Letters to the editor

Break the (e-mail) chain

If you have an e-mail account, you probably receive silly forwarded chain-letter e-mails. I’m so sick of chain e-mails. Some are merely annoying — like the “Good Luck Teddy Bear.” Others are vaguely interesting, but replace actual conversation — like the form letter asking mildly nosy questions like, “Describe your first kiss; have you ever been arrested?; who is your best e-mail friend?” Others are just plain stupid — like the one promising that Bill Gates will pay you $5,000 for each address you forward it to. No matter what the subject, you are always urged to forward these pieces to as many people as possible, in order to foster some kind of ersatz friendship or better understanding.

These things are dumb but harmless, or so I thought. I visited a Department of Energy Web site devoted to Internet chain letters — itself no longer active, due to the number of these things it has to track. What’s left of it is at http://ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACChainLetters.html. An interesting mathematical point was made on that site that I had never thought of before: Suppose an e-mail is sent to 10 people. Each of those people forwards it to 10 other people, who in turn forward it to another 10 people. And so on. By the ninth re-sending, it will have resulted in one billion e-mail messages. That’s enough to paralyze any network.

I got a very silly one from a well-meaning friend over Christmas. It said that clicking on a link and forwarding the e-mail would help stop world hunger. An unnamed “corporation” would supposedly feed one hungry person for each person who clicked on the link, as a form of advertising! Even if something like this is actually taking place, the moral vacuousness of such a scheme is frightening. I can see it now: A large military-style truck sits on a dusty Sahel plain, surrounded by a crowd of desperate refugees. A banner promoting a dot.com startup hangs slack in the dusty air. Soldiers keep rough order by beating people with long sticks and clubbing them with the butts of their AK-47s. Everyone shouts; some die. A corpulent 20-something advertising whiz is seated on the truck next to a large cauldron of simmering gruel. He has a laptop computer with a satellite uplink logged into his company’s Web site, back in the States. Several better-fed natives tend the pot. As the starving throng clamors for food, he holds up his hand: “Wait, wait. … OK, we got a hit.” Immediately, a cook serves one lucky person. The wretch slathers the food into his parched mouth with an unsteady hand, while the crowd claws at his battered tin bowl. Others shout for food, but no more is forthcoming — because you didn’t forward that e-mail.

See? These things really are stupid, so let’s spread the word. You know the routine: Please forward this message to as many people as you can!

— Brad Howard
Bellingham, Wash.

Warning bells for skateboard park

It seems everyone has heard about the new and glorious skateboard park that is going to be constructed at the corner of Flint and Cherry streets. What some people don’t know are the problems (graffiti, vandalism and safety concerns) that merchants in the area of the “temporary” skateboard park [on top of the Civic Center parking deck] have encountered; and these problems are likely to be carried to the new location.

Since the temporary skateboard park was installed on the roof of the Civic Center parking deck, graffiti has increased dramatically. Skateboard “tag” (territorial) markers have appeared almost daily. We, the merchants, try to keep up with the removal of the marks, but the constant painting and repainting is beginning to get old.

It has also been drawn to my attention that [Asheville] Parks and Recreation Department has given the skateboarders permission to paint and mark their temporary park. It does not take a child psychologist — just a parent — to know that you don’t take a child and sit him in front of a wall and tell him that this is the only place [he] can draw. Why didn’t the Parks and Recreation Department also supply the paint, brushes and markers? At least that way, the graffiti around town would have a uniform look.

Around Thanksgiving, pumpkins were thrown from the parking deck; at another time, a newspaper-dispenser box belonging to the Mountain Xpress was dropped from the upper deck. Customers have been spit on and urinated on from the upper decks. A young man exposed himself, over the railing, to a local antiques dealer. He is lucky he didn’t fall over the railing, performing such an asinine act.

At the north end of the parking garage is a stairwell with glass/wire-mesh windows. [A couple of weeks ago], the three windows that had been broken were finally replaced. Two months ago, two of the same three were replaced, due to damage.

Debris has been tossed from the upper parking deck onto cars parked at the north end of the parking deck. Debris has also been thrown onto cars traveling Rankin [Avenue] and Walnut [Street].

