The Oregonian, April 1. Should Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion" be Oregon state book?
Maybe it's the way in which Ken Kesey's writing elevates Oregon's rivers and rain into primal characters that makes his 1964 novel "Sometimes a Great Notion" resonate with so many readers. Maybe it's the similarity Oregonians see between the fictional Stamper family's "Never give a inch" mantra and the heroic stubbornness hardwired into the state's independent culture.
The reasons are as varied as the popular book's fans. But based on comments to an Oregonian/OregonLive editorial last week, most readers appeared to agree that Kesey's novel about a logging family bucking a union strike in a coastal Oregon town would best fill the role of an Oregon state book.
Not that anyone is actually pushing for an official state book the way that legislators have anointed, for instance, an official state microbe. The idea to solicit nominations stemmed from a recent editorial board discussion after Mississippi legislators introduced a bill to make the Bible their official state book.
According to many readers, the idea was a bad one — how can you pick just one book from a state that has produced dozens of worthy contenders?
A commenter under the name bendbrilliance argued that "to do this right, you need three categories," urging titles for fiction, nonfiction and poetry and divided for time period as well. "In other words, books are different than birds and rocks. So I say no to designating a state book. Just enjoy them all."
At the very least, readers' contributions make for an impressive anthology of recommended reading on a wide range of topics. The titles and their subjects reflect the many cultures, themes and personalities of a state that, admittedly, cannot be defined by a single book.
Readers highlighted the familiar and the obscure: Craig Lesley's "Winterkill," Beverly Cleary's "Beezus and Ramona," and John Quick's "Fool's Hill." They named Bernard Malamud's "A New Life," the "Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," and Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness."
The list includes Terence O'Donnell's "An Arrow In The Earth: General Joel Palmer and the Indians of Oregon," Don Berry's "Trask," Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love," David Shetzline's "Heckletooth 3" and Joe Blakely's "Bellfountain Giant Killers."
There were, of course, less-than-serious suggestions that commented more on the state of Oregon politics than on its literary tradition, such as John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces" and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' "Manifesto of the Communist Party."
But in the end, as flawed as the quest might be, we were in search of a single book that conveyed something universal about Oregon. And commenter Christopher Lord, a native Oregonian from Astoria who is a local author as well, rose to the challenge with this bit of introspective lit crit:
"Sometimes a Great Notion is in a class by itself, a grandiloquent impressionistic tour de force of its time with our prejudices, faults, and human limitations all on display. But the language is magnificent, from its opening lines that beckon 'come look:'
"That Dickensian colon acts as a full stop to command our attention for all that follows.
"Non-linear? Digressive? Flawed? Of course it is, in the same way that Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick are flawed. But it is THE great Oregon novel, still read widely and discussed fifty years after publication and almost certainly destined to be read a hundred years from now. Every great book shows its age and the limitations of its time but I will defend this great crazy novel, and I'm apparently one of the horrible gay tree-hugging progressives described below that leans so far to the left that it's a wonder I can stand at all. What Kesey captures of a world that has changed is in itself enough of a reason to read, debate, and fulminate at the horrors of Oregon's past; that serves as a jumping off point for how we sustain the beauty of Oregon that no one has captured better than Kesey in this novel."
We would add one other reason to Lord's compelling argument. The book apparently possesses a unifying force that draws impassioned fans from across the political spectrum and bridges the urban-rural divide often apparent in comments on news and opinion sites. When else would some of these commenters - who can't even agree on their criticism of the editorial board as ultraconservative or hopelessly liberal - find common ground?
And that is really what the humble goal of a state book - or state anything for that matter - should be: The ability to shine a light on the similarities that bind us, for a time, before our entrenched divisions and rivalries set in once again.
Herald and News, April 2. Keep water plan moving in Congress
There probably isn't anyone who favors every piece of the Klamath Basin water settlement proposal in Congress. Yet it's important to the Basin that the package continue to move forward. It's the only realistic proposal there is.
Rep. Greg Walden acknowledged as much in a recent visit to Klamath Falls when he said, "We lose a settlement opportunity here that could escape us if we don't get this right. I know it's not popular. I don't want to take out the dams, but I'm not sure what the alternative is anymore."
By its nature, the water issue is divisive, but just as that's inevitable, so must be the effort to resolve it.
The divisions split some irrigators and some tribes. In the Upper Klamath Basin, the tribes have the highest priority water rights. The tribes along the Klamath River are in favor of dam removal, but divided on the overall package in the KBRA, and its associated proposals — the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement and the Upper Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
The Klamath Tribes back the proposal overall, but there is some tribal resistance on the lower Klamath River in California contending the proposals don't go far enough in recognizing tribal rights.
The three agreements are interlocking and depend on each other and can't be separated without the whole thing coming apart. Maybe that strikes some people as good idea, but it isn't since the success of the package would bring with it more certainty to water users especially during drought years. The Basin is now its third — or is it the fourth? — year of drought.
The Basin needs a water settlement. Walden deserves credit for moving in that direction after his initial hesitation on it, but the proposed settlement also needs demonstrated support from Klamath County.
That's especially important because if it isn't approved by Congress by the end of the year, the KBRA process will terminate. Currently, the Klamath Tribes have an agreement with irrigators on the Klamath Project not to fully exercise their first-priority water rights, but it's up to the Tribes as to how long that will last.
Every significant part of the settlement proposal is linked to something else. If it doesn't move ahead on that basis, the Basin will suffer.
The Bulletin, April 2. Ethics laws not the problem, but the people who are supposed to follow them.
The real problem with Oregon's transparency and ethics laws isn't the laws. It's how people in government follow them — or don't.
The intent of the laws is clear. The public should be able to easily find out what its government is doing. In general, that is what happens. But there are people who try to evade the law, apply it inconsistently or stonewall requests for information.
