Monthly Archives: November 2007

Sooo, what’s the big deal?

During a train trip west, a friend and I entered the observation car to listen to a tour of Navajoland presented by a guide familiar with the area.

As unrepentant English teachers, we noticed instantly a speech mannerism of the fellow at the microphone: He ended every sentence with “so . . .” and the sentences would trail off, with nothing logically connected to the “so.”

“Why’s he doing that?” I asked Dick Panofsky, who was traveling with me to Flagstaff to visit a college communications department. We puzzled over the habit, which the speaker never failed to use, like this: “There are thousands of hogans hidden in the hills, so . . .” or “The Navajo tribe is the largest American Indian tribe, so . .

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Be careful what you read

It’s tough to outlive a reputation. And even tougher to outlive a reputation falsely earned.

The term “nerd” hadn’t come into vogue during my high school years, around the time of the Punic Wars, but if it had, some may have applied it to me.

The ruse came about because of my friendship with former classmate Wilfred Martinez, who fled from Immaculate Conception School to then-Vegas High. An English teacher I knew at VHS told me she’d caught Wilfred in study hall reading the works of William Shakespeare.

Then she added that what Wilfred had really done was to place a copy of Mad Magazine inside the Shakespeare tome and act as if he were a true scholar rather than a rogue scholar. So while others imagined the ingenious senior to be savoring the iambic pentameter, sonnets and rhymed couplets of the Bard, Wilfred was really taking in Alfred E. Newman’s nonsense.

So I asked myself, “Self, why can’t it work the other way around?”

Accordingly, that week at the I.C. library, I tucked a volume of Shakespare’s plays inside my copy of Mad. Being spotted almost immediately by Sister Mary Thelma, I had the opportunity to explain to her (and all within earshot) that the humor-magazine-girding-a-classic trick was done so as not to appear ostentatious.

And, I pointed out, one shouldn’t judge a book by what’s covering it.

That’s why some classmates surmised I like to read good literature. My trick appeared to work, but in no way did the action imply I was a voracious reader. Sometimes, in fact, I used condensed versions of the classics.

During a lifetime of reading I’ve always resented “preachy” literature, the kind whose didacticism must have a moral and always tries to reform the reader.

In previous columns I’ve railed against censorship and even editorialized about it when a superintendent of a small Texas school district led a book-burning party for one of Rudolfo Anaya’s classics. “Bless Me, Ultima.”

The administrator reasoned that since the Anaya novel included witchcraft (curanderismo), those who read it likely would start their own covens.

It’s disconcerting when others try to decide what’s best for us. And worse than censors are those who not only present sanitized material but who slant it as well.

For years, my membership in various organizations, ranging from press to education and church has meant being on a number of newsletter mailing lists.

For the most part, I welcome periodic literature from these organizations, but sometimes they go too far.

For example, a supplement newsletter that comes with my membership in a teachers’ organization routinely provides us with a slanted (toward us) version of events.

The newsletter distorted facts as presented by the administration and seemed determined to make us members appear as victims. I hate being portrayed as the victim and I loathe even more being told what to think — which is the implicit message in the slanted coverage the newsletter provided.

Now we get this in all forms: church bulletins, fliers in doctors’ offices, virtually any group where people have a stake.

A recent letter to the editor in a metropolitan newspaper cautioned the public, among other things, against “reading literature that ‘might tend to confuse’ us.” Well, big swinging deal. By virtue of our ability to read, we also possess a modicum of judgment, the ability to decide for ourselves what might corrupt our morals.

The recent DaVinci Code controversy is an example. I read a slew of letters to the editor from concerned readers who apparently believed that watching the movie or reading the book is tantamount to selling our souls to the devil. It’s quite reminiscent of the medieval superstitions many of us grew up with, in which our failure to conform would invite and even encourage the deity to “open up the earth and swallow us.”

I read the book and saw the movie. No swallowings yet, but I have a better appreciation of the author’s ability to craft a great plot.

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A.G. got confirmed, despite . . .

With surprising ease, President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, to replace the beleaguered Alberto Gonzales, won the necessary votes to gain confirmation. That was last week, not long after the president submitted Judge Michael B. Mukasey’s name.

The retired federal judge went through the ritual screening, most of which centered on torture, a definition that obviously eluded Mukasey’s predecessor.

On the day the Democrats joined with Republicans for a 53-40 vote in favor of confirmation, “Washington Journal,? a public-affairs program on C-Span, invited callers of all political persuasions to opine on the prospects for Mukasey’s expected confirmation a few hours later.

Torture dominated. The practice of waterboarding appeared to be on everyone’s mind. One caller railed Mukasey over not categorically declaring waterboarding torture, and therefore illegal. Another caller gave her opinion: “I see nothing wrong with splashing a little water on a prisoner’s face.?

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One misdeed punishes all

We can all recall a time when the sins of a few were visited upon everybody else.

One such incident happened when I was an undergraduate at Highlands, enrolled in a history course. In the fashion of Delta House members in the movie “Animal House,? some students fished through a wastebasket outside one of the buildings and located the mimeographs of the final exam.

Gross! In pre-Xerox days, those sticky, ill-smelling, inky sheets of thin plastic were the stencils used in preparing the examination. Apparently the secretary who typed the exam discarded the stencils, not realizing that the search would be on later that night. The three culprits got caught black-handed, but rather than dealing with them directly and individually, the instructor decided to make the announcement, without naming the louses, that “Because certain members of your class cheated, all of you will suffer the consequences and will be required to take both a multiple-choice exam as well as a written final.?

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What a difference an ‘h’ makes

Why doesn’t anybody ever write to say that the 75 sentences in a recent column were accurate? Is there any other job in which one’s effort seems destined to invite corrections?

To get to the point:

In a recent column, “We must mind our g’s and q’s,? in which I recalled having studied typefaces as they used to be formed — backwards and upside-down — I mentioned that a printer at the Optic once plucked a letter out of a chase for me to examine and identify. My greatest difficulty was with the lowercase “b,? “g,? “p? and “q.?

Well, almost immediately there came an e-mail from Eddie Groth, an Immaculate Conception School alumnus, who later taught printing at Highlands and won awards as a sports information director at Highlands, UNM and NMSU. He later became New Mexico State’s public information director.

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