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Runaway Jury
Diary of a mad juror.

Kings of the Board
Silver High's chess champs.

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Dutch Oven cooking comeback.

The Eloquence of Surrender
Remembering Apache words.

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Las Cruces tombstone tour.

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Marathon biker Glenn Theron.


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The Shock of the New

More editorial legroom plus a monthly restaurant guide. But still nothing for bridge players.

I realize that minor tweaks in the format or presentation of Desert Exposure, though matters of much pondering and room-pacing here at Desert Exposure World Headquarters, pass unnoticed by most of our readers. You have a lot more important things to think about, presumably, than whether the subheads atop our columns are 18 or 16 points in type size. (We're mostly sticking with 18, in case you really don't have anything better to worry about. But stayed tuned!)

On the other hand, I vividly remember the reaction when, during my stint as Features Editor of the Pioneer Press newspaper in St. Paul, Minn., I had the temerity to move the bridge column (as in the card game, not a daily column about river-spanning structures, though that might have been more interesting). From time immemorial, evidently, fans of trumps and suits and such had found their favorite feature on the same page as Ann Landers' pearls of wisdom. I foolishly thought I had something better for that prized location, and so dislodged the bridge column. I didn't cancel it, mind you, but merely anchored the bridge feature in a different spot.

The angry phone calls began while the thumps of the morning paper hitting front porches across Greater St. Paul were still echoing over the snap, crackle and pop of breakfast. Judging by the vitriolic reaction, you'd think I'd replaced the bridge column with, say, a daily commentary adapted from Hitler's Mein Kampf or (worse in Minnesota, home of the beloved Vikings) a regular paean to the hated Green Bay Packers. I tried explaining, during breaks in the telephonic screaming, that I hadn't cancelled their beloved bridge column—readers could still enjoy it every day, just on a different page.

This feeble excuse wouldn't wash with the furious hordes of bridge players across the Twin Cities, however. I crumbled like a stale Melba toast and promptly restored the bridge column to its place of honor.

The same basic principle of reader outrage applied, I learned, to the newspaper's comic strips. If you really wanted to know whether a strip that seemed stale and past its prime (the comic stylings of Nancy and Sluggo, for instance) was no longer popular, simply drop it from the comics page for a few days. If it still had a legion of fans—like the bridge column—we'd swiftly hear about it. If no one cared—or even noticed—Nancy and Sluggo could go gently into that good night.

So I know that readers really do care about even some of the more arcane goings-on of their favorite publications. The warm and enthusiastic response to our annual reader survey, printed in our April issue, certainly shows that's true for Desert Exposure.

If you haven't already registered your opinion about the highs and lows within our pages, it's not too late! (That's assuming you've picked up your copy of this issue early in the month, as we know by the empty racks many readers do.) You have until May 6 to clip out and send us the survey form from last issue or to go online to www.desertexposure.com/survey and make yourself heard electronically. Either method also enters you in a drawing for 10 Desert Exposure coffee mugs that we'll send to randomly selected respondents as a thank-you.

 

Although we're still tabulating the survey results and the "polls" are still open, a few changes in this issue already reflect some of the "early returns." You're looking at one such tweak: We've expanded the space and adjusted the format of this Editor's Note column to accommodate more than one topic per issue. Evidently many of you out there enjoy seeing me expound each month—or perhaps the occupants of your bird cages simply find my opinions irresistible. In any case, now when there's something to be said about Desert Exposure itself, as in this edition, you won't be deprived of my rantings about issues of concern to Southwest New Mexico.

We were also impressed, once again, by the positive response to our "40 Days and 40 Nights" calendar of events. We strive every month to make this the most complete and useful guide to what's going on in our corner of the world, and it's obvious that readers appreciate it. That response inspired us to ponder what other such topics we might be able to address in a similar spirit of reader service.

The answer was obvious. What do people often do before or after enjoying the sort of events listed in "40 Days and 40 Nights"? They eat out, of course. Or consider someone driving from Silver City, say, to take advantage of an event in Las Cruces or Deming. Before you head home, you're probably going to want to grab a bite to eat. But where? How do you find a restaurant that serves the sort of fare you prefer?

We've already been answering these questions, in part, with our "Red or Green?" dining guide—but it's appeared only quarterly. To be the perfect partner to our events calendar, "Red or Green?" needs to run in every issue, in close proximity to "40 Days and 40 Nights." Besides making our dining guide a monthly feature, starting this issue, we've made "Red or Green?" more useful by fleshing it out with capsule summaries of past restaurant reviews. While the listings may be artfully abridged in some issues for space considerations, the complete dining guide with all the capsules will always be available on our Web site, www.desertexposure.com.

The "Table Talk" column of restaurant news that accompanies our listings will also run monthly, and boasts a new author. We've drafted Donna Clayton Lawder, author of our popular new "Business Exposure" column, to keep tabs on the dining scene with the same eagle eye she applies to other businesses.

Let us know what you think of these (we hope) improvements. Next issue we'll let you know what you (collectively) think about Desert Exposure, with a report on our reader-survey results. As you can see, we do pay attention to what readers tell us.

Just please, don't ask us to put in a bridge column.

 

Pete and Re-Pete

Why aren't New Mexico liberals angry at Sen. Pete Domenici—and working harder to replace him?

