Conversations


When somebody writes something that makes you laugh out loud, it should not go unrecognized. John Kenney, in today’s New York Times, does just that.

It’s been awhile. September, I think. Liz reminded me often that it had been a long time since I posted anything on the blog. Then Frank, a cousin in Connecticut, e-mailed and said something about … September, I think.

Then I started to hear from former readers of the column I wrote for 28 years in the Albuquerque Journal. Are you going to blog again?

I don’t know that I have an explanation for why I stopped. Maybe because I’d grown tired of hearing the sound of my own voice. And you don’t have to look around the Internet much to see that we are not suffering from a lack of opinions. We seem to have enough to go around.

A good deal of the “blogging” I was doing didn’t involve the soap box factor anyway. It consisted of linking to news stories that caught my eye, a kind of amateur “aggregator,” if you will. A handful of friends can tell you all about that. Blog or no blog, they are the frequent recipients of these “aggregations.” (Isn’t it fun to make up words as you go? But then I’ve been away. Maybe they’re the commonly accepted currency now.) The chances are good that the “aggregations” will continue in this space, assuming of course I can remember how to link.

So I’d been thinking about warming up the blog again.

Then came that afternoon I was driving around Corrales and the West Side, tending to errands, channel surfing on the radio, tuning in for a moment to KKOB to hear what they were exercised about that day.

That’s when I heard the caller to the Jim Villanucci show say of the President of the United States and any other Democrat the caller disagreed with: “Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em all! Take ‘em out!”

For about week, the memory of it rolled around in my head and wouldn’t go away. Finally, I thought: OK, I’ll blog.

Back in the day, when I wrote a column for the Albuquerque Journal, it was my privilege to write about a young couple who, after many struggles, built independent lives for themselves. They, in fact, were very much in love. Now comes a story from the LA Times that makes me wonder what the hell kind of people we have become.

Sometimes the Republicans … well, you just have to see it to believe it. Now they’re sending out fund-raising letters that tell Republican voters that if the Democrats pass healthcare reform, the Democrats will take away healthcare from Republicans.

Really. Jon Stewart didn’t make it up.

John Fleck, the Albuquerque Journal’s science writer, has a fine love story up on his blog – jfleck at inkstain. Page down just a bit and you’ll see it. It’s just below “Texas Drought.” It’s timing was perfect, Liz and I having just returned from a game Friday night in which we found ourselves in seats we don’t normally occupy.

John’s story is beautiful for lots of reasons, not the least of which being that it could be written only with baseball as the backdrop. It is the most social game we have, the only one given to love stories. Stories like John’s don’t come down from the stands in a football game or a tennis match or a hockey fight.

On Friday night (8/29) Liz and I sat in seats one row from the field behind home plate. (A friend offered them; we accepted.) She’d never sat that close to the field before, let alone that close behind home plate. If you’ve never played baseball, it’s the perfect place to get a feel for the game, for it’s speed, its sounds, its small intricate details.

It was a wonderfully audible moment, identifying a pitch by its sound — the explosive detonation of a fastball slamming into the catcher’s mitt, the softness of a 76 mile an hour change of pace, sneaking its way almost silently into the glove, the in-between sound of a slider, not quite as loud as the fastball, nothing as soft as a change, something with an identity problem maybe.

And then, when a batter gets good wood on the ball … well, there is no sound like that sound.

Of course, Liz was the one to identify the true uniqueness of our position. The ‘Topes hitter stood in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first, swinging the weighted bat, than his own, stretching, smacking imaginary fastballs into a power alley, watching the pitcher warm up, gauging the ball as it left his hand and headed home.

A soft breeze came up, cool and light on our faces. Liz said, “My God! I can smell his after shave. Not bad, either.”

One more Triple AAA moment. Someone on the field tossed a ball to the bat boy sitting a few feet from us. He juggled it, lost control and it dribbled into the seats. He shrugged, gave up on it and turned around in his folding chair, facing the field. After all, the unwritten law is the unwritten law.