The first week of February, a skateboarder — seated on his board — collided with a woman at the corner of Rankin and Walnut. She was knocked from the sidewalk onto the roadway. Thank goodness there were no vehicles coming! The skateboarder [remained] on the sidewalk, and continued on his merry way.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, I witnessed five juvenile males climbing the elevator shaft from the skateboard deck, to sit on the roof of the elevator shaft. What they were smoking and passing [around] was not a cigarette. I understand this happens frequently.

Then, on Monday morning, a portion of the building where my business is located, as well as the interior of the elevator at the parking garage, was decorated in the same manner with tag markers.

On numerous occasions, I have noticed activity on the skateboard deck. When I inquired if the area was open and supervised, I was told no one should be up there. This was observed as recently as Feb. 12 and 14.

I spoke with Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson in regards to the safety and security of the area. I told him what I had witnessed and my concerns about it being safe and secure. I was told by Mr. Brinson, “That is your opinion.”

This has nothing to do with opinion — it is fact!

Mayor Sitnick’s office has been called twice, in regards to this, especially since her comment to the effect, “The skateboarders have taken excellent care of their temporary park.”

If the city officials and — in particular, the Parks and Recreation director — were to get up from behind their desks and bother to come to the area, they would clearly see the problems that exist.

— Grady W. Smith

Pack’s pact with the public

It is encouraging to find that there are 44 people on the Pack Square redesign task force. Since Marsha Barber reported [“No shoes, no shirt … no rights?”, Nov. 18, 1998] that George Pack had bequeathed this property to the city in 1903, with the condition that it always remain a public square (i.e., not a road, not a parking space …), folks are waking up to the reality that we must steward our community and — if we want to reclaim as park land the brick road now “adjacent” to the square and renovate the public rest rooms underneath the square — we can’t sit around and wait for elected officials to make this happen.

Apparently, when the Biltmore Building’s private underground parking lot was excavated, during construction in 1972, it extended far under the Square and into the public rest rooms. The present sinking of parts of the overlapping brick road will be, of course, linked to this parking lot.

Didn’t Mr. Pack also bequeath the land underneath the Square? How could someone buy it? According to the Jan. 26 Xpress [“Animals, boats and the big hole”], the city will fix the sinking brick road, and the Biltmore Building owners will replace burned-out street lights there.

I recommend that everyone who thinks they know where Pack Square [is] go inside Pack Place and look at the 1887 scale model of downtown. Pack Square is the large green yard. Ideally, the task force will have the original square surveyed and its perimeter painted onto the roads. Then, we can stand and stare at what we have lost.

— Ron Ogle

Three Oaks Drive: public or private?

The city of Asheville maintains that Three Oaks Drive is a private road; however, the facts to follow raise serious doubts as to how private the road really is.

Located in the Beaverdam Valley, about two-and-a-half miles from Merrimon Avenue, Three Oaks Drive was annexed into the city of Asheville in the summer of 1991. Prior to that time, the road was maintained by its residents, who had a road-maintenance agreement.

The most recent incident — in which the city’s Water Department releas[ed] water to relieve pressure in its lines, adding three more inches of ice to an already-icy road — is but one occasion out of several in which our “private road” has had havoc wreaked upon it by the city.

Subsequent to the annexation, the city, unannounced, began installing a city water line, a sewer line and fire hydrants on Three Oaks Drive. In the process, they dug a trench lengthwise in the middle of the road, stretching from bottom to top, which tormented residents for months, due to the severity of the road’s rough condition. When the city finally made an attempt to smooth out the road, they did not pave it, but merely poured gravel and road bond onto the road. It was a temporary solution, for the next time there was a heavy rain, the road was again left in very poor condition — making for an extremely turbulent ride.

We have been informed by the city that our road is too steep to pave and must be brought up to code if we wish to pave it. In partial fulfillment of bringing the road up to code, our road would have to be made — to put it simply — less steep. However, now that the city has installed utility lines on this “private road,” complete with manhole covers in various places, the city would have to dig up and reinstall these utility lines in order to make the road less steep. Fifty percent of the cost of this procedure — [including] the cost of materials and the actual paving — would fall upon the residents, most of whom have had tax increases this year with little or no accessibility to city services.

As for the manhole covers, they are not protected by asphalt or any other material, but are merely surrounded by gravel and road bond. After a heavy rain, much of the surrounding gravel and road bond is washed away — leaving the covers exposed and a hazard for drivers, as well as the undersides of their cars. After such a rain, residents must shovel and load wheelbarrows full of gravel and loose road bond in order to re-establish the [road].

