Buzzworm news briefs

Different ways to celebrate Earth Day

It’s a big planet. So, naturally it’s fitting that a celebration of the Earth span more than a day. In fact, here in Western North Carolina, Earth Day is being recognized by a host of events and activities. From the Strive Not to Drive campaign to rump shakin’ with the Sons of Ralph at Asheville’s Greenlife Grocery, there’s probably something here for everyone looking to honor the Big Blue Marble.

The folks at Greenlife Grocery on Merrimon Avenue are inviting one and all to their free Earth Day celebration on April 22. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and include numerous local environmental organizations coming together to share information and foster awareness of local environmental issues. Keeping the beat will be six local bands including the aforementioned Sons, Hollywood Red, Peace Jones, Dub Roots Ensemble, the Rib Tips and the Afro Motive. The festivities will be topped off with a drum circle and fire spinning at sundown.

Over in Montreat, Earth Day will be a time of celebration and pride as the town commemorates its being honored as the first community in North Carolina to be certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat Community. The town will be hosting a day of activities on April 23 that will include a reptile and amphibian habitat-building project, a macro-invertebrate walk and a stream cleanup. The events will be held Robert Lake Park and will begin at 10 a.m.

Strive Not to Drive: Of course, celebrating the Earth and protecting the environment can be yearlong commitments. With that in mind, the folks at the Land of Sky Regional Council are encouraging locals to participate in Strive Not to Drive Week (April 22-30). The week is an opportunity to park the car and use alternative forms of transportation, and in doing so, gain an understanding of how transportation choices affect the community, environment and one’s health. Margie Meares, of the Community Clean Air Trust (one of many groups promoting the week), notes that, “Because we are just within the EPA Clean Air standards, we don’t get support from the federal government to address our air quality. It really is our responsibility to clean up our own air.” Organizers hope that participants will be encouraged to incorporate alternative transportation into their daily routines throughout the year. Activities scheduled for the week include organized walks and bike rides, discounted and free public transit, a video contest and Film Festival at UNCA.

For more information on Strive Not to Drive Week and its many activities, contact Linda Giltz of the Land of Sky Regional Council at 251-6622, or visit www.gettingaroundwnc.com.

The second annual Beating the Bounds event may interest experienced bicyclists. Sponsored by the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, the 64-mile ride will start at 9 a.m. on April 24 from Pack Square and traverse the city, touching on Asheville’s boundaries, in all four points of the compass. According to the organizers, riders will gather at each boundary and raise a ruckus. The club notes that Beating the Bounds is an ancient tradition to bless fields and crops, emphasize village boundaries and, simply, bring people of a community together. There is no fee and all riders must wear helmets.

— Brian Sarzynski

Big questions, big lies?

It’s no surprise that The New Pearl Harbor (Olive Branch Press, 2004) has caused a stir among readers and bloggers. It’s the sort of book that flat-out rocks your world.

The author, logician and ethicist David Ray Griffin, takes unflinching aim at the Bush administration, concisely and dispassionately assembling a long list of what he says are unanswered questions about 9/11. Griffin, a philosophy-of-religion professor at the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif., will give a talk titled “9/11 and the American Empire: How Should Religious People Respond?” at Western Carolina University on Wednesday, April 20.

In Pearl Harbor, Griffin examines previously published facts from a wide range of sources and reiterates scenarios and explanations offered by the administration. The conclusion he reaches is pure dynamite: that Bush administration officials knew the attacks were coming, prevented steps that could have stopped them — and perhaps were complicit.

And for those inclined to cry “conspiracy theory,” Griffin has a simple retort: It’s not a question of whether to believe a conspiracy theory but of which conspiracy theory to believe. The author argues that it’s only reasonable to ask who benefited from 9/11 and to consider whether they were in a position to let — or make — it happen.

The questions Griffin raises are substantial. Why did the military fail to scramble jets to intercept jetliners known to have been hijacked? Why was the hole in the Pentagon too small for the Boeing 757 that supposedly crashed there, and why was there no plane wreckage on the site? Why did the World Trade Center’s leaseholder, Larry Silverstein, tell a PBS interviewer that he was part of the decision to pull the buildings — that is, to initiate an explosive demolition that dropped the towers?

