Letters to the editor

A sanctuary for change

In your recent commentary by Nels Arnold [“Transformation Behind Bars,” Dec. 28], the author describes a Buddhist meditation group at Mountain View Correctional Institution. She tells how beneficial this practice has been in these inmates’ lives and then goes into direct quotes from some of the participants.

I want to commend Arnold and the Mountain Xpress for their time and effort in giving this issue attention. I believe this article was well written, and the message was brought across in a way that reinforced these inmates’ making a positive change in their lives. I believe that this is part of a large step that society needs to make to stand behind the rehabilitation aspect of incarceration.

I am currently an inmate. I have been in prison since the age of 17; I am now 22. I spent almost three years in a closed-custody, maximum-security prison in Morganton — Foothills Correctional Institution. The environment I was living in was far from peaceful. Chaos and violence were everyday occurrences. Under these conditions, my aspirations of changing my behaviors and attitudes were definitely not encouraged. However, I continued to strive for these positive self-changes. One of the few sanctuaries that I found in this prison was a weekly yoga/meditation group. It was led by a man who volunteered from the community. He came every week, without fail, for the entire time I was there.

Through struggles with rain, snow, storms, battles with cancer, miscommunications with prison officials, etc., he was there every week, like a beacon of strength, power and solace. There was no personal talk or attachment; in fact, I don’t think I even spoke with him for the first year. It was simply an hour-and-a-half a week that was dedicated to the ritual of stretches, movements and meditation. This is the food that kept me alive through the depression, the anger and the pain that constituted my life. I credit this meditation group in a big way with giving me hope.

Thank you for drawing attention to this topic.

— Chris Fargo-Masuda

Civic Center is us

The Civic Center Task Force meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 5, was especially interesting. Peggy Berg from the Highland Group pointed out that Asheville is different from many cities, indeed from most cities, because people want to come to Asheville to visit. Many cities have built new, huge, expensive convention centers, with adjoining hotels, in order to attract folks from out of town to their otherwise nondescript landscape. Asheville doesn’t need to do that, for folks like to come here. So with that in mind, perhaps not all of the 4 percent lodging tax is required to tout tourism.

If 1 percent were used to support the Civic Center renovations, the project would immediately leap forward. And how grand would the refurbished Civic Center need to be? It seems me that while our happy visitors are here, let’s be sure the concerts, shows and such are equally as appealing as the mountains, the Parkway, the Grove Park, the Biltmore Estate. We should build the pieces and parts of our Civic Center primarily for us WNC residents, but nice enough for our guests to be pleased also. That’s how we plan our own homes, yes?

— George Keller

[Editor’s note: George Keller is an appointed member of the Asheville Civic Center Commission.]

Those generous Westville men

In response to last week’s piece titled “Calendar Boys” [Conscious Party, Jan. 4], the Helpmate staff and board would like to express appreciation to the “Men of Westville Pub” for so generously donating the proceeds from their 2006 calendar sales to the work of our organization and the people we serve. With great humor and lightness of heart, they have taken a stance against domestic violence, an undeniably grave and heart-wrenching community issue. We are honored to be the recipient organization of their uplifting publication, clearly the result of great community spirit!

Approaching the issue of domestic violence from a holistic perspective, Helpmate provides the community with a 24-hour crisis line, emergency shelter, individual and group counseling, children’s services, court advocacy and educational outreach. For more information on our services, please visit www.helpmateonline.org.

— Hilary Minnick
Development Director
Helpmate Inc.

It’s prime time for Asheville

One Sunday after the [Asheville] Symphony performed at the Civic Center, my fiance tossed a buck into the case of a street musician. He feels, as do I, that he wasn’t being charitable — he was priming the pump.

It’s really hard for a musician to make a living around here, which means that most professional musicians (those who prefer eating to starving) stay away. Asheville has a nascent entertainment industry, but those who would make it truly prosperous — the promoters and talent agents — stay away because if their artists can’t make a living, neither can they.

Because new talent doesn’t flock to Asheville in hopes of being “discovered,” the people who hope to “discover” the next potential “star” stay away in droves. If there’s no talent to feed on, what’s the point of coming here?

There’s no musicians’ union here because North Carolina is a right-to-work state, and there’s no money to be made in organizing the few local professional musicians.

So if you’re one of those who’d like to turn Asheville into a magnet for professional musicians and others in the entertainment industry, start by tipping generously every time you see live performances — whether on the streets, in bars or any other venue. Those tips can make the difference between survival as a “professional” or having to take a day job. The more people in this area who can live and thrive by practicing their “art,” the more artists will be attracted to this area.