But this isn’t the big leagues with its Darwinian demands on survival. This is different territory. A little kid sitting near us, about five years old, picked up the loose ball rolling near his feet, walked over to the bat boy, tapped him on a startled shoulder, held out the ball and said, “You dropped this.”

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A long time ago, boys and girls, a fine rabble rouser named Mark Acuff gave the Albuquerque Journal much heartburn in his “New Mexico Independent.” (It’s no relation to the current online New Mexico Independent. Acuff’s was written on and printed on actual paper. (Google “paper.” It will explain everything.)

Now we have a veteran former Journal staffer, Tracy Dingmann, picking up where Acuff left off. ABQ Journal Watch is only a couple of days old, so we shall see what comes. But Tracy worked there for 18 years. She won’t be lacking for sources.

Here’s a taste from Tracy:

“Every day I talk to Journal readers who express dismay at the paper’s editorial stances and seemingly related news coverage – content that often seems driven by a undefined political agenda, not one that simply covers the facts.  The fact that some news stories and editorial opinions appear to be in lockstep flies in the face of the long-cherished journalistic principle that there should be a hefty firewall between news and opinion.

“For me – and for many others I talk to – the problem isn’t so much with the reporters – it’s with the decisions that fall squarely into editorial territory.

“On the news pages, it’s things like headlines that don’t match a reporter’s story, puzzling story choices for the front page or investigations that amount to thinly-veiled vendettas against certain people or groups.

“On the editorial page, it’s endorsements that are wildly out of step with the community, or the barrage of conservative columnists who express views grossly dissonant to the ideological views of most of those who live here.

“Then there’s the things that the editorial department simply doesn’t have – like ethnic diversity in management and a positive image and involvement in the wider community.

“All this is especially disturbing in light of the fact that the Journal calls itself the state’s “Paper of Record,” a term that implies that it covers everything and covers it fairly. The Journal also claims that its news gatherers and editors are “objective,” hewing to the old-fashioned traditional journalistic principle that a newspaper can produce coverage with no bias.

“I’ve always found it odd that there’s no regular outlet for media criticism in Albuquerque.  It needs to happen now, because today’s transformed media landscape means newspapers and other huge companies aren’t the only one who can make their voices heard. Now anyone can point out that newspapers aren’t always the bastions of objectivity they claim to be.

“I believe readers can and should keep an eye on the watchdog. That’s why I’m helping start this media criticism site, which  will take a serious look each week at editorials and news coverage from the state’s largest paper.”

In the past I have suggested that you read Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle. The reasons are many — his writing, his thinking, his humor, his ability to cut through the baloney and get to the good stuff. Today, I’m going to suggest again that you read him — and there’s an added surprise in the deal, another writer who makes you read slowly — Michael Chabon.

Have you noticed that about good writers? How they slow you down? Their sentences are so beautifully constructed that you must slow down. They make it impossible to speed read. The writing is too good to be read fast.

Here’s a beautiful Chabon sentence: “Childhood is a branch of cartography.”

Think about that for a little while. Carroll wishes he wrote it instead of Chabon. I wish I’d written it instead of Chabon. That’s the way the world spins when you come across a lovely sentence. First thing out of your mind: envy. Then, appreciation.

Oh, well. You’ll find Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle. You’ll find Chabon at The New York Review of Books. Each writes about childhood and how we’ve changed it, made it more like a prison for the kids and a fearful place for the grown-up. Each of the writers makes his argument with lovely sentences.

Rachel Toor, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education (via Andrew Sullivan’s blog), examines the importance of good writing. Regardless of the field one enters, be it science or business, if you write well, you’ll always have an advantage. If you don’t write well, you might wind up scaring your patient.

Toor writes:

Even now, when I get letters from my own physician giving me the results of lab tests, I cringe. Can I really trust someone to interpret complicated data if she can’t maintain control over her sentence structure? Communication is the fundamental element of most professions. Writing, as Plato reminded us, is a risky business. It should be approached with fear and trembling. Doctors and scientists might sometimes need a reminder that they are writing for humans.

