Letters to the editor

A short take on Wilcox

Alan Wilcox’s commentary, “Does anybody really know what year it is?” [Jan. 12], reminded me of the rejoinder, “Sir, you’re a sophisticated rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of your verbosity.” Shouldn’t [Wilcox] be relegated to a once-a-year column, to spare your readers’ intelligence? Please!

— Alfred Grasso

Have we hit bottom yet?

Happy New Year! Keith Julian Alcohol and Drug Addiction Center [has laid] off 13 workers in residential substance-abuse treatment and hired nurses to staff their new psychiatric-stabilization unit. This reduces residential substance-abuse beds from 100 to 70, and increases the acute-psychiatric beds to about 10 — bad for the field of substance-abuse counseling, and better for hospitals whose Medicaid funding was cut last year for inpatient psychiatric services. The trend: reduction of human services at a time when expansion is needed.

Prisons are full of substance abusers who are getting no substance-abuse treatment at all. Prison does nothing for the nonviolent substance abuser, except promote more mental illness. One of many solutions is to reduce prison stays and fund substance-abuse treatment.

Workers are laid off. Families are disrupted. Sometimes people have to move. Sometimes families never recover from the financial loss. This particular restructuring is simply senseless.

The state of North Carolina recently funded DuPont $400,000 per job created, in one part of the state. Is that 8 million? Oops, DuPont forgot to mention that they were laying off hundreds in another part of the state. How much do politicians receive in campaign financing from big interests? More than that. (Check out www.commomcause.org.)

The point I am trying to make is that these layoffs are just one example of many layoffs that have been caused by a system fraught with corruption and mismanagement.

But who is responsible? You, the reader, are. Why? Because, in a democracy, average citizens are responsible for making their government officials/civil servants accountable. This is a huge problem, and it will only get worse until you decide what kind of society you want, and then elect officials who are going to do what you want. Do you want to spend more on prisons than on schools? Do you want to spend more on crisis medical care than on preventative medicine?

Social decline is like an addiction. People don’t do anything about it until society has hit a bottom. But sometimes addicts don’t hit a bottom — they just die. Are school shootings a bottom? Several weeks ago, several schools in Henderson County had problems with threats of violence. One school had to be evacuated. This phenomenon and these systems are all related. Big money, corruption, social decline. What will be our bottom?

There is cause for hope. Several third parties have people-centered platforms and refuse to take money from securities, real estate, insurance, corporations and tobacco interests. Check out the Labor Party at www.igc.org/lpa, the New Party at www.newparty.org, and the Green Party at www. greensparties.org.

An 89-year-old woman is now walking across America to bring attention to corruption and campaign-finance reform. Her Web site can be found at www.grannyd.com. She will be arriving in Washington, D.C., in March. So some people are doing something about this huge overfunctioning machine of business greed.

If the ’80s were known for savings-and-loan fraud, then the ’90s may be known for dumb-sizing and CEO and corporate corruption. Society must come out of denial and wake up [to] the work we have to do. Boom for some is bust for others.

If you have comments — or want to discuss organizing, or read an unedited version of this letter — please contact me at djthurma@bellsouth.net.

— Lisa Thurman, MSW, LCSW, CCAS

Charlotte Street charette, not RiverLink one, unsuccessful

Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink, sent me part of an article from recent issue [“I-26 connector not a done deal,” Dec. 22Xpress]. You quote me as saying, “The last couple of charettes we’ve done around here, like the River Link [project], haven’t been very successful.” Of course, she was upset.

Could you please let Ms. Cragnolin and your readers know that the quote is incorrect.

I said, “The last two charettes that we (the city of Asheville) put on were disasters,” and I mentioned the Char-lotte-Street (not the Riv-er-Link) charette as an example.

This comment was in the context of a discussion about using a charette to allow the community to help design the Interstate 26 Connector. I prefaced my remark by first explaining the origin of the word “charette.” (The term evolved through a practice by the students of architecture studying at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, France, in the last century. There was no campus student housing, and the students lived scattered over the city. On the day that a project was due, a cart went from house to house to gather the students and take them to the school. The students would continue to work on their design projects while they were being transported. Charette means “on the cart,” and, in contemporary U.S. architecture schools, it has come to mean working — intensively, and usually all night — on a design project).