We are, in effect, maintaining the city’s property on our “private road.”

We have approached at least two people about blading the road, but both of them have expressed concern about damaging the manhole covers. They do not want to risk destruction to their equipment or the city’s property. Having a road-maintenance agreement whereby someone is hired to maintain a regular gravel road is one thing, but asking a private contractor to blade a road which would put his equipment in jeopardy is not considerate or even a realistic expectation. With this dilemma, how private can a road like this really be?

When we inquired about what our city taxes pay for, we were informed that we are provided with police protection and fire [and] rescue service. But the reality is that when the road becomes as icy as it has been [lately], it is highly doubtful that a fire truck would be able to climb the road, much less go back down again.

It seems Three Oaks Drive is considered a private road when it’s convenient for the city to turn its back on us in times of hardship, but it is not so private when the city must use the road for its own purposes.

On Feb. 3, the city came and scraped a middle portion of the road, in what it termed a “goodwill gesture.” But we and many people in the community realize that this was not so much a goodwill gesture as it was the city finally taking responsibility for something it should have [done] in the first place.

What is baffling to most of us is that the scraper drove up the road with its blade lifted, and scraped only a portion between the top and bottom of the road, because that’s the only portion for which the city believes it’s responsible. Then the scraper drove back down the road with its blade lifted, leaving the last several hundred feet still covered with ice. If we had needed emergency services (the ones we’re told we pay for with our taxes), an emergency vehicle would find it very difficult to get up the road and extremely treacherous going back down.

One resident, Delores Michaels, who is 68 years old, recently had knee surgery and has been housebound for two weeks because she still cannot drive on Three Oaks Drive, and dares not walk down it. She lives on the portion of the road the city left ice-covered. Another resident, James Fergusson, is 61 years old, has had four massive heart attacks, and has been forced to walk up and down this icy road since Jan. 22.

We seriously challenge the city’s classification of Three Oaks Drive as a “private road,” as well as its description of its partial road-scraping as a goodwill gesture. It was a pitiful attempt to save face and only served to confirm our belief that the city possesses utter disregard for the plight of Three Oaks Drive residents.

While some of the city’s actions may be legal, they are most certainly not ethical, and in no way do they even slightly resemble gestures of good will.

–Brad and Kirsten Mulvaney
Three Oaks Drive residents

I won’t take that crap

Letter writer R.S. Lantzius [Feb. 9] is pleased with the [city’s new] pooper-scooper law. I suppose those charged will be the humans, not the dogs, and they’ll have the right to have the evidence against them presented in court. Of course, this would [require] a DNA verification — backed up by an eyewitness (other than just a cop) who has no bias against dogs or the need to write a ticket. Will extenuating circumstance be considered before conviction, such as doggie diarrhea? After all, if one doesn’t have the proper tools (a mop and pail) to pick up a loose stool, they may be accused of leaving the crime scene. … Since it is against the law to leave a crime scene, one should just stay with the offensive pile and guard it from the sight of those it may offend until help arrives.

I hope any Asheville stool-rule offense — Section 2631 — is a felony, thereby putting a burden on the ticket writer to prove his/her case before adding more bucks to the city coffers.

I suggest that, in place of a fine, the offending doggie be required to wear a vest [containing] the words “shame on this doggie.”

Today’s newspaper stated that the Salisbury City Council was working on a law that would prohibit upholstered furniture from being used outside, including [on] porches. Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., has a law against those slops who drink beer on their front porches. It is encouraging to think that some citizens have the time to pay attention to such annoyances. I suppose the rest of them are just too apathetic — probably tired after working hard all week — and prefer to pay attention to the flowers, rather than [things like] dog crap.

We also need laws against people who break wind in public, pee on public-toilet seats, and a noise ordinance that covers those screaming kids playing in the streets. After all, they are on public property.

Then there are the geese that crap all over my yard and dock, and make honking noises all night that keep me awake. We have dog-stool [laws] and barking-dog laws. Why don’t these laws apply to geese? I’m glad to know that there are other people who can understand such annoyances.

What we really need is a law against those who think we need more laws. What a bunch of wimps this society has become.