In recent months, frustrated New Mexico opponents of the Iraq war and the Bush administration have aimed their ire mostly at fellow Democrats. Politicos ranging from Gov. Bill Richardson to state Sen. Ben Altamirano have taken heat for being insufficiently outraged over current policies. A vote to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney—at best purely symbolic, given the near-zero appetite for such a step in Congress—became liberals' cause celebre. (Vermont, which passed such a measure, did at least earn itself some ink in "Doonebury.")

Meanwhile, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici—a Republican—was casting one vote after another in Washington on matters of real substance, against efforts to set any kind of cutoff date for US involvement in Iraq. Many such votes were razor-close, where Domenici's vote made a difference. Other GOP senators in "purple states" who are up for re-election in 2008—such as Norm Coleman in Minnesota and Susan Collins in Maine—saw enormous pressure to break with their party and vote against the war. Yet Domenici's consistently pro-war stance seemingly went unnoticed and unchallenged.

Where is the anger against Domenici? Why has there been so little interest among war opponents in calling him to account for his votes? It's almost as though New Mexico Democrats would rather fight among themselves than criticize a GOP senator. Or is it simply that, over Domenici's long tenure, they've learned to expect no better?

It's not just Democrats who are concerned about the continuing Iraq quagmire, of course; likely, New Mexicans as a whole roughly match the two-thirds or so of Americans whom polls show have soured on the war. Can Pete Domenici, if he indeed chooses to run for re-election as it seems he will, really defy the opinion of a majority of his constituents on the most important issue of the day? Most political observers would answer yes, he probably can.

And it's not just votes on the war that might raise eyebrows about "Saint Pete." His entanglement in the firing of US Attorney David Iglesias (a fellow Republican) has tarnished a formerly spotless reputation. Combined with Domenici's age and health issues, the Iglesias scandal should have Democrats salivating over the chance to face him in 2008. Instead, however, they're mostly targeting Rep. Heather Wilson—again—who's seen as more "beatable" and who also got tarred by the US attorney brouhaha.

It's as though, by dint of his long service in the Senate, Domenici has been granted a free lifetime pass by New Mexico voters. Never mind his willingness to throw away more American lives in our failed Iraq adventure. Forget his inappropriate meddling with the business of the US attorney. Who cares about his voting record on the environment—a 14 percent ranking by the League of Conservation Voters in 2006, up from voting pro-environment just 5 percent in 2005 and zero in 2003-2004? He's our Pete.

Even ambitious Democratic politicians seem to agree. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez has said he won't run for the Senate seat if Domenici seeks re-election. Gov. Bill Richardson would rather embark on a long-shot presidential quest than take on Domenici. No one even talks about Rep. Tom Udall stepping up to challenge Domenici.

To a relative newcomer to New Mexico, it's admittedly hard to figure. To anyone who cares about having a real choice for the US Senate in 2008, in which politicians who are supposed to represent us can be held accountable, it should be frustrating.

Sen. Pete Domenici has done a lot of good things for New Mexico. But let's not put him up on Mount Rushmore just yet.

 

Quick Takes

Achieving liftoff—barely: Spaceport backers shouldn't crow too loudly about last month's squeaker of a victory in Dona Ana County's vote to raise gross-receipts taxes for the project. The spaceport tax won by just 270 votes out of 17,770 cast. With only 19 percent of county voters going to the polls, it's likely the tax would have failed in a general election with broader participation, especially from lower-income residents. And the margin was razor-thin despite near-universal backing from county movers and shakers and the almost total absence of an active campaign against the tax.

Let's hope Las Cruces-area taxpayers now pay closer attention than most local media have to the real progress—or lack thereof—of Spaceport America and the economic windfall it's supposed to create. As we've reported (most recently in "Failure to Launch," April 2007), the gap between the spaceport's promises and reality remains wide enough to, well, fire a rocket full of millionaire tourists through.

Meanwhile, we're happy to report that the industry upon which the spaceport's success or failure largely rests—space tourism—has its latest satisfied customer. Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi rocketed into orbit last month on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to spend a vacation aboard the International Space Station. His flight was made more pleasant by vittles prepared especially for the voyage by Simonyi's pal, Martha Stewart.

When you pay just a little more for toilet paper next time because of the new spaceport tax, be thankful that you're helping to subsidize future flights by such wealthy pioneers.

Oh, and in case you're keeping track, Simonyi becomes customer number five in a business that New Mexico is counting on to create $333 million in economic activity and 2,271 jobs.

 

Minding our manners online: Apparently we aren't the only ones calling for greater civility and respect for facts in the freewheeling world of online blogs ("Editor's Note," April 2007). The New York Times reports that two Internet pioneers, Tim O'Reilly and Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, have proposed creating a set of guidelines to bring some manners—and accuracy—to the blogosphere. The guidelines would be accompanied by three matching logos—seals of approval, of a sort. The lowest standard would allow anonymous posts; the second level would discourage anonymous entries; the top tier would include a pledge to get a second source for any "news" or gossip reported online.

As the Times notes, "Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decay into ugliness than those in other media."

O'Reilly, credited with coining the term "Web 2.0," adds, "That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make—believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech. Free speech is enhanced by civility."

 

David A. Fryxell is the editor of Desert Exposure.

 

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