Buzzworm news briefs

Social Security’s future

Two upcoming public discussions will explore the downside of the Bush administration’s plan to privatize Social Security. The first — a town hall-style meeting to be held Saturday, June 4, at 3 p.m. at the Unity Center — is sponsored by North Carolinians United to Protect Social Security. The nonprofit organization has invited Rep. Charles Taylor to attend the meeting, but at press time, Taylor had not responded to the invitation, according to organizer Lavinia Frank.

Commenting on the event, Director Wendy Marsh of the Buncombe County Council on Aging said, “While COA is neither endorsing or opposing privatization … we are concerned about what it will mean for the future of middle-class Americans should the foundation of Social Security be significantly altered from its basic premise of a guaranteed retirement income based upon earned income during a working life.”

Ten days later, the Democratic Party of Henderson County will host a free public forum on “Social Security’s Future.” The event will be held Tuesday, June 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Hendersonville Public Libary’s Kaplan Auditorium. The featured speaker will be Kelly Olsen, a former policy analyst with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Retirement Policy and past assistant director of the Social Security Research Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C. She has testified before Congress on the financial solvency of the Social Security system.

In addition, the Henderson County Democratic Party challenged that county’s Republican Party to a public debate on President Bush’s plan. County GOP chair Spence Campbell declined this opportunity, however, writing, “You can go to the White House Web site and get the President’s position; this is not a local issue.”

And according to the Hendersonville Times-News, Taylor reacted to a similar invitation by calling the event “partisan political grandstanding.”

In response, Henderson County Democratic Party Chairwoman Eva Ritchey observed: “Well over a third of the county’s residents are over the age of 55, and a significant portion of the jobs and economy here are in health care and other services that have developed around accommodating that aging population. Our community is focused on how we take care of our elders when their working days are through. And so is Social Security. You can’t find a more local issue than that.”

For more information on the June 4 NCUPSS meeting, contact Lavinia Frank at (415) 867-9817. For more on the June 14 event, contact Eva Ritchey at (828) 693-8190.

— Cecil Bothwell

Democratic resolve

On May 21, delegates to the 11th Congressional District Democratic Convention approved a variety of resolutions that form a sort of working platform for the regional party, according to reports that delegates Alan Ditmore and C. Michael Morgan gave to Xpress. The 11th District comprises North Carolina’s 15 westernmost counties.

The resolutions address a host of state-level issues, including support for universal health insurance, campaign-finance and electoral reforms, cultivation of industrial hemp, proportional allotment of North Carolina’s presidential electors, medicinal use of marijuana, progressive taxation and an expression of strong concern about Western North Carolina’s deteriorating air quality.

Regarding national issues, the delegates called for direct election of the president and vice president, responsible energy policies, universal health care, repeal of the USA PATRIOT Act and prompt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Resolutions opposing media monopolization and Republican initiatives to change Social Security were also passed. A resolution opposing the legal concept that corporations are entitled to the same constitutional rights as individuals was tabled for further discussion.

And in what was surely the convention’s most pointed action, the delegates condemned 11th District Rep. Charles Taylor for his alleged illegal banking activities, the Asheville Citizen-Times for not thoroughly investigating and reporting on them, and the federal justice system for not investigating and prosecuting Taylor.

— Cecil Bothwell

Screenwriting 101

Do you have a burning desire to make movies rather than just watch them? Think you have an idea that would make a terrific screenplay? If so, consider attending Kathleen Hannon‘s two-day screenwriting seminar at Asheville’s Blue Ridge Motion Pictures.

Hannon offers something a bit different in the way of screenwriting seminars. Traditionally, such seminars are offered by screenwriters — but Hannon isn’t one. Instead, she’s a screenplay analyst — a person who reads books and screenplays to find ones that stand a chance of being turned into films.

“It’s my job to do notes on every draft of the project,” she explained to Charleston’s City Paper. “Do the visuals work? The action? Does the finale top Act One?”

In the past, Hannon helped get such films as U-571 and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to the screen, and was involved in The Hunt for Red October, Men in Black and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, among others. Now located in Concord, N.C., Hannon still works for producer Hal Lieberman (T3, Around the World in 80 Days), who has a deal with Sony Pictures.

Hannon knows what the studios are looking for, and that’s the focus of her seminar, which takes place Saturday, June 4 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday, June 5 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). The price is $250 for advance registration and $300 at the door; attendance is limited to 40 people.