Gov. Kate Brown has three proposed bills to get at some of these issues. They are just drafts and so they will likely be altered, but they do have a lot of the right stuff as a starting point.
One draft bill provides greater clarity that the "first partner" — which is broadly defined to include spouses and more — is a public official. That was an issue in questions raised about former Gov. John Kitzhaber's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes.
That bill also attempts to draw a bright line prohibiting some state elected officials from receiving money for speaking engagements.
There is a loophole. Food, beverage, lodging and travel expenses can be lavish rewards in and of themselves. Those are permitted compensation in the draft bill with no limit. As long as that compensation is promptly disclosed, it should be enough to keep most public officials in line.
A second draft bill expands the state ethics commission to nine members from seven, diluting the governor's ability to choose who is on the commission. The secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general and commissioner of labor and industries would all get appointments under the bill.
The third bill directs the secretary of state to review the practices of state agencies when it comes to public records. There can be a lot of variation in cost and the amount of time it takes to get records. The cost can be so high as to effectively wall off the public from public information. And the delays in getting records can be so long that the records lose their relevance.
If these three bills pass in their current form, Oregon government could be a bit more transparent and ethical. But it relies on the people in government to obey the spirit of the laws.
The Daily Astorian, April 6, Small oil spills can add up to big trouble.
An Exxon Valdez oil spill every year, but spread around in patches and streaks all over the U.S. — this is what a never-ending pattern of small spills and leaks adds up to. The consequences are significant and it's worth everyone's attention to avoid these problems.
A story by Seattle's KUOW last month outlined the scope of the 95 percent of U.S. oil spills that are comparatively small — less than a single highway tanker truck delivery; some much less. Together, they add up to hundreds of spills in Oregon and Washington each year from a wide variety of sources. Though certainly lacking the drama to attract anything more than local media attention, and often not even that, these spills kill untold numbers of plants, birds and other aquatic creatures, while generally degrading the quality of the environment. Nationwide, they cost nearly $3 billion a year to clean up.
KUOW focused on a spill of 2,000 to 3,000 gallons that was traced 24 miles to a failing feedlot storage tank. Up to 50 people worked 11 days to mop it up. It doesn't take much to cause problems: It's been calculated that a tank leaking a drop every 10 seconds could release 60 gallons in a year.
Many of these spills are the legacy of earlier years in the petroleum era that began around 120-plus years ago. Petroleum products can continue doing damage for thousands of years. Improved awareness and stronger regulations have made steady progress in mitigating these ticking environmental bombs, but many remain.
In our area, some of these sources include:
— Spills and inappropriate disposal of oil and fuel products associated with World War II defense activities.
— Abandoned and forgotten underground storage tanks and fuel lines installed to service maritime, highway, aviation, forestry and agricultural vehicles and vessels.
— Tar tanks used to treat pound nets.
— Fuel and lubricants in sunken vessels.
— Tanks used to store home heating oil.
Rumors sometimes surface of storage tanks unearthed during construction activities and then quietly reburied. In other cases, environmental testing has disclosed the presence of oil spreading in groundwater from old spills and sumps, rendering property close to worthless.
In nearly every case, it makes both financial and ethical sense to avoid these issues in the first place and to confront them head-on when they come to our attention. Expensive as it may be to effectively deal with an obsolete or abandoned storage container, it is far more expensive to clean oil up after it has spread through surrounding soil and water.
Clearly, the best approach is make sure tanks and lines don't leak in the first place. If you no longer need them, get rid of them in an appropriate manner — contact Oregon DEQ for guidance. And if you find an abandoned tank or other source of potential pollution, report it.
The Register Guard, April 6. Tighten forest spray rules.
A legislative proposal to protect residents of rural areas against exposure to herbicides sprayed on private forest lands has been sent to a work group, ostensibly because the issue is so complicated that lawmakers can't proceed until opposing groups reach a consensus. But it's really not complicated at all: Oregon needs to catch up with neighboring states in regulating aerial herbicide applications.
Senate Bill 613, the bill that has been punted to a work group, would tighten Oregon's rules in three respects. First, the regulations would provide as much protection to people, livestock and crops as they currently do to fish. Second, they would ensure that people are informed when herbicides are about to be sprayed nearby. And third, they would allow people to find out which chemicals have been sprayed on forests near their homes and drinking water supplies.
Oregon's Forest Practices Act requires helicopters spraying herbicides keep the chemicals away from a 60-foot buffer zone along fish-bearing streams. But there's no buffer zone for residences or agricultural lands. Notification requirements are weak, and information about which of a variety of weed-killing chemicals have been applied is difficult or impossible to obtain. Stronger regulations can be found in Washington or Idaho, and sometimes both. Washington, for instance, requires a 200-foot buffer around residences. And Idaho bans spraying within half a mile of agricultural lands.
Opponents of SB613 insist that reports of human exposure to herbicides — such as the 2013 incident near Gold Beach, in which about 40 people say they were sickened after a helicopter sprayed herbicide over their homes — are usually the result of pilots not following rules that are already in place. They fear that the real objective of SB613's supporters is to ban forest herbicides altogether, as has been done on federal lands.
Private forest land managers, however, should recognize that pressure for a ban will build after a few more incidents like the one near Gold Beach. Buffer zones and better notification would reduce the number of complaints about pets, livestock, gardens or children being exposed to aerial sprays. And making it easier for people to find out what chemicals have been sprayed near their property would keep people from automatically assuming the worst whenever a helicopter passes overhead.
The work group should not become a legislative cul-de-sac for SB613. Oregon needs reasonable herbicide rules like those in neighboring states — and without them, less reasonable proposals will follow.