Buzzworm news briefs

Campaign Calendar

Wed, Sept. 13: Van Duncan, Democratic candidate for Buncombe sheriff, hosts a community meeting at the Black Mountain Library at 7 p.m.

Mon, Sept. 18: Candidates’ Forum on Health Issues from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center (236 Charlotte St. in Asheville). The forum, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Social Justice Committee of Congregation Beth Ha Tephila, will include candidates for the 11th District congressional race, for N.C. House Districts 114, 115, and 116, and for N.C. Senate District 49. The event is free and open to the public.

Mon, Sept. 18: Mail-in absentee ballots will be available from the Buncombe County Board of Elections and may be obtained by calling Rachel Brown at 250-4218.

Wed, Sept. 20: Congressional candidate Heath Shuler will appear at the monthly lunch meeting of the Asheville Leadership Forum at the Country Club of Asheville, at 11:30 a.m. The public is welcome; reservations are required (contact Terry Wooten at woot683@bellsouth.net or 683-0910). A $16 cost covers lunch — and there is a request for “no jeans, please.”

Thu, Oct. 5: Van Duncan, Democratic candidate for Buncombe sheriff, is holding a community meeting at the Weaverville Town Hall, 7 p.m.

Fri, Oct. 6: The “2006 Nonpartisan Judicial Voter Guide” will be mailed to all households (all residential addresses) between Oct. 5 and Oct. 16, to coincide with the beginning of one-stop voting on Oct. 19. The guide is published by the N.C. Board of Elections and covers all the judicial candidates.

Fri, Oct. 13: Last day to register to be eligible to vote on Nov. 7; also, last day to change party status before the general election. Contact the Board of Elections at 250-4200 for further information.

Wed, Oct. 18: The two candidates for Buncombe sheriff, incumbent Bobby Medford and challenger Van Duncan, will be the guests at the 11:30 a.m. Asheville Leadership Forum. The event takes place at the Country Club of Asheville and is open to the public. Reservations are required; contact Terry Wooten at woot683@bellsouth.net or 683-0910. There is a $16 fee (covers lunch) — and no jeans, please.

Thu, Oct. 19: One-stop absentee voting begins for the general election. Locations will be announced by the Buncombe Board of Elections (250-4200).

Candidates, organizations and citizens: Send your campaign-event news — as far in advance as possible — by e-mail to nholder@mountainx.com; by fax to 251-1311; or by mail to Campaign Calendar, Mountain Xpress, P.O. Box 144, Asheville, NC 28802. If you have questions, call 251-1333, ext. 107.

The man with all the anthers

Tobacco has carried a bad rap at least as far back as 1604, when England’s James I scorned the “blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.”

“Whatever, dude,” you may be thinking as you inhale a lungful of stinking fume. Hyperbole aside, though, King James was perhaps wise to get his codpiece in a wad about the “golden leaf.” Decades of medical research have borne out its links to heart disease and cancer, not to mention a host of lesser ailments such as slack cheeks and stained teeth.

That pleasure and danger are bound up in each leaf might account for some of tobacco’s appeal. After all, how many people reach for spinach after sex? But if Carol Miller, a tobacco geneticist with Universal Leaf Tobacco Company Inc., has his way, that post-coital drag could one day be a whole lot safer. Miller is trying to reform tobacco, and he’s doing it, in part, in Buncombe County.

One of tobacco’s biggest issues, from a public-health standpoint, is a family of carcinogens within known as “tobacco-specific nitrosamines.” They’re found in all varieties of tobacco, but are especially prevalent in the burley tobacco grown in our mountain valleys. (Bright-leaf tobacco, which is raised in the eastern part of the state, contains fewer nitrosamines because of the hot, flue-curing process it undergoes. It also lacks the richness and depth of flavor of burley.)

On a recent afternoon, Dr. Miller waded into a half-acre field of burley tobacco planted north of Leicester. With hands that looked like they’d seen more than their fair share of sun, he plucked young blossoms from the tops of select plants and dropped their anthers — the tiny, pollen-bearing structures — into an empty half-gallon ice cream container.

“I try to get to them when they’re young, just about to open,” he said, splitting a blossom open with his thumbnail and teasing out the filaments. “That way they’re not contaminated with pollen from the plants around them by bees.”

The burley tobacco Miller was fussing over is a cross between domestic tobacco and a variety from Bolivia. With his bucket of anthers, he planned to pollinate another crop and create another strain, one that hopefully would be short on nitrosamines.

