Letters to the editor

How to forecast weather better

When will the weather forecasters learn their public-relations lesson? After several magnificent busts in recent predictions (“no snow” = 16 inches, and “yes, snow” = 0), Asheville forecasters kept their faces straight and moved on.

It is obvious that our local weathermen study their meteorology and learn it well, but most don’t seem to understand that the confidence of their listeners depends, not so much upon the consistent accuracy of their forecasts, as upon their candor and knowledgeable presentation. That includes explaining that weather conditions can change unexpectedly in the short term and baffle the most experienced weather expert.

Here in the Asheville area, we are subject to atmospheric influences originating in several different regions, sometimes approaching from different directions. The resulting air-mass mixes and their effects are often unpredictable on short notice.

Under some reasonably certain, stable conditions, we may receive the more or less predictable effects of frontal weather — when air masses process out of western Canada, southeasterly across the United States, under the normal influence of Coriolis force generated by the Earth’s east-west rotation, but subject to modification in course by the changing positions of the jet streams in the upper atmosphere.

Or the fronts may originate in the Pacific, some years influenced by the infamous El Nino, bringing us the moisture that may not have been wrung out of the clouds when the air lifted over the Rockies on the way east.

Under other conditions, often controlled by low-pressure centers developing locally, Asheville may receive either moist, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, or hot, dry air from the deserts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, or a combination of the two — both subject to the modifying influence of air-mass movement.

Still another situation occasionally results if a low-pressure area positions itself along the East Coast and circulates moist, cool air from over Atlantic waters across North Carolina.

I would suggest that our well-meaning weather forecasters season the forecasts with common sense. Why not share with the listener or reader the range of variables that might affect the weather during the next 24-hour period and note the possible developments, depending upon which of the several variables may dominate? It would be an educational process and a genuine public service to acquaint us with the interrelated atmospheric influences, as well as the manner and extent to which the various factors actually control our weather. Such an approach would relieve, to some extent, the forecaster’s anxiety and misunderstanding of his responsibilities. Of course, the weatherman wants to be right — but not even the groundhog can foretell the precise advent of spring consistently, just as the sailors’ guide regarding the color of the sunset will not always correctly foretell the next day’s weather, and no one complains.

I suggest that, rather than reaching for unattainable infallibility, the weather forecaster should strive to give the maximum assurance that is justified by the reliability of the potential relationships indicated by the available data.

To emphasize the objectivity that should characterize weather forecasting, the weatherman should also be able to follow up missed forecasts by explaining what elements changed to alter weather development he had predicted.

The weatherman could do much to create confidence and reliance on his forecasts with unembarrassed candor in admitting to missing unforeseen weather developments, and incidentally contribute to restoring the waning public trust in the news media.

— Norman C. Smith
Asheville

Christ was a victim of capital punishment

Recently, with the death by lethal injection of Carla Faye Tucker, the issue of capital punishment has been pushed back into the headlines. In this particular case, much more was made about her conversion to Christianity and the remorse she felt for her crime (a double homicide).

My purpose in this letter is not to debate again the specifics of the Tucker case. Instead, I’d like to make two points on the subject of the death penalty.

First of all, take a good look at our government — at all the corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and downright stupidity that goes on. In North Carolina, the continuing saga of the Department of Transportation is such an example. Nationally, look no further than the president. My question is, how can we trust a government that can’t fix a pothole with any degree of certainty with something as awesome as the death penalty (which is applied disproportionately on poor people and minorities)?

My second point concerns the religious argument, the “eye for an eye” concept. This idea of heavenly sanctioned vengeance was favored in the Old Testament of the Bible. With the coming of Christ, things changed. Christ preached the gospel of forgiveness and love, as radical 2,000 years ago as it is today. Most of you know what happened next. The Roman government in the region, out of political considerations, had Christ crucified (executed, killed — put in your favorite term). So next time a “good Christian” says that capital punishment is OK according to God, [they] would do well to remember that the son of God was executed by a human government, and that he was innocent. One of Christ’s main teachings was “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Isn’t it about time that we and our governments obeyed that simple, yet profound, command?

— Daniel M. Breen
Asheville

Billboards: an oversold bill of goods

It is touching to observe the childlike faith that seems to prevail in the minds of the signboard people, as they persist in cluttering our countryside with their wares.