Prime that pump! Hire live musicians for weddings and other events — and pay well. If you hear someone locally and you like their music, ask if they have any recordings for sale. The technology available has made it so easy for anyone to become a recording artist. There are a surprising number of musicians nationwide who are able to support themselves by self-publishing, cutting out the middleman and selling directly to their customers, in person or through the Internet.

— Jackie Britton

City suffers from UDO abuse

Scott Shuford, head of the city’s Planning & Development Department, recently berated a board member of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods for his “inappropriately accusatory, demanding, and disrespectful” tone towards Joe Heard, after a Dec. 29 Citizen-Times article noting that “Heard also said the city classified Maxwell Street as mixed use with 50 percent of the properties on the street zoned or used for commercial purposes.”

The UDO has been scrutinized by citizens and professional planners alike, and it is not possible to rationally interpret the UDO and come up with Joe Heard’s figures.

I wonder exactly what tone Mr. Shuford believes we should take when city staff, who have sworn to abide by the AICP code of ethics, violate that oath and the public trust with a blatant lie to the citizens of Asheville? Misleading the public with false statements is bad enough, but defending subordinates as they misrepresent the law to the general public is a deplorable act of misconduct as well.

Under Shuford’s supervision, the Planning & Development Department has allowed the repeated abuse or disregard of the UDO through such successful projects as Super Wal-Mart, Greenlife, Campus Crest and now the fabulous new Staples on Merrimon. Each of these represents developments full of rank controversy over issues embedded in the department.

Greenlife’s apparent, continued violation of the UDO and the city staff’s perceived negligence and potential misconduct in this matter offer no ground whatsoever for city staff to admonish citizens willing to stand up for the lawful and appropriate development of their city. It’s time for the Planning & Development Department to get on board with real progress for all Asheville’s citizens. And for crying out loud, be honest!

— Peter Brezny

Keep those bombs away

The Department of Energy has formally announced plans for modernizing the Y12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. They are preparing for “life extension” upgrade work to happen simultaneously on the W76 (Trident) and the B61 warheads, and plan to build a new billion-dollar bomb-making plant there! The upgrading of current facilities and the building of a new bomb plant will result in increased numbers of [vehicles] transporting radioactive material through our mountain region. Asheville is at the nuclear crossroads.

DOE held public hearings on their plans on Dec. 15 in Oak Ridge. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance has requested that the written comment period be extended from the original deadline of Jan. 9 to Jan. 31. It is crucial that people of good will who are opposed to the production and possible use of nuclear weapons send their concerns to the DOE. Tell them we do not need a new bomb plant because we do not need to maintain a nuclear arsenal in violation of the nonproliferation treaty. Tell them you support Alternative 5: Stop production activities now and devote energies to dismantlement of weapons, to safe storage and disposal of weapons materials under international control, and to cleanup of legacy wastes at Y12. Only this option brings the United States into compliance with its treaty obligations.

Send your comments to Pam Gorman, Y12 SWEIS Document Manager, 800 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Suite A-500, Oak Ridge, TN or to comments@y-12sweis.com.

— Anne Craig

Don’t give up yet!

The new year of 2006 began on Jan. 1. It is traditionally a time of making new resolutions. What I would like to say to you is that if your resolutions have faltered, do not be discouraged. According the Human Design System, the new experience for the new year begins on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Although birth information is used in Human Design, it is not astrology. It is the movement around the wheel of the 64 hexagrams of the Chinese I’Ching. The Sun, which is the base for our solar system and our life here on Earth, moves into Hexagram 41 on Jan. 22. This hexagram is about entering the new experience, and it is the only beginning codon. It is, in that sense, the capital letter at the beginning of every sentence. So don’t give up hope.

Right now, we are completing the last new experience of 2005. We are still processing what we have been through, what we have learned, what our truth is and what transformation has taken place in 2005 for us. So for those of you who have felt despair at your resolutions breaking down before they have really had a chance to begin, don’t despair! Whatever your resolutions were — those opportunities for change and growth have not been lost. Make them again on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

— Mary Ann Winiger

Socialist model or public good?

After reading “What Price Higher Education?” [Commentary, Jan. 4], I thought Mr. Leef was on to something — the notion that citizens can opt out of paying for government programs they dislike or can’t influence makes sense to me. Since Mr. President Bush isn’t answering my e-mails and calls about this dreadful war in Iraq, I’ll simply lower my tax payment by 40 percent — the percentage of the federal budget that goes to the military. Great! End of story.

