty rare, after all — I was fascinated by a brief passage from Wagner’s report that seems to me a poignant, if unconventional, anecdote about why the Great Depression of the 1930s acquired its capital letter designation.

The miners, Wagner writes, were initially intrigued by the possibility that a chunk of interstellar stone had crashed into their placer claim.

But rather than devote their summer to digging around for strange-looking rocks, the miners apparently got back to business. Wagner wrote: “they didn’t do very much digging because of the need of offsetting the prevailing Depression conditions by getting hard cash from the mine.”

In other words, times are tough, bud, so get the stars out of your eyes and find some gold.

Gold, of course, is the metal that lured miners in their thousands to plumb Baker County’s placers and lodes. And DOGAMI’s records for the county are dominated by reports and newspaper clippings dealing with the search for, and extraction of, gold.

But the voluminous written history also includes a few unusual nuggets.

“John Hunter Coal Mine,” for instance.

I was no more aware of the presence of coal in Baker County than I was of a purported meteorite impact crater.

And as it turns out, the county never came close to becoming the Pennsylvania of the West.

But there is some coal out there.

The Hunter mine was discovered in 1937, according to a report written the following year by John Eliot Allen, another eminent Oregon geologist.

Allen, who died in 1996, joined DOGAMI in 1937 and later started the geology department at Portland State University. He wrote a geology column for The Oregonian in the 1980s and later co-authored “Hiking Oregon’s Geology” with Ellen Morris Bishop. Allen’s autobiography, “Bin Rock and Dump Rock: Recollections of a Geologist,” was published posthumously in 1997.

The Hunter coal deposit, according to Allen’s report, is about 500 feet south of the Powder River near Boulder Gorge, about midway between Baker City and Sumpter.

After confirming by map that the site is on public land, I figured I’d strap on snowshoes and try to find the place and see if any remnants remained. Allen mentioned in his report a “blacksmith shop, mine car, and track, small hoist, a good cabin on property.”

It is purely coincidental that the date of my hike, Jan. 19, was just three days short of 74 years from the day Allen collected ore samples from the 200-foot-long tunnel that had been dug (presumably by Hunter and his associates) into the surrounding basalt.

Allen makes no mention of how he got to the prospect.

But at least he made it, which is more than I can say for myself.

The biggest problem is the river.

Or, rather, the lack of a bridge.

I distrust the solidity of river ice, even in the midst of a long cold snap, so I drove to the nearest public bridge, which is about two miles upriver at the Powder River Recreation Area.

My topographic map implied a straightforward route, but I’m forever falling for its promises, like a oft-jilted lover, or a man who can’t resist the siren call of the roulette wheel.

Anyway, once I had slogged through the sugary, thigh-deep snow — even with my Sasquatch-like appendages I was plunging clear through to the ground — to a point I thought was pretty close to the old prospect, there was a 100-foot gorge in the way and it was getting near to lunch time so I turned back.

I suspect Allen was more determined than I am. Besides which he had a coal sample to hack out of the tunnel.

Of course miners, often as not, didn’t find what they were looking for either.

The haphazard nature of their enterprise is captured quite nicely in a report for the Tom Paine Mine, an operation in the Elkhorns west of Baker City.

In a letter dated April 30, 1938, Albert V. Quine, a mining geologist at DOGAMI’s Baker City office, describes the digging going on at the Tom Paine as being “in the same manner as one would consult a ouija board — it wanders all over the country here and there....”

In a separate report, dated three days earlier, Quine wrote that work at the Tom Paine “seems to start nowhere and evidently heading for the same place.”

Quine’s analysis of the miners’ methods is a trifle harsh, I suppose.

But it’s also refreshingly straightforward, a quality that has not distinguished government documents in the ensuing decades.

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