Where there’s smoke, there’s fireworks

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Down the street, kids have already started celebrating Independence Day. And why not? They have three big fireworks stands within a few blocks.
Also down the street is a half-burned shrub, the first casualty, conjuring old memories of my brother and his friends setting the vacant lot next door on fire with their fireworks.

And that’s nothing compared to the million acres-plus torched in New Mexico and Arizona during the worst fire season in years.
After months without rain and weeks of hot winds, the great outdoors is one big mass of what fire professionals call fuel loads. Around the state, we are one careless act from disaster.
Government entities large and small have responded with bans and restrictions, and police in some municipalities will be on the lookout for aerial-style fireworks and noisy ground devices. And forget about fireworks in the national forests, national parks, and state lands, many of which are closed.    
Some communities have prohibited outdoor grilling and smoking, using a chainsaw, welding and camping. There’s hardly a place left to grill that Fourth of July hot dog.
And yet the big white tents are doing a booming business.
Fire chiefs across the state would like to ban all fireworks this year, which is prudent, but state law doesn’t allow a complete ban. For years frustrated firefighters have urged legislators to get tough, but no. So communities are left with their restrictions, and even the governor can only ask people to not use illegal fireworks. She has said she will support tougher fireworks legislation during the January session.
Speaking of fireworks, we have the eruption of news sparked by the arrest of respected UNM political science professor Chris Garcia for his alleged role in an online prostitution ring.
I worked at UNM for four years doing PR, and one of my assigned areas was science. I tried to imagine the serious men I knew in the Physics Department, men whose research was so complex it couldn’t be explained to above average mortals, in the business of, uh, procurement. I couldn’t picture it. Neither could anybody picture the distinguished Garcia as “BurquePops.”
This is a man who was not only acting president of UNM but could have been president if he wanted — he’s that well regarded. Hal Rhodes, my writing colleague and founder of this syndicate, has known Garcia for 41 years, since a young Garcia joined UNM fresh out of grad school. Grappling with his shock and sadness, Hal still holds Garcia in the highest esteem as a scholar.
There’s great pain on campus right now — another blow to faculty and staff morale. But here’s what New Mexicans need to remember: In spite of everything, professors will teach, students will learn, and the business of higher education will go on.
Speaking of education, I heard from reader Jack Jekowski, an engineer with a long involvement with school improvement. The Coalition of Excellence and Math and Science (http://www.cesame-nm.org) has studied the concept of grading schools.
“In general we believe the technique may have some merit, but is fraught with potential land mines, much like No Child Left Behind if the methodology for calculating the school grade is not done properly,” he writes. “It has the potential for further alienating the teachers as well if the process is not understood and supported.”
Measurement of school success must weigh such variables as demographics and poverty, he says. This is work in progress.
Speaking of variables, reader Jesse Monsey recalls that Hobbs’s “City with an Assured Future” promotion didn’t go as planned. On billboards with the slogan, vandals from neighboring towns painted out the U in “assured,” which delivered quite a different message. These days, Hobbs is the EnergyPlex.  

© New Mexico News Services 2011