For all the complaining I do when yet another uncivil, vulgar blast comes sailing across cyberspace, I really do like reading stories like this one from The New York Times. The headline says it nicely: “Web Pries Lid of Censorship by Iranian Government.”

Here’s a taste:

Shortly after Neda Agha-Soltan bled her life out on the Tehran pavement, the man whose 40-second video of her death has ricocheted around the world made a somber calculation in what has become the cat-and-mouse game of evading Iran’s censors. He knew that the government had been blocking Web sites like YouTube and Facebook. Trying to send the video there could have exposed him and his family.

Instead, he e-mailed the two-megabyte video to a nearby friend, who quickly forwarded it to the Voice of America, the newspaper The Guardian in London and five online friends in Europe, with a message that read, “Please let the world know.” It was one of those friends, an Iranian expatriate in the Netherlands, who posted it on Facebook, weeping as he did so, he recalled.

Copies of the video, as well as a shorter one shot by another witness, spread almost instantly to YouTube and were televised within hours by CNN. Despite a prolonged effort by Iran’s government to keep a media lid on the violent events unfolding on the streets, Ms. Agha-Soltan was transformed on the Web from a nameless victim into an icon of the Iranian protest movement.

Just a brief briefing of a few things that caught my eye this morning.

HYSTERIA IN ALBUQUERQUE … NOT

Has anyone noticed anything approaching hysteria in Albuquerque? No? I didn’t think so. Me neither.

But there it was right in the Los Angeles Times. Or as Al Martinez, who used to write a column for the paper before some bean counter lopped his head off, called it: The LA (by God) Times.

The story was on Manny Ramirez coming to play a few games with the Isotopes.

The general manager of the Dodgers’ triple-A affiliate, Traub has been involved in minor league baseball for 17 years. He said he has never seen anything like the hysteria that overtook Albuquerque when news broke that Ramirez could be headed its way.

HEATHER ON HACKING

Former New Mexico representative Heather Wilson writes in The Washington Post that we have a problem with cyber-security. Wilson served on the House intelligence committee for six years. She writes in the Post:

Congressional computers have been penetrated, probably by the Chinese. The avionics system of the F-22 fighter may be compromised. Computers of our presidential candidates were hacked into — and probably not by teenagers on a lark. Last year’s advance of Russian tanks into Georgia was accompanied by the disruption of Georgian government computer systems.

These are only public manifestations of a new reality: Attacks on computer systems will be an integral element of future conflict, and the United States is more dependent on computer networks than any other nation.

THE REPUGNANT PARTY

Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts offers a good argument that when it comes to race, the Republican party needs to take a good look at itself.

First, he offers Sherri Goforth, an aide to a Tennessee state senator, who sent out an e-mail depicting 44 American presidents, 43 of whom are shown in dignified poses. Barack Obama is shown as cartoon spook eyes against a black backdrop.

Then there’s this:

Well, after Goforth’s e-mail, after “Barack the Magic Negro,” and John McCain‘s campaign worker blaming a fictional black man for a fictional mugging, and a party official in Texas renaming the executive mansion “the black house,” and an official in Virginia claiming Obama‘s presidency would see free drugs and “mandatory black liberation theology,” and a Republican activist in South Carolina calling an escaped ape one of Michelle Obama’s “ancestors,” it seems wholly fair to me. Indeed, overdue.

WHAT KIND OF JUDGES DO WE WANT?

Stanley Fish considers the question in his New York Times blog:

In fact – and this is what (Sonia) Sotomayor means when she talks about reaching a better conclusion than a white man who hasn’t lived her life – rather than distorting reality, perspectives illuminate it or at least that part of it they make manifest. It follows that no one perspective suffices to capture all aspects of reality and that, therefore, the presence in the interpretive arena of multiple perspectives is a good thing. In a given instance, the “Latina Judge” might reach a better decision not because she was better in some absolute, racial sense, but because she was better acquainted than her brethren with some aspects of the situation they were considering. (As many have observed in the context of the issue of gender differences, among the current justices, only Ruth Bader Ginsburg knows what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl and might, by virtue of that knowledge, be better able to asses the impact on such a girl of a strip-search.)



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