(Griffin also quotes news stories indicating that Silverstein and his investors made a profit of upward of $1 billion from the insurance settlement.)

Griffin doesn’t claim to have answers to the more than 40 substantive questions he presents, but he argues forcefully that a credible, independent investigation of all the evidence is urgently needed.

Perhaps he’ll give his listeners at Western a reason to believe.

David Ray Griffin will speak in the Mountain Heritage Center’s auditorium, located on the ground floor of WCU’s H.F. Robinson Administration Building, starting at 7 p.m.

— Cecil Bothwell

When Big Brother isn’t watching

At a time when privacy advocates nationwide are decrying the burgeoning number of surveillance cameras cropping up in public places, the city of Asheville is about to take a few down.

Three cameras mounted atop a light post at the corner of Patton and Biltmore avenues downtown, installed in connection with a 1998 traffic study, have been nonfunctioning for several years, Associate Traffic Engineer Jim Rhine reports. “We’ll be taking them down soon,” he said, adding, “It just hasn’t been a high priority.” City crews “do have it on the schedule to remove the existing cameras in conjunction with an unrelated signal-upgrade project,” Rhine said in an e-mail.

The cameras’ function was recently called into question after a local resident approached the city hoping to obtain videotape of a hit-and-run accident she’d been involved in. The woman (who has asked to remain anonymous) was driving on College Street when her car was struck by another vehicle that she says ran a red light while traveling north on Biltmore Avenue. The driver of that vehicle then fled the scene, according to the police report.

In an interview with Xpress, the woman said she’d contacted the Police Department after the accident, assuming that they controlled the cameras. She was hoping to get the license-tag number of the other vehicle. The police, however, referred her to the city’s traffic engineer, whom she says informed her that the cameras are no longer functioning. And even when they were, they only provided a live feed to city traffic engineers, who used them as part of a traffic-flow and signalization study.

The city, Rhine explained, bought a Video Vehicle Tracking and Detection System in 1997 “to gather vehicle count and speed data, as well as actuate traffic signals on a temporary basis.” According to Public Information Officer Lauren Bradley, the system cost $35,480.

After the cameras were installed in 1998, Xpress received letters from readers bemoaning the loss of privacy and warning about surveillance by Big Brother.

Rhine, too, remembers his office being peppered with calls from reporters and curious citizens at the time. But he stressed in his e-mail that “the design and specifications of the system are for digital tracking, and the cameras cannot be used for surveillance unless specifically retrofitted in order to capture video, which they have never been … nor were they intended to be.”

— Brian Sarzynski

Armory deal near at Richmond Hill

The National Guard’s plan to build a new armory at Richmond Hill Park in West Asheville is moving closer to becoming reality. City Council approved the plan — which also includes water, sewer and other infrastructure for a future park complex — nearly two years ago, but the project has been delayed by negotiations between the city and a private landowner concerning needed access to the park property.

According to City Attorney Bob Oast, a preliminary agreement has been reached on a land swap with property owner Chris Peterson. Surveys and other needed steps are being taken, Oast reported, but finalizing the deal will require City Council approval.

The National Guard, he said, is eager to get moving on the project, and the city hopes the deal can be sealed by the end of this fiscal year (June 30).

To make way for the construction, the disc-golf course — by far the most popular feature of the 180-acre wooded property — will be moved to another area of the park and eventually expanded. Parks and Recreation officials have promised that the present course won’t be closed until a new one is ready. But the exact location and design of the new course can’t be worked out until plans for new parking facilities are firmed up.

— Brian Postelle

Applying art to science

One picture is worth a thousand numbers. TV weatherpersons don’t warn you of an approaching storm by waving a printout of barometric readings at you — instead, they point to a screen on which a computer translates a vast array of meteorological measurements into a live-action graphic of a weather front moving across a map.

That’s one example of “applied visualization,” the art/science of using colors, patterns and shapes to generate intuitively comprehensible images from intricately complex data. Organizers of the upcoming AppliedVis 2005 conference say the rapidly growing and potentially lucrative field could find its epicenter right here in artist-populated Western North Carolina.

“The modern world creates enormous amounts of data that must be analyzed in order to reveal the information it contains. The visualization of data makes it understandable and thus, usable,” explains John Stevens, chief research officer at UNCA.

And Asheville-based corporate consultant Bob Dunn observes, “Sometimes the right-brain-dominant graphic designer’s ability to create a visual metaphor can actually help the left-brain-dominant scientist or businessperson spawn a better … solution or an entirely novel idea.”

Already, media artists, UNCA undergraduate students and scientists from the National Climatic Data Center are using applied visualization to study regional haze drift, and the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute is making visual representations of the radio sky that are similar to the more familiar star maps. The interdisciplinary field has applications in everything from medical testing to urban planning to intelligence analysis.

Underscoring the field’s hoped-for potential to put cash in the jeans of WNC’s underemployed creative class are North Carolina Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Business Development and Trade Anthony Copeland, UNCA Chancellor Jim Mullen and Dale Carroll, president/CEO of AdvantageWest, all of whom will be giving welcoming remarks at AppliedVis 2005. The conference will include presentations, papers and panels on advances in the state of the art and its regional capabilities, as well as exhibits, demonstrations and awards. It is co-sponsored by UNCA, UNC Charlotte and the Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas, and coordinated by The Southern Appalachian Science and Technology Center of Tryon.

Organizers are inviting artists, students, technologists, researchers and others in business, health care, government and academia to the event, which will be held Thursday and Friday, April 28-29, at the Highsmith University Union on the UNCA campus.

To find out more about AppliedVis 2005, visit www.AppliedVis.org or call 250-3890.

— Steve Rasmussen

Cleaning up river trash

Those who walk, bike or drive along the shores of the Swannanoa River can’t help but notice the waterway’s trashy trees and littered banks, worse this year than usual due to last September’s floods. RiverLink wants to clean up the mess — and the nonprofit needs volunteers to help.

RiverLink and Chevy South will kick off this season’s river cleanup on the Swannanoa River (from Azalea Park to Tunnel Road) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 23. River lovers who want to pitch in will meet at Lowe’s parking lot at 89 S. Tunnel Road at 10 a.m. Food and beverages will be available, along with complimentary T-shirts for volunteers and music provided by WOXL.

Students can earn community project points by participating, and experienced boaters or those with tools to retrieve trash from tree limbs will be gratefully welcomed to the event.

If you, your business or school are interested in participating or donating supplies, please contact event coordinator Sharon Frazier at 628-0557. RiverLink will conduct river cleanups on the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will assist interested groups with cleanups upon request. The organization is also developing a new Adopt-A-Stream program.

For more information, phone 252-8474, ext. 113.

— Cecil Bothwell

Get off the trail

It’s 2,174 miles long and wanders from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. And if you ask anyone who ever through-hiked it, they’ll probably recall that it’s mostly uphill. We’re talking about the Appalachian Trail, of course. And at this time of the year, intrepid hikers seeking to walk the entire AT have already begun their quest. The trail actually passes through a few towns, and for northbound trekkers, the first such outpost is Hot Springs, an hour north of Asheville, where local diners are often packed with trail-weary souls relishing food that doesn’t require rehydration.

The little town welcomes them with open arms. In fact, they even throw a three-day party for them. April 22-24 will mark the 10th annual Trailfest, featuring music, speakers, Appalachian crafts, fun stuff for kids, workshops on trail maintenance and The World Famous Duck Race (it’s said that people have actually walked hundreds of miles to see it — a claim few events can make).

Trailfest takes place in the heart of downtown Hot Springs (for the uninitiated, that’s next to the post office). To kick things off, Huck Finn River Adventures will be sponsoring a free rafting trip and river cleanup at 9 a.m. on Friday; there’ll also be an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner that evening. Live music cranks up Saturday morning at 11.

The festival is free of charge; for more information visit the town’s Web site (www.hotspringsnc.org).

— Brian Sarzynski

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