To register or for more information, call Brad Hoover or Leanne Campbell at 296-1499.

— Ken Hanke

Getting girls on board

“The number one thing keeping girls from skating is intimidation,” says Emilie Oliver, president of Cherry Skateboards. “When I started skating, there really wasn’t a company that represented girl skaters. Even in the skateboard ads, you see a lot of derogatory images of girls.”

Oliver is hoping to change all that. An Asheville native (now relocated to more skater-friendly turf in Colorado), Oliver has spent the past four years trying to change perceptions about females in the skating community with her company’s “girly, but not too girly” ethos. The company has an all-female staff, and its all-girl team — which includes such notables as 2003 Women’s Vert Champ Jen O’Brien — is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

But a mere presence in the skating world isn’t enough: Oliver wants more girls to be skating.

That’s why she started a touring series of girls-only skateboard clinics, which includes a stop at her hometown skatepark in downtown Asheville on Friday, June 3, at 9 a.m. Oliver says that the goal of the clinic, which is which moderately priced at $2, is to teach girls the basics of skating and give them some simple skills that they can then develop on their own. (The event is co-sponsored by local skater havens Flipside and Zero Gravity.)

For Oliver, there’s also something personal in bringing the skate gospel to local girls.

“When I came to visit in the summer of 2002, there were no girls skating the skatepark,” Oliver says. “It’s a shame that there aren’t more girls there, because it’s an amazing skatepark.”

For more information about the Cherry Skateboards all-girl skate clinic, contact the Food Lion SkatePark at 225-7184.

— Steve Shanafelt

A kinder, gentler Asheville

The Kindness Campaign is trying to find out what it will take to make Asheville a kinder city.

Since Barry Weinhold launched the Kindness Campaign in Colorado Springs in 1994, this effort to make the world a nicer place has spread to 11 other cities and more than 600 schools in the United States and Canada. One of those cities is Asheville, where the campaign was launched last October and where Weinhold now lives.

The motto of The Kindness Campaign is “Spread Kindness — It’s Contagious,” says volunteer coordinator Cathy Holt. The underlying philosophy is that whatever we put our focus on — in this case, kindness — will grow exponentially.

That philosophy informs the campaign’s latest endeavor, a special Kindness Conversation evening on Wednesday, June 8, at Los Volcanes Restaurant (275 Smokey Park Highway) in West Asheville. Participants who want to order dinner are encouraged to arrive by 5:30 p.m.; the program runs from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is free (except for dinner) though donations are gratefully accepted, says Holt.

Weinhold will kick things off with a talk called “The Kindness Revolution is Happening in Asheville,” followed by a series of conversations among participants that will be facilitated by international business consultants Maureen McCarthy and Zelle Nelson. At various intervals, participants will rotate to other tables, “and that way people get to mingle, meet different people, get different perspectives,” explains Holt.

“We want to bring in as many voices as possible from as many constituencies as possible to talk about what is needed in Asheville to make it a kinder city,” she says.

Buttons proclaiming The Kindness Campaign’s motto, which Holt calls “the currency of the campaign,” are given out to people when they sign a pledge to do an act of kindness for themselves or someone else. They’re instructed to wear the button and pass it on when they catch someone else doing a kind act.

Other programs that the project has initiated include the Kind & Safe Schools Initiative (both Asheville Catholic and Jones Elementary have signed on); Community of Kindness Awards, which recognize exemplary acts of kindness by individuals and organizations; a series of interfaith dialogue dinners; and an annual Kindness Week Celebration.

For more information, call Holt at 252-3054 or check out www.thekindnesscampaign.org.

— Lisa Watters

Whatever floats your boat

You don’t have to wait for a mandate from the Almighty to start building your version of the ark. An inner tube, some imagination and a visit to RiverLink’s Anything that Floats Boat Parade is all it takes to get seaworthy — well, river-worthy — on Sunday, June 5.

Floating parades are hardly new concepts: Nearly every town with a navigable waterway boasts an annual flotilla of bizarre and eccentric craft. The key here is to reinvent not the parade, but the boat — think a buoyant tiki hut or a dragon propelled by oars. The entries can be constructed on a base made of rubber, wood, cardboard or Styrofoam (or anything else). The only rule is that all entries must float — they can’t utilize motors and they can’t, of course, sink.

