Letters to the editor

Ashely Siegel has seen too many movies!

She had the unprecedented audacity to pan Titanic for being historically accurate. She actually believes it would have added to the movie to distort the facts a bit. [Perhaps] so that she could pay yet one more visit to the la-la land of “let’s pretend”?

The strength and beauty of this remarkable movie lies in the way its makers wove such a magnificent love story into the very fiber of history, and they did it in such superb detail that it became entirely believable that this pairing could have actually happened aboard the maiden voyage of the doomed vessel. That supreme attention to historical detail and accuracy made this movie a solid, enduring masterpiece, whose emotional impact will remain with me for a very long time.

The fictionalizing that Siegel advocates would have rendered Titanic just another thin, flimsy love story lacking substance.

Wake up and smell the coffee, Ashely, or I’m going to apply for your job!

— Anne Lowry

Ashely Siegel replies: Anne, I was kidding… it was a joke!

Railroads should replace trucks

The disgruntled letter from Lester Bishop [Jan. 7, “Truck drivers don’t appreciate stupid suggestions”] seemed to be impatient with what he attributed to be my excremental fullness because of my earlier letter [Dec. 24, “Restrict trucks on highways”].

I had commented that if the railroads handled the long-distance distribution of commodities, our highways would be free of trucks and obviously safer for the diminishing private driving public, now outnumbered and constantly threatened.

As a part-time truck driver, Mr. Bishop’s obvious bias brings into question his objectivity on the subject. I would rather he served full-time as a law-enforcement officer.

The proposal to restrict trucks to local distribution and to invigorate the railroad systems would constitute a revolutionary revival for a long-ailing industry and eliminate a domineering presence on the nation’s highways. The transition would, of course, be managed over a period of years, which would give truck drivers an opportunity to become acquainted with the need for more efficient local distribution or to learn new skills involved in railroading.

Mr. Bishop apparently didn’t understand that I was proposing a valid thesis for consideration, rather than necessarily dealing with facts that he felt I should “get straight.” I don’t really expect to “get used to” his prediction that “the trucking system is here to stay.” As a full-time practicing optimist, I have found that things have a way of changing for the better.

— Norman Smith

Solar power is cheaper than you think

My partner and I were very excited to see your cover story on solar power in the Dec. 24 issue. We felt, however, the article spent too much time talking about problems with being connected to the grid, and it was lacking in practical information.

We have been powering our home off the grid for two years now. We are writing this letter to show that there are simpler options available that work well and cost far less than the system described in your article.

To start with, a few simple facts: A solar power system consists of solar panels which turn sunlight into electrical energy. From the panels, the electricity, in the form of 12 volts, goes through a charge controller which regulates the voltage going into the batteries. The batteries store the electrical energy. As with any electrical system, safety fuses must be installed in the proper places. This is a basic 12-volt solar-power system.

A simple home power system can start out with two panels, two batteries and a charge controller. Additional panels and batteries can be easily added on as money permits. Because charge controllers accommodate different power loads, if you plan to add on, it is wise to start with a charge controller with the ability to handle your projected need.

There are numerous appliances and lights available that will run off 12 volts (DC). Most people, however, prefer the availability of 110-volt (AC) appliances, and so opt to add an inverter to their solar system, which converts 12-volt power to standard 110-volt power.

A simple system like this, with a small inverter and all household wiring, costs about $1,500. A less expensive up-front option to the $2,600 Sunfrost refrigerator and the panels to power it, which were mentioned in the article, is propane refrigeration. A modern, full-sized propane refrigerator costs $900 to $1,000. They typically cost about $12 a month to operate. Propane can also be used to heat water and for cooking.

With the option of wood or propane for heating the home, a solar system for electricity, and propane for other needs, a simple, cozy off-the-grid home can become a reality.

— Mervyn Readman and Hollis Rosson
Bryson City

Circus is worse than the Klan

The movie Amistad makes us think about how we treat those who are different from us. The differences can be in color, language, culture, country of origin, etc. But how about how we treat those who are of another species?

Historically, humans have held the view that being different entitles the stronger group to dominate and exploit the weaker group. When it comes to non-human animals, the Bible is invoked to justify unspeakable cruelty, just as it was to justify crimes against other races and women. Animals experience pain, loneliness, depression, etc., just as humans do. What gives us the right to make their lives a living hell? What gives us the right to make them our slaves? Exactly what justifies unimaginable cruelty inflicted upon non-human animals?

Asheville is about to witness one of the biggest slave shows in the country. When the KKK came to town, a thousand people protested their ideas. Will there be a thousand people at the Civic Center protesting the real thing? This is unlikely. Instead, it will be welcomed by community leaders for its economic value, and the public will look at it as “good” family entertainment. Those of us who see it for what it really is are characterized as fringe lunatics. The show I speak of is Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus.

I would like someone to explain to me the difference between this slave show and what we saw in Amistad. The victims are netted in the same way and dragged from their homes and families to serve others for economic gain. All freedoms are lost. The tools of control are the same: chains, muzzles, whips, prods, collars, bodily mutilations, etc. The conditions are crude, dirty and crowded. The victims are subject to intense heat and bitter cold when traveling a grueling schedule from show to show. Their babies are stolen from them and sold. The food is far from healthy or natural. When the victims are no longer profitable, they are killed, sold for research, or sold to hunting ranches. Sounds like slavery to me.

Some slave owners treated their slaves well, but that still didn’t justify the institution. Ringling Bros. claims that they treat their animals well, but these claims are false. [I’ve seen] videos showing Ringling trainers beating animals mercilessly with bullhooks, whips and sticks. Positive reinforcement does not require that trainers carry these tools.

Ringling does not care for animals once they are no longer of economic value. One of Ringling’s Sumatran tigers was sold to an individual who declawed and defanged him. The defanging caused serious damage to his jaw, resulting in abscessed teeth and sores on the roof of his mouth. Four performing chimpanzees were sent to a research lab, where they would have been used for testing insecticides, cosmetics and drugs. Animal-rights groups were able to intervene in this case, and the animals were saved.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the pathetically minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition are not met by Ringling Bros., [even though they are] the very standards [Ringling Bros.] helped to write. They have been cited by the U.S.D.A. for failure to have veterinary records, [failure to] provide veterinary care, using expired medications, failure to provide sufficient space for the animals, storing food in unsanitary conditions, and failure to provide animals with exercise. They were cited for electrical wires hanging loose inside a lion’s cage, causing the potential for injury or death. In 1993, one of their elephants killed her trainer. Experts believe that elephants view this as their only escape from the abuse.

Marjorie Spiegel has written a book, The Dreaded Comparison, comparing human and animal slavery, published by Mirror Books. The pictures of human and animal slaves in similar constraints and situations are quite eerie. Amistad might have made us feel good that slavery is now outlawed, but only for humans. Slavery is alive and thriving for billions of animals. A step in the right direction would be to forgo the circus and seek a more humane form of entertainment.

— Terri David

What you can do to bring back Mark Pompilio

Have you ever had a complaint about something happening in your community? Something which makes you say to yourself, “I’m going to call someone, write someone. I’m going to do something!” Then you sit back, find a good movie, read the newspaper, and somehow you forget that a few hours ago, you had an opinion or strong conviction that was extremely important.

The next day, there’s breakfast to make, kids to get off to school, and work, whether in or outside of the home. There always seem to be things in your personal life to attend to. You forget there was a very important matter you neglected to address.

Well, that just happened to me. I’d heard that WLOS, channel 13, was letting one of my favorite newscasters go. No one seemed to know who his replacement would be.

I meant to call, write, protest — whatever it would take to keep on the air a newscaster whom I trust, enjoy and look forward to seeing on the daily news. I waited too long to speak my mind.

Tonight, I watched the last touching report from the finest broadcaster Asheville has ever had. You all know and love him: Mark Pompilio. For 14 years, he’s been with us. Funny how we take for granted someone whom we always expected to be there.

I never really thought the producers of WLOS would be so stupid that they’d let one of their finest assets get away from them. Now, I wish I’d called or written sooner. Procrastination never pays off.

Well, lo and behold, I called WLOS, just five minutes after Darcell Grimes gave her nearly tearful goodbye to Mark. After which was Mark’s goodbye to us all.

I called Darcell’s extension number (558), and guess who answered? Darcell herself! I had already left messages on the extension numbers for Brenda Burch, Bob Caldwell and the general number.

In all of them, I said the same thing: “I will no longer watch WLOS news. I will tune in to channel 4 or 7. I will miss my local news, but I cannot support a news program whose executives make such poor decisions concerning their employees and obviously have no regard for their viewers’ preferences and opinions.

I, as many others, am an avid news watcher — 6 a.m., 7 a.m., noon, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. From now on, I’ll channel surf until I find a complete news team I can depend on.

Despite the other excellent news, weather and sports reporters, WLOS is now an incomplete news team. Mark Pompilio leaves a void that no other can fill.

Darcell Grimes suggested that people should call WLOS during normal business hours to protest, because that’s when the producers and decision-makers are at their desks. She also mentioned that, now, none of our beloved newscasters’ jobs are safe.

Speak out, Asheville!

— Janet Wolfe

Too much stuff

I would like to commend the staff at Mountain Xpress for their comprehensive holiday gift-giving guides that were filled with good suggestions on where to get and how to give the good stuff, right here at home.

