Archive for June, 2009

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)

One of these days at an airport somewhere in America, a SWAT team will descend on me. I just know it’s coming.

I thought it would happen after that 10-hour back surgery in 2006, when a neurosurgeon implanted enough titanium in my back for a decent set of golf clubs. Good ones, too. Something Tiger might seriously consider.

But no alarms went off. So about a week ago, I sailed through, while a good friend got the frisk routine, and the wand routine, and the third-degree about his new knee, which involves enough metal to get everyone in a TSA shirt within a 10-square mile radius considerably exercised. Bill said it happens every time at every airport.

And now I have a new back gizmo as of Monday morning. It’s an electronic  nerve stimulator surgically implanted in the back, the theory being that the electronic signals it sends to two leads attached to the spine will disrupt the pain signals going from the lower back to the brain.

I’ve not heard anything about this fine piece of science causing  a TSA commotion.

Oh, and does it work? I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. Right now, I’d be happy to make it past airport security without leg irons.

A friend sends news, with a confession: “You could not make this stuff up. (OK, I couldn’t.)

Here’s a taste:

“The granddaughter of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara is at the forefront of another revolution — for vegetarianism.

Lydia Guevara poses semi-nude in a PETA campaign that tells viewers to “join the vegetarian revolution,” said PETA spokesman Michael McGraw.”

Took a few days off to visit the city of my birth — Chicago. Met up with an old friend, a New Mexican by birth, who somehow had something go tragically wrong in his life and wound up being a Cubs fan. But he’d never been to Wrigley Field and I told him I’d go — assuming I could find it.

Given that I am a native South Sider, a White Sox fan, and I am precluded from setting foot in Wrigley Field, I made an exception for friendship. So I went with him. The Cubs did not disappoint.

Playing the Twins in inter-league play, they showed what true Cubness means when Milton Bradley, the Cubs right fielder, first lost a ball in the sun in one inning and in the next inning topped it with a display of Cubness you rarely get to see in person.

With Twins runners all over the bases, Bradley caught a fly ball and with great flare and elan tossed the ball into the stands, the ritual of all outfielders after the third out.

The problem of course was that it wasn’t the third out. It was the second out, and Twins runners ran and ran, and Cub fans booed and booed, and the next day the Sun-Times had a fine headline over a photo of the right fielder: “Err Head.”

Perfect Cubness. You can’t help but admire it.

Chicago is a great city. You should go. It has much more to offer than the Cubs (the Chicago Institute of Art, for example; the food; the architecture; the lakefront; the energy of just being in the midst of it all; and of course the music — we managed to drop in on the weekend of the Chicago blues festival in Grant Park).

So now it’s home again, and glad of it. Road trips are good, but they have limits, time expirations, when the adventure begins to sour a little, like milk left out too long. Home always sweetens things up.

I met Harry Kinney the day he started his first cab driver job. He had been mayor of Albuquerque twice. I walked up to his cab, where he sat reading a newspaper in front of the Marriott at Louisiana and I-40. I was writing a Journal column back then.

I will never forget what he said when he looked up and saw me: “Oh, no, not you.”


On Sunday, the usual luminaries dedicated a statue to him on Civic Plaza — or more properly — Harry E. Kinney Civic Plaza.

That day I saw him in the cab, he said, “You’re not going to write about this, are you?”

Who? Me? Write about a twice-elected mayor now driving a cab because he thought it would be fun and he’d get to meet a lot of new people? Write about that? Nah, why would I write about that?

An old friend with a penchant for wisdom and an unerring eye for the real McCoy once said of Harry Kinney: “It makes me feel good to know that people like Harry live in Albuquerque. He makes it a better city and a better place to live.

He did, too.

On the front page of today’s Times is a remarkable story.

From the story: “As a member of the only all-black unit in the D-Day landings on Omaha and Utah, the two beachheads assigned to American forces, Corporal William G. Dabney was a rarity in a European war that in its early days was fought almost entirely by whites.”

We tend to forget what these then young men did. We rarely, if ever, consider the notion of “all-black” units, and then realize what they faced when they came home.

Mr. Dabney is the last of his D-Day kind. I’m glad to see him on the front page of the Times.

A friend from the UNM law school sends a story on the incoming dean at the law school. It seems a long ago program in Albuquerque opened up a new world for Kevin Washburn.

This is a story about feeling good about where you live.

Nobody gets killed; nobody gets shot; Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t be the least bit interested in it, though Dan Barry, the Pulitzer winner at the NY Times might. (If you don’t read Dan Barry, you should. If you are a fan of good writing and good storytelling, you should be reading Dan Barry every chance you get. Go look for him at the Times as soon as we’re through here with the Corrales story.)

The story is told by an old friend and one of the founders of a weekly poker game I play in. It began on a Tuesday in 1975 and has been played every Tuesday since. He retired from UNM and built a house in Corrales. Eventually, he came to see there was a problem with the house: A lot of people couldn’t tell the front from the back and most of them thought the back was the front. So he hired a crew to put in a proper entrance to the back of the house.

On Tuesday, he went out to see how things were going with the new entrance. That’s when he saw the 20-foot flames and the column of smoke rising from across the street.


“It was impressive,” he said.

All the more so when you consider the whole thing began with two kids, the New Mexico sun and the classic kid experiment: Let’s see what we can burn with a magnifying glass.

Kid #1 said: “Don’t. You’ll start a fire.”

Kid #2 said: “It’ll only burn a leaf.”

Points to Kid #1.

Dick pointed out the fire to the guys laying pavers at his house. The four-man crew grabbed their shovels and started running toward the fire.

“That, too, was impressive,” he said.

Dick’s wife called 911 and soon the Corrales Fire Department was on the job.

Two of the workers from Dick’s house were throwing sand at the base of the fire to stop its spread. Another worker got a hose from the house of a neighbor and they quickly knocked the fire down.

“While they were spraying, I went over to the mother to see what had happened,” Dick said. “She said the boys had been playing with a magnifying glass.”

Then the FD showed up, four vehicles. The area burned was only about 100 square feet, but it was close to the house.

Then the thank you’s began.

“The father of the boys brought his kids over to thank the paver crew that knocked down the fire,” Dick said. “The Corrales fire chief called the workers’ boss, the owner of the company, to thank him for the work the paver crew did. The mother gave a thank you note to each guy in the paver crew with $100 in it. I asked her if the fire department had given any grief to the kids. No, she said, they were very nice to them. Good, kudos to the fire department!”


“One of the guys came up to me and said, `You sure have nice neighbors,” Dick said. “Everyone is feeling good. It’s nice to feel good about your town.”