Judging for the water parade takes place at 2 p.m. at Carrier Park on Amboy Road. Boats will be rated based on originality, workmanship, appearance and design. Judges include Tony Kiss and Beth and Joe Sgro. At 3 p.m., the contestants will make the big splash, navigating their way to the French Broad River Park.

Boat-builders will vie for cash prizes — not to mention nautical merit — but the parade is also an opportunity for business and civic organizations to advertise their companies or causes by floating an eye-catching craft down river. Registration is free for RiverLink members and $20 for everyone else.

To sign up or learn more, call 252-8474, ext. 112, or visit www.riverlink.org.

— Alli Marshall

Fletcher and Woodfin nab Brownfields grants

Fletcher and Woodfin will share $400,000 in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields grants to help revitalize former industrial and commercial sites, transforming them from problem properties into community assets. The towns were two of 218 applicants selected to receive 302 grants totaling $75.9 million.

According to the EPA, Fletcher will use its share of the grant for site planning/remedial design and cleanup of a 28.5-acre former log-home-manufacturing facility located at 91 Municipal Drive. Woodfin’s portion will fund site planning, remedy monitoring and installing a passive gas-collection system at the 96-acre Elk Mountain Landfill. Both towns will also use some of the funds for community-outreach activities and monitoring the health of residents exposed to hazardous substances or pollutants.

The Brownfields Program empowers states, communities and other stakeholders in economic development to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse brownfields. A brownfield site is defined as a real property whose expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of harmful contaminants. Program participants gain access to expertise and other resources from more than 20 federal agencies.

Since its inception in 1995, the program has awarded 709 assessment grants totaling more than $190 million, 189 revolving-loan-fund grants worth more than $165 million, and $26.8 million for 150 cleanup grants.

For more information on the Brownfields Program, go to the agency’s Web site (www.epa.gov/brownfields).

— Cecil Bothwell

Buncombe unplugged

Wireless Internet service is spreading like radiation from a nuclear test — seeping into every corner of America’s urban space — and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners wants to help. To that end, the county recently launched free wireless service in the vicinity of the Buncombe courthouse and will soon expand the system throughout Asheville’s central business district. Advocates of such systems predict that wireless access will quickly become as standard an urban amenity as sewer and water service.

The system offered by the county is called Wi-Fi — a contraction of “wireless fidelity.” Wi-Fi signals can reach only 200-300 yards and have limited building penetration, which means that a city-wide system will require multiple antennae. Philadelphia, which is now building what is touted as the most ambitious wireless network in the country, is installing access points on 4,000 utility poles to provide continuous access throughout all 135 square miles of the city.

Buncombe’s fledgling effort puts the county in the forefront of N.C. municipalities, together with Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs, Raleigh, Durham and Cary. So far, Carrboro has the most robust system, a business district-wide effort assembled with a public-private partnership that enlists restaurants and businesses willing to donate extra bandwidth to the project. In Holly Springs, building inspectors now routinely use a similar system to file inspection reports as they make their rounds.

The greatest challenge to municipal Wi-Fi networks is not technological. Instead, it comes from major telecommunications firms trying to block free access. Philadelphia engaged in a running battle with Comcast and Verizon, companies that relented only after the Pennsylvania legislature made such systems illegal in every other city in the state. As reported in The Independent (the Triangle’s weekly independent newspaper), “BellSouth and Qwest Communications have also successfully pushed for restrictions on municipal broadband service in Louisiana and Utah. Similar campaigns have gone on in Kansas, Ohio, Texas, Indiana and Iowa. Even in North Carolina, the concept of publicly provided Internet access has been challenged in court.”

For now, at least, we’ve got Wi-Fi. First-time users of the Buncombe system are asked for their name, e-mail address and ZIP code to help county government analyze who is using the service. This reporter tested the system from numerous points west of the courthouse that were in sight of the building’s roof — with some success. The most distant street-level connection was made immediately in front of Karmasonics Music and Video at the corner of Haywood and College Streets. However, there is no detectable building penetration at that distance.

The weakest link in the system appears to be finding places to sit, assuming that average users will prefer to be seated while surfing rather than standing, as this tester was. For that, the useful area is pretty much limited to City/County Plaza and Pack Place. Shindig on the Web, anyone?

For more information about Buncombe’s wireless service, contact Kathy Hughes at 250-4105 or kathy.hughes@buncombecounty.org.

— Cecil Bothwell

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