All a Matter of Timing
Very simply, your article about Tom Curtis ["The Man Who Knew Too Soon?" by Brad Tyer, January 20] was excellent and thorough writing.
Keep up the good work.
Thank you for the story on Tom Curtis. I was acquainted with him years ago and considered his writing talent so formidable as to put him upon the Texas literary bookshelf with Larry McMurtry and Horton Foote, but under nonfiction. I am glad Tom Curtis is alive to see himself even modestly vindicated. The bigger story, though, is how AIDS derailed and crushed the personal and professional life of a huge talent by no physical transmission whatsoever.
Brad Tyer's well-written and wide-ranging profile of me was too generous: As Mr. Tyer suggested, one of the great joys of my journalistic career was reporting in the Dallas Times Herald and in Texas Monthly on the case of then-death row inmate Clarence Brandley and eventually seeing him freed. But the real credit for Mr. Brandley's release belongs to others -- first, to my erstwhile colleague at Houston City magazine, Ryan Bernard, whose two eloquent and evenhanded magazine feature stories eight years before Mr. Brandley got out of prison demonstrated the fundamental unfairness of his two trials; and ultimately, to the relentless investigators James McCloskey of Centurian Ministries and Richard Reyna, and to Mr. Brandley's indefatigable attorneys Mike DeGeurin, Paul Nugent and Don Brown. I merely checked out and followed up on some of the leads they provided and chronicled their determined efforts.
You did a good job, but I think you missed some interesting aspects of your story on Tom Curtis and OPV (live virus) polio vaccines.
I have the original Rolling Stone with the Curtis story, and I was persuaded that he had reported something important. And I watched the response from the relevant communities.
The River is probably an important book, but I passed by it when it was first released because I could not imagine any story on this subject worth so many pages. But I filed the title away so as to see how it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. I was surprised that the NYT reviewers were ignoring it.
This intrigued me. Since the NYT is the book-reviewing journal of record in the western hemisphere, it seemed clear that the NYT had an agenda to see that this book took a dive.
But I say this in retrospect, because at the time, I concluded that the NYT had found the book seriously wanting, undeserving of a review.
But then I read a squib in the NYT in early December 1999. It stated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued an advisory recommending that OPVs no longer be used in the entirety of the course of polio vaccination. This said to me that the CDC had acquired some reservations about OPV vaccines since the publication of The River.
I immediately went out and bought the book. I think it is one of the most important investigative books of the 1990s.
Since the publication of that book, the CDC, in a sphinxlike communiqué, has come off its long-term advocacy of OPV as the exclusive methodology for polio vaccination.
I think this is a very important development and should be noted. But thanks for doing a nice job on two good reporters, Curtis and Hooper.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Congratulations to Chris "loophole" Bell ["Lutfi's Loot," by Tim Fleck, January 20] for an ingenious solution to the "gifts to public officials" problem. If you return the gift to Lutfi, he may have a problem claiming a business-promotion deduction on his tax return. So, make Lutfi happy by not returning it. However, if you keep it, then you have a problem, so you need to get rid of it. Aha, give it to charity. Who can complain about that? The Boy Scouts get some really neat flatware, and Bell gets a $200 tax deduction for a charitable contribution. Everybody wins. Bell keeps taking gifts and builds up a really nice charitable deduction against his tax liability. Lutfi gets his tax deduction. Bell is grateful to Lutfi. Lutfi is grateful to Bell. Who loses? Oh, us. But we always do, don't we? By the way, it's still illegal. Giving it to charity involves an acceptance by Bell, doesn't it?
John E. Ackerman
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I heard Tary Owens ["Lost Legends," by Steve McVicker, January 13] on the radio this morning. He mentioned your article, and I looked it up. That's a nice piece, and maybe it will spread the story around a little wider. Clearly he was no saint, but he did some important work capturing the old music before that generation of artists all passed on.