Next, I explained how I understand the structure of a present-day design charette: A team of design professionals, each with a particular expertise needed for the project, is gathered together. They spend from several days to several weeks doing research. Stakeholders and just plain citizens are interviewed, usually in “focus groups,” during the research phase of the charette. While citizen input and involvement is key to the process, it is the team of professionals that come together and work intensively for several days (often continuously and without sleeping) to solve the design problem. Public meetings are held at the beginning of the process to introduce the designers to the community, and at the end of the charette when the design professionals present their solution(s). The public is encouraged to observe the process and to offer comments as solutions evolve, but are not involved in the actual design. The outcome is a “book” that documents the process and the solutions.

It was clear to me that a charette was not the appropriate process [for the I-26 Connector].

The Charlotte Street charette was my example, not because the outcomes were bad or wrong, but because City Council got so much feedback from members of the public about the process. Many felt they were left out and that we had let “hired guns” (a.k.a. planners and design professionals) from Portland, Ore., make decisions for our community.

I didn’t want that to happen again. The Asheville Connector and the widening of Interstate 240 through West Asheville are too important to have any part of our community feeling left out.

Since I have been known to have occasional “premature” senior moments, I wanted to make sure I hadn’t blown it and accidentally said “RiverLink” when I meant “Charlotte Street.” (Fortunately, I haven’t called Chris by one of my previous husbands’ names yet.) Your reporter, Matthew Dickens, confirmed that I had indeed said Charlotte Street.

The Riverfront Planning Committee held a R/UDAT (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team) process authorized by the American Institute of Architects at the national level and, in my opinion, it was extremely successful. Carroll Hughes, AIA (my boss) initiated and chaired the process. Subsequent RiverLink charettes have also been very successful.

I don’t normally ask for corrections; it takes longer to explain the context of a quote than it’s worth. But in this case, I felt that it was pretty important.

Finally, we will miss Margaret Williams [who had covered City Council for Xpress until Matthew Dickens recently took over that beat] very much, even though she deserves a break from City Hall. She is intelligent, understands municipal government, reports accurately, and covered the City Council with patience and grace. Give her a raise!

— Barbara Field

Homophobia the motive for Brandon Teena murder

In writing about the film Boys Don’t Cry, Ashely Siegel states that “Brandon’s demise was more about jealousy than small-town homophobia, as was maintained at the time by the press” [Short Takes, Jan. 12 and 19]. I’m aware that this movie was officially “not reviewed,” and that Ms. Siegel relied on some unnamed source to draw this conclusion. Unfortunately, she has been misinformed.

It’s true that director Kimberly Pierce succeeds in showing that her characters experience a complex range of motivations. However, Brandon Teena (given name Teena Brandon) was a classic victim of homophobic violence, and it is irresponsible to state otherwise.

Research has shown that the most common victims of anti-gay violence are effeminate men and butch women. Brandon/Teena transgressed social norms as a biological woman pretending to be a man. Sexual degradation frequently accompanies such violence. Brandon/Teena was raped before being murdered. In cases of anti-gay violence, clubs and knives are used with disproportionate frequency. Also, there is a pattern that experts call “overkill,” wherein the violence far exceeds that which is required for murder. The film shows Brandon/Teena being stabbed after already being killed with a bullet to the head.

Unfortunately, homophobia and the violence that it inspires are common in our society. A year ago, the Village Voice cited a recent comprehensive study, which reported that “nearly half of all lesbians and gay men have been threatened with violence” (with 9 percent having been assaulted with a weapon). This virulent hatred is still condoned at all levels of society, from our courts and the U.S. Senate on down to our schoolyards.

While jealousy seems to have been a supporting factor in the murder of Brandon/Teena, s/he was primarily a victim of homophobic rage. Research supports this interpretation — and so does the film.

— Frank Danay

Taylor refuses to help the world

At a town meeting in Hendersonville on Jan. 14, I confronted Congressman Charles Taylor with his lifetime environmental voting score, as tallied by the League of Conservation Voters (www.lcv.org). That score, I said, “is 5 percent — spectacularly bad, even for a Republican.” The average score [for a member of Congress] is closer to 47 percent (the lower the score, the more anti-environmental the voting record).

[Taylor] responded, “I don’t know how I got that high.” Quite true. The LCV Web site reveals that few, if any, of his votes in the past several years disappointed an industrial polluter or extractor.