The people who sell space on these ugly displays must encourage, at all costs, the belief that everyone who advertises this way is performing an important service, helping the public make wise purchasing choices.

And people who buy advertising space must hold desperately to the idea that, somehow, the money they spend helps them land customers — and, we certainly hope, make more money. They even trot out such nonsense as [the claim] that, without these signboards, businesses could not survive in the marketplace.

Not long ago, it was refreshing to drive Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley, travelling for miles with only beautiful rolling hills to look at. How the poor businessmen in that part of the world survived without billboards is something worth looking into. If I were a businessman outside of Virginia, I’d look at the example on I-81 and wonder if my advertising dollars were really buying me what the billboard people claim. Unfortunately, there is a slow appearance of more and more billboards on 81, proof of the relentless pressure of commercialization.

What seems to get swamped by all the sulphurous nonsense from the advertising industry is a simple realization: If a viewer is offended by the sign or the advertising company, what is to prevent that viewer from quietly boycotting the product or the advertiser? If advertising works, then it must work both ways. An ugly, offensive sign may well do a business more harm than good.

If the tax deductions and breaks for advertising were taken away, we’d soon see way fewer billboards. The silly claim that wanting billboards gone is taking of private property ignores the fact that, if someone with a billboard receives a tax deduction for advertising, that is a “taking” from all the people who have to make up the revenue loss.

Billboards are not precious. There are weatherbeaten examples all around Asheville to suggest that they are soon forgotten, even by the owners.

— Allen Thomas
Asheville

Artists need to be creative to survive

Innovative ideas can help artists or arts organizations stay afloat with less government aid. The Asheville Civic Ballet presents a $50,000 production of the beloved holiday classic “The Nutcracker” every year, in addition to a major production every spring. How can we fill auditoriums with these costly annual rituals?

Tickets for Tots is just one of the concepts I have generated to realize my dream of a ballet company for Asheville. In a direct-mail letter campaign signed by both previous Mayor Russ Martin and Vice Mayor Barbara Field, I invited professionals and corporations to purchase blocks of tickets for underprivileged, abused or neglected children and their care-givers. Organizations such as the United Way and local churches helped distribute the tickets.

Think about it: Everyone wins. Corporations get to reinvest in the community that supports them. Children get to have an experience that will affect the quality of their lives. We get our production paid for.

The key to successfully mounting major productions was first articulating three “realities”: l) Ballet is important; 2) ballet is expensive; and 3) ballet, good or bad, will happen somehow.

I then formulated three goals, which I kept before me always: 1) Do whatever it takes to create a quality production; 2) fill the house with people who will really enjoy themselves; and 3) balance the books.

Finally, I arrived at three general reminders to myself as I entered the brainstorming process. I called them my three “trusts”: l) Make effective use of volunteers — they want to help and to feel included (trust your own people); 2) mount an effective advertising campaign — it works for the business world (trust the system); and 3) conduct effective networking — think of the community as a big family, then maintain a can-do attitude and pass out lots of thank-you’s afterward (trust your audience).

The Tickets for Tots idea emerged out of this process. A second fundraiser that gives some people the level of experience they want is the “meet the artists” reception following the matinee performance. A lot of the people who support art really don’t want to attend another “event” like a dinner, but getting to come backstage to the inner artistic environment is a real treat.

A third idea is to have the patron gala be a matinee. It is my generation and my parents’ generation that really enjoy cultural events like the ballet, and that have the capital to support their “art habit.” We are getting older and don’t like to drive at night in winter. But we are fond of elegance. Why not create an upscale afternoon event that helps pay for our art?

I am supportive of the efforts of government agencies like the Arts Alliance. I have served on the boards of that and other art organizations, and have received over $60,000 in grant money. But times are changing, and I feel artists must re-evaluate their responsibility for their own survival. In addition, I find that support agencies are more likely to offer assistance to organizations that demonstrate fiscal good sense on their own behalf.

I go back to my “trusts.” If we trust ourselves as artists, trust the system of which we are a part, and trust the audience to whom we speak, it will work. My philosophy is: Be the best, then sell it. Show people that they need — not merely want, but need — what you have.

Take it from me, Asheville needs ballet!

— Ann Dunn, artistic director
Asheville Civic Ballet Company

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