But wait — something more is going on here: another conservative think-tanker out to destroy the public good. Note his use of the buzzword “socialist model” to describe how public schools are financed. Why not use the more accurate, historical term, “publicly funded”? That’s exactly what they are, and have been for, say, the last 220 years. The Founding Fathers got it right with the Land Ordinance of 1785, which set aside proceeds from the sale of public land to finance education. How about Title IX (1972), which banned sex discrimination in academics and athletics? Or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1972), which brought over 1 million children previously kept at home or in institutions into the public school system? There is a long history of publicly funded schools in this country which has served its citizens well.

How does an educated citizenry benefit broader society?

• Economic benefits include increased earnings, higher skill levels and greater tax revenues.

• Civic benefits include higher voting rates, lower crime rates and increased volunteer work and community service.

• Public health benefits include lower rates of disease and poverty.

Policymakers increasingly recognize the link between post-secondary education and quality of life. In a knowledge-based economy and complex democracy, the value and benefits of post-secondary education are more important than ever.

Let’s play out Mr. Leef’s philosophy: Let’s say a new building for the UNC system needs to be built. Who will pay? Can the relatively small numbers of students who will enter a specific academic building pay for its costs? How can the capital outlays needed for a campus be met, if not by society as a whole? Perhaps, as in the world of professional sports, the state can accept dollars for naming rights. Then a well-funded group of Holocaust deniers could have their building and insist on the teaching of their false and hateful doctrine. The Flat-Earth Society Geography Center has a catchy ring to it.

How about our K-12 system? As North Carolina gets ready to create an online high school, how can this needed innovation by paid for, if not by all Tar Heels? Surely Mr. Leef will acknowledge the importance of a publicly funded K-12 system. Or should I simply put my 2- and 4-year-old boys into the workforce now?

The philosophy offered by Mr. Leer, and others of his ilk, is short-sighted and detrimental to the public good. In the utopia vision offered by the right, social security is privatized, political offices and educational curriculum are sold to the highest bidder, labor and workplace safety is underfunded, health care is overpriced — if available — and executive privilege towers over all.

Here’s an alternative: a retirement system not tied to the greedy whims of corrupt corporate executives, public financing for all political offices, publicly financed education through the post-secondary years, strengthened labor laws and publicly financed health care for all.

Without public financing, important social and educational systems will decay. Let’s hope Chancellor Bowles rejects the ill-conceived arguments of the right-wing tankers.

— Peter Billingsley

In big business (and government) we trust

As our nation mourns the deaths of the men in the Sago mine, it frustrates me that many Americans will remain unaware of the facts. As I watched the mine company management deal out carefully chosen words, I began to wonder about the size and history of the International Coal Group. Their spiel brought to mind politicians spewing propaganda and self-serving rhetoric trying to sway citizens to their way of thinking.

Having worked for a large corporation for 25 years, I, along with hundreds of others, was victimized by practices designed solely to benefit the company’s major stockholders. I am reminded of the present administration’s policies, which clearly benefit the “major stockholders” of our country — big business.

Just as our government makes token gestures to benefit the poor while making the rich even richer, it seems that ICG makes those same token gestures to appease the regulatory agencies while increasing their bottom line by whatever means necessary.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 11 mines owned by the IGC experienced an 84 percent increase in safety violations in 2005 as compared to 2004. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 419 safety citations to the company’s 10 active mines in 2004 and 769 citations in 2005. According to a Labor Department spokesman, the most common violations involved ventilation, combustible materials and rock dusting, electrical equipment deficiencies, inadequate fire protection and roof support. However, the vice president of mining services, Gene Kitts, offered, “We think that we are operating a safe mine.” I wonder how many trips Mr. Kitts took 13,000 feet inside Mother Earth.

In 2005, 208 citations were issued against Sago, 97 of those for “significant and substantial” problems that could result in serious injury if not corrected. Twenty-eight citations were issued in December, 15 of which were “significant and substantial.” Four were for allowing coal dust and other combustibles to accumulate in the mine. Three were for failing to follow a plan to prevent a roof collapse.

The company supposedly dealt with most of the violations. Only time will tell the actual cause of the disaster. Will we hear the real story, or the story the company wants us to hear? Sound a bit like the government?

IGC was formed by a billionaire financier from New York, who bought out bankrupt companies and formed his own company. Sago was closed in 2002, to be reopened in 2004 and put into operation apparently immediately. Red flag? I suppose not. After all, “We think that we are operating a safe mine.” I’m sure it was safe for Mr. Kitts — in the office.

I wonder if he has heard about “weapons of mass destruction.”

— Gary M. Poppas

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