He proceeded to attack LCV as “an unreliable source that uses scare tactics to support liberal causes” (as reported in the Hendersonville Times-News on Jan. 15, in section 4-A). This “scare tactic” is a mere reporting of congressional votes on environmental issues. [Taylor’s] record is indeed scary. If I’m to disbelieve LCV, I’d need to hear which votes they misreported — not dishonest sloganeering.

Taylor’s extended comments about the environment in the town meeting were wholly consistent with LCV statistics. For instance, another attendee asked him during and after the meeting whether he would challenge Tennessee’s polluting power plants — noting that the technology is now available for them to clean up their act. Answer: No. Did he have any other plans to clear our air, now nearing dirtiest in the U.S.? Answer: No. Given his aggressive anti-environmental passion, I believe that he will contribute to worsening our air by obstructing even the smallest reform.

For instance, our local atmospheric disaster is related to the global-atmospheric disaster caused, in part, by our regional and national climate-altering behavior. Here, too, Taylor opposes even the least of reforms. He won’t help us, if it entails the risk of helping the world. My source? Not LCV — rather, his own flier (put out in the summer of 1999).

— Randy Neall

Low-sulfur gasoline and loopholes

If we’re sincere about reducing smog in this region, North Carolina needs to mandate low-sulfur gasoline for all vehicles, as California has done for several years.

Of course, the loopholes the automobile manufacturers have exploited for SUVs and trucks [are] part of our air-pollution problem around here, too.

— Michael J. McCue

Internet tax and setting the Census response straight

The letter to the editor from Charles Fuller [Jan. 12] seems to [state] that the Internet cannot stand the burden of sales tax borne by the rest of us. As far as I can see, the Internet is an 8,000-pound gorilla. It will take a lot more than [paying] its fair legal burden to kill it.

Those states that insist on receiving their sales tax have always had a simple solution in mail-order situations. Why can’t the firms involved collect the tax based on the delivery address of the goods involved and then pay it to the proper state authority, as is now done with mail order? The computerized nature of e-tailing makes all the book work a snap!

On page 20 of the same issue, Margaret Williams’ article on Census response [“Count the people and the money”] starts off telling us that 40 percent of Buncombe County residents didn’t respond to the questionnaire. In paragraph two, she tells us that the response rate was 71.4 percent. I don’t think that you can round 71.4 down to 60 (71.4 percent plus 40 percent equals 111.4 percent). Is anybody editing up there?

— Edwin Babcock

[Editor’s response: We are editing, but we goofed. The local response rate to the Census was 71.4 percent, which means that 28.6 percent of Buncombe County’s residents failed to respond.]

Duped by developers again

It seems the current zoning dispute shows how the ordinary citizen has been duped. The idea that zoning will prevent land-owning natives from placing a trailer on their “back 40” has been the unspoken fear. The reality that zoning could prevent rampant developers from mowing down and paving every existing forested patch has been covered up, shamelessly.

Inexorably, rising taxes have forced families who have owned precious wooded tracts for generations to sell off parcels to developers. What can be done to protect these people and the land we all enjoy from division and exploitation? The same kind of tax abatements that have been given to other interests? Protective subsidies?

Our collective understanding has been warped, so we ponder, “How much can be developed?” rather than “How much can we preserve?”

Any master development plan should not only include a bias toward re-use or reforestation of the many abandoned “cleared” sites, but [should give] serious consideration to ways of keeping the remaining wooded lands contiguous — green corridors linking larger wooded areas endlessly (or increasingly) together.

Why? Species of fish and wildlife are becoming extinct due to isolation from the natural, customary, neighboring breeding populations. Wildlife, whose habitats have been increasingly invaded by new highways, wander onto these roads, with the all-too-familiar result. Streams and rivers are filling with silt from the developments’ runoff, or [are] diverted through culverts and dumped into sewage systems.

The future we will be left with from the current development craze consists of irreversible pollution, traffic snarls, a landscape made of pavement, high taxes to repair the bursting infrastructural mistakes, and a decline in the quality of life comparable to the monstrous, filthy, urban corridor and sprawling ‘burbs of the Northeast — which every sane person would hope to avoid.

Let us challenge the fallacy of unrestricted total development. Look to the day when we can say, “If you (don’t) build it, (the traffic jams won’t) come.”

— Tom Coppola

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