By outward measures his plants were a banner crop: They were chest-high, with electric-green leaves compared to the pale foliage on the white-leaf burley growing nearby. Cross your eyes a little, and their blossoms seemed to gather like snow against the mountains in the distance.

Still, Miller allowed that his pet tobacco, which looked so promising on an August afternoon, might be a flop. Then again, his work here just might revolutionize burley tobacco and make its smoke less “Stigian.” The answer is in the genes.

— Kent Priestley

Crash, boom, bang

You may have seen them at Tarwheels’ “open skate” on Monday. They’re the ones wearing pads on their elbows and knees. (“Little kids giggle at us.”) Or maybe you’ve seen a friend pulling skates out of her closet for the first time in years. Bit by bit, a ruckus is growing as the newly formed Blue Ridge Rollergirls gets traction in its drive to bring roller derby to Asheville.

The league’s first competition, known in the sport as a “bout,” may not be held until spring 2007, but the gals are already hard at work — padding up and falling down in practices, drawing up necessary bylaws and governing policies, and recruiting prospective skaters.

Skill levels vary, but a skater named Spookshow Baby encourages everyone to give it a try, no. “A lot of girls are just getting on skates again,” she notes.

Roller-derby bouts, where a pack of skaters attempts to keep the opposing teams’ members from lapping them on the rink by almost any means necessary, are spectacles that include costumes, loud music and wild crowds cheering on their favorite players and teams — not to mention high-speed wrecks.

As local organizers seek out advice and take the steps necessary to be sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, practice continues in such fundamentals as sprinting, turns and falling down. In a sport where collisions are a given, it’s best to know the drill.

“We are learning to enjoy falling rather than fearing it,” says Spookshow Baby.

About 15 skaters are practicing their moves at this point, but the league needs more in order to break off into separate teams that can compete in the bouts. The league also needs volunteers for a wide variety of tasks, from refereeing to announcing to ticket sales. To raise funds for equipment, the members have been holding yard sales.

“There are a lot of things you need before you can even think about getting into a bout,” notes skater Margaritavillain.

The high-impact sport/spectacle, which traces its origins back to 1930s Chicago, has enjoyed a national resurgence over the past decade. Leagues are springing up all over the country, including in Raleigh, home of the Carolina Rollergirls. Recently, a faction from Asheville headed there to meet and practice with the two-year-old league and watch an honest-to-gosh bout. Some Carolina Rollergirls have also come west to help train the new league.

“Its a world you didn’t know existed, but once you find it, it’s amazing you could have avoided it for so long,” Spookshow says.

For more information on how to become part of the Blue Ridge Rollergirls, check out www.myspace.com/blueridgerollergirls or e-mail blueridgerollergirls@yahoo.com.

— Brian Postelle

Hispanic economics

A recent study suggests that Hispanic immigrants to North Carolina — illegal or otherwise — give as good as they get in terms of economic impact. Now those findings have sparked a series of luncheons around the state to give the public, as well as business, political and civic leaders, an opportunity to address the implications of the state’s booming Hispanic population — whose growth rate is among the highest in the nation.

The free luncheon/discussion makes a stop in Asheville on Wednesday, Sept. 27, from noon to 2 p.m. at the downtown Renaissance Hotel. Participants will get a review of the study from one of its authors, listen to a panel discussion on the meaning of its data and explore the decisions that confront policy-makers addressing immigration issues.

“Immigrants from Latin America, authorized and unauthorized, are dramatically changing North Carolina’s demographic and economic landscape,” reported study authors John D. Kasarda, director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and James H. Johnson Jr., director of the institute’s Urban Investment Strategies Center.

North Carolina’s rapidly growing Hispanic population contributes more than $9 billion annually to the state’s economy through its purchases, taxes and labor, while costing the state budget a net $102 per Hispanic resident in health care, education and correctional services, according to the study.

If recent migration trends continue, the total economic impact of Hispanic spending in the state could increase to $18 billion by 2009, the findings suggest.

The event is sponsored by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry, and the N.C. Bankers Association. If you can’t attend the luncheon, but want to learn more, the 65-page report is available free at www.Kenan-flagler.unc.edu/assets/documents/2006_KenanInstitute_HispanicStudy.pdf.

Seating will be limited to 150 people. To register, go to www.ncba.com and click the “events” link. For more information, or to register by phone, contact Grace Sampson at (800) 662-7044.

— Hal Millard

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