Well, Christmas is over now, and I’ve incorporated all of the new stuff I got in with the old stuff that I had. And just recently, I came across this song by the great American songster, John Prine. A few verses:

“Big house, big car, back seat, full bar
Houseboat won’t float, bank won’t tote the note
Too much stuff, there’s just too much stuff
It’ll hang you up dealing with too much stuff

“Well, it’s way too much stuff, you’re never gonna get enough
You can pile it high, but you’ll never be satisfied

“Hangin’ out on the couch puttin’ on the pounds
Better run, jump, jog, swim, try to hold it down
You’re eatin’ too much stuff, way too much stuff
It’ll wear you down carryin’ round too much stuff

“Yeah, too much stuff, too much stuff
You’re never gonna get enough ’cause there’s just too much stuff
You know you can hurt yourself foolin’ with too much stuff
Yeah, it’ll tear you down, foolin’ with too much stuff”

— Katie Breckheimer
Quality Forward

Charles Taylor is delusional

When discussing political ideas and policies, it is important to be polite and respectful towards other peoples’ views, even when one disagrees. When Charles Taylor deep-sixed the effort to win recognition of the French Broad as a National Heritage River because of his belief that it would lead to takeover of western North Carolina by the United Nations, this became more difficult.

Taylor says that he resents being viewed as an “extremist” because of his views on the United Nations and the French Broad. I agree that “extremist” is not really the right term. A more accurate one would be “delusional.”

I suggest to all the folks out there who really believe that occupation by United Nations forces is the main challenge facing western North Carolina, then, by all means, vote for Congressman Taylor. If, however, you are one of those people who see economic revitalization, better jobs and improvement of our local environment as somewhat more relevant issues, I would suggest the need to cast a vote for different political leadership.

— Brownie Newman

Dylan shared a defining moment with Asheville

Looking back on 1997, for me, I’d have to say that the most important musical achievement of the year came from Bob Dylan. I think the profound message conveyed in his latest album, Time Out of Mind, and the emotional gist of his concert here in Asheville should not be taken for granted. One day, some people may look back on this album as a defining moment in U.S. history, played by its greatest artist, one who stood up in a time of no definitions and laid down a wild mix of original American blues, born out of an ageless and road-weary troubadour and survivor.

Unselfconscious and unimpressed by his own fame, Dylan comes as a wise warrior, expounding on human emotion, plugged directly from the raw current of our times. His hard-core album will surely have a lasting effect on serious musicians from now on.

Back from the dead, Dylan has narrowly escaped death by the heart, and come back an old man, still fighting like a true warrior. On his album, Dylan now speaks of simplicity, and the tried-and-true courage and grit of acceptance, deliverance and salvation. He reaches back to and catches — instead of imitates — the other soul of American music, the blues. By refusing to accept genre or stereotyping, Dylan achieves a mix of folk and blues with world-class authenticity.

Some things start out as concepts on an album and grow into a bigger truth on tour. Dylan’s concert here in Asheville this fall was no ordinary concert. It left us stunned. As far as I know, Dylan’s relationship with Asheville goes something like this: 1) Invitation from Asheville’s Writers’ Workshop eight to 10 years ago — denied. 2) Several years later, delivers an average performance to a sold-out crowd at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. 3) Comes back a year or two later; show isn’t sold out, but he’s in a purple mood and jams the place. 4) Sold-out show this fall — plays with a message of deafening thunder and a good-humored mood.

Asheville music has been climbing out from a deep, dark pit, with a long ways to go to reach the level of perhaps some more progressive cities, but [it’s] a long way from the radio drollery of the ’80s. Great compliments to the live-music scene — which is sometimes absolutely brilliant when it speaks with originality and good conscience.

But, as often is the case, musically, we are at war — a war that rages on the boom-boxes and techno-urbanized post-Nirvana kids. The rebellion of the Nirvana years in the early ’90s was against that which was pompous and selfish, abusive and restrictive. But now, bitterness and lack of focus reign in our music, reflective of our culture.

The answers are there. A million miles from view, but right around that corner that you gave up on, or forgot about. A breath of fresh air, a 15-mile view, the capacity for mobility, a dependable spiritual truth.

What did Dylan do that night, here in Asheville? Nothing that the Michelangelo of our time wouldn’t do for anyone who was open and appreciative, ready to share the moment of inspiration, as the audience was that night. That was the one thing.

Perhaps the bigger thing is — in the words of a Counting Crows song, and concurrent with the guitar-grabbing folk-music explosion of the ’60s — he made us want to be Bob Dylan. Some day when we get old, to be a laid-back, somber warrior, still fighting the good fight. Being real. Being strong.

— Russ Burgess

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