— Bob Collins
Mountain Home

Chess clarifications

Thank you for your recent article recognizing the art of chess in Asheville [“The art of war,” Feb. 2]. However, certain items mentioned should be clarified and corrected.

Although some of the players who “strut their stuff” downtown may have gained local recognition and prominence, they are not necessarily the most skilled players in the area, as recognized by the United States Chess Federation (USCF).

The top player, locally, is National Master Larry Tapper of Weaverville, who has been the North Carolina state champion twice. (National Masters have a USCF rating of 2200 or above.)

The other National Master in Western North Carolina is Neal Harris. Mr. Harris has coached a number of winning grade-school students — including 9-year-old Nate Jeffries of Asheville, who is the current K-3 state champion, and Ian and Reid Sanders of Hendersonville [Reed was the chess player featured on the cover of the Feb. 2 Xpress]. All of the above played and did well in the recent Land of the Sky Tournament. Information on ratings, etc., can be obtained from USCF or the North Carolina Chess Association.

Chess, like any competitive event, sometimes involves massive egos, and often those who are most vocal about their abilities are assumed to be the “best.” When competition goes beyond the game itself and becomes attached to the ego, then friendly competition deteriorates into bitter rivalry and becomes war. I feel it is important to acknowledge those who work hard to develop their skills (whether it be chess or any other ability), share their knowledge with others, but get little credit because they are less pretentious.

— R.J. Estey

Reporter Margaret Williams replies: In defense of the local players interviewed for “The art of war,” not a one of them claimed to be the best (no matter how colorful their personalities); and several of them readily mentioned players like Larry Tapper (“He’s the best around here,” said local coach Karl Ehrsam). Many of the players interviewed — including the Asheville “coffee-shop” gang the article focuses on — are above-average players (and good people) by any standard.

Old computers make great doorstops

According to the Mountain Xpress, Buncombe County Purchasing Director Wayne Jacklin has a plan for getting rid 54 old computers that “won’t even run Windows 95 (much less the 98 version)” [Feb. 1, “Tarantulas, pontoons and taxes”].

What do to with such useless machinery? It would be a shame to take up landfill space with them. So, Mr. Jacklin came up with a brilliant idea: We’ll donate them to the public schools!

What a generous offer! Technology that is only about three generations obsolete, made available — free — to the public schools!

It’s a shame, of course, that the machines are “unsuitable for Internet surfing and not worth much at auction.” But presumably, even though “no one wants these PC’s these days,” the schools will be thrilled to get them: According to Mr. Jacklin, the worthless and obsolete machines will be used to teach students how to repair computers.

Which begs this question: Why would anyone want to learn how to repair computers which nobody uses, which nobody wants, and which are worthless? How does a student benefit from learning about technology that is at least a decade obsolete? But, hey, it’s cheaper than taking the computers to the dump.

I know that the media center in the school where I work has its closets overflowing with obsolete Apple 2es and 386 PCs. While we have a pressing need for state-of-the-art computers, we really don’t have any extra storage space for useless junk. In fact, we have the same problem that Mr. Jacklin does: We don’t know how to get rid of the obsolete stuff that we have.

Here’s a great idea: Why don’t the schools donate all of their obsolete computers to the Buncombe County Purchasing Director? I’ll bet that the Buncombe County government offices have a lot of doors, and those old Apple computers would make terrific doorstops. And they could have them for free!

— Howard Shepherd

Nuclear weapons are still the world’s greatest threat

Physicians for Social Responsibility is an organization that regards the global or national community as our patient and works to reduce the greatest dangers to [its] survival. Nuclear weapons constitute the greatest threat — as they did in the early ’60s, when the group was formed.

Upon entering the millennium, there are many threats to our existence that called for action — such as socioeconomic and ethnic divisiveness, which could lead to violent disruption of our society; global warming and other environmental threats to the survival of human life; and overpopulation, which places an unforeseeable strain on all potential resources.

However, with the existence of several thousands of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads still poised on missiles aimed at each other on “hair-trigger alert” — a remnant of the cold-war policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) — there is no doubt about the greatest immediate threat to survival of human life on earth. How is it possible for us to appear so oblivious to such peril? Our news media and political leaders hardly mention it, while most of us [have] remain[ed] rather oblivious about it since the end of the Cold War, nearly a decade ago.

Another way to look at this phenomenon is as a psychiatrist [does] who helps patients discