Is ignorance really bliss?

Knowledge, as they say, is power; on occasion, it can also help you breathe a little easier. As a case in point, consider the Environmental Defense Fund’s new Web site (, where previously unpublished government information about local levels of toxic air pollution is now available to anyone with a computer and a modem. (In its breakdown of pollution on a county-by-county basis, the EDF ranks Buncombe County’s air quality in the bottom 20 percent, for the whole country.)

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the EDF obtained the information — produced by a four-year, computer-modeling project by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which estimated the airborne concentrations of 188 toxic chemicals in each of the nation’s 60,000 census tracts. The results are surprising: “The new data shows that pollution from cars and trucks and, in many cases, small business sources — such as dry cleaners, furniture refinishers and metal-plating establishments — is a greater health risk in most communities than the industrial pollution sources that are the current major focus of the Clean Air Act,” EDF Toxicologist William Pearse is quoted as saying in the June 1999 EDF Letter, a bimonthly report to the organization’s members.

The new Web site provides surprisingly detailed information about who and what is doing the polluting. Not only can you discover the primary pollutants in your community (and your estimated chances of getting cancer and other diseases); thanks to the EDF’s easy-to-read maps, you can even find out — on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis — where WNC’s major polluters are located.

There has been some controversy about the EDF’s numbers — primarily because they’re based on EPA calculations that are modeled, rather than measured, and also because some of the numbers plugged into the models are from as far back as 1990. But EDF officials maintain that their information is accurate. “Comparisons with actual monitoring data, including data as recent as 1996, indicates that the EPA calculations are quite solid,” asserts EDF attorney David Roe.

To learn more about the EDF’s findings, visit Scorecard at

Old habits die hard

For the better part of two years, the Buncombe County Intertribal Association, a local group representing Native Americans in WNC, have waged a war against Erwin High School’s Warrior mascot, an image which the Association feels is derogatory and racist. That battle led the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the school and require, among other things, that the girls’ mascot, a “squaw,” be eliminated. Last month, however, a “Warrior Field Day” T-shirt image — depicting a silly warrior in ceremonial headdress, balancing a hot-dog on one finger — again drew the Association’s fire (the group characterized the image as “very ugly” and “almost nonhuman”).

“We cannot believe, after all that has happened in the last two years, that Erwin High School officials would allow such a disrespectful image to be handed out to students,” said the Association’s Pat Merzlak in a recent news release. “Like those who chose the Warrior mascot many years ago, we know that the student artist [who created the image] meant no harm, but what is the T-shirt telling us about the total lack of understanding of the issue?”

The Erwin High School mascot issue has been at the forefront of the national debate about the public characterization of Native Americans; the Utah Department of Transportation, for instance, recently denied the use of personalized license plates with “Redskins” on them, while the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office denied the Washington Redskins the right to trademark that name, because it is disparaging to Native Americans.

“This T-shirt shows once again that it is impossible to control how a mascot will be used,” declared Bruce Two Eagles of the Intertribal Association. “They are supposed to be flippant and funny, et cetera, so when you use a living people as a mascot, you are going to have disrespect shown. The solution is to get a new mascot, and we hope Erwin High School students will respond to that basic act of human decency.”

To learn more, call Pat Merzlak at 254-0010, Bruce Two Eagles at 683-1889, or go on line at

A fistful of self-defense

There’s a lot of talk about preventing violence against women, but more and more women are taking their self-defense into their own hands. To that end, Kevin Roberts will present a seminar on women’s self-defense and awareness on Saturday, June 26 at Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karate Dojo. The seminar will cover awareness, recognizing and assessing threats, evasion methods and self-defense techniques for responding to a variety of assault scenarios.

“A woman who is aware of her surroundings and recognizes the point where a situation is turning bad … is far less likely to be caught by surprise,” explains David Laughter. “The knowledge and employment of basic defensive skill to minimize the effects of an assault can help protect a person’s life. Most assailants seek a predictable course of events and, consequently, any action that spoils their plan can be the difference between life and death.”

Roberts, chief instructor at the dojo, has studied martial arts for nearly 30 years; known for his deep understanding of Okinawan history and philosophy as they relate to the traditional Okinawan life-protection arts, he is considered one of the senior practitioners of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karate in the U.S. The three-hour seminar costs $25 and is open to all women, from teens to seniors.

To learn more, or to register for the seminar, call 687-3888.

The cavalry is coming

Every now and then, we all need a little help managing our bills. And for some folks with cash-flow problems, getting that help just got a little easier. Starting in June, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of WNC is extending its free services to families and individuals living in Marion and Black Mountain.

It seems that CCCS, which has been helping people manage their money and credit for for nearly 25 years, simply saw an opportunity to reach more people. “In reviewing our agency statistics, we discovered that a significant number of people were driving from both the Black Mountain and McDowell County areas to be counseled in our Asheville office,” explains CCCS Executive Director Peter Laroche. “We felt that, by offering appointments in Black Mountain and Marion, our service would be more accessible.”

In Marion, CCCS staff counselor Jason Harris will be available on the first and third Mondays of each month in the McDowell Small Business Center; in Black Mountain, Harris will be available on the first and third Fridays of each month, in the conference room at the Black Mountain/Swannannoa Chamber of Commerce, beginning on Friday, June 18.

To learn more, or to schedule an appointment, call CCCS at 255-5166, or toll-free at (800) 737-5485 (Web site:

One big brain

We hear a lot of talk about community, but what does it really mean? An upcoming seminar at Earth Fare will offer a more spiritual take on the question. “Higher Consciousness: The Next Stage of Evolution” will focus on the paradigm that everything in the universe is interconnected and interdependent.

As a follow-up to the recent seminar titled “The Philosophy of Community,” Earth Fare will host a showing of the film The Global Brain, which presents a vision of evolution as the development of a single living entity. After the screening, there will be an open forum discussion, facilitated by Dr. David Guerin; guest panelists will include producer/writer/actress Buffy Queen, whose feature film Southern Belles was presented at the Cannes Film Market; Jeanne Rindge, president of The Human Dimension Institute; research physicist Jorge Cure; tai-chi instructor and computer-program designer John Buckley; and Larry Reida, an attorney and student of consciousness.

Admission to “Higher Consciousness” will be by “free-will donation”; the seminar will be held in the Earth Fare Community Room on Monday, June 14 at 6 p.m. Seating is limited, so reservations are encouraged.

For more info, call 253-7656.

— chimerically compiled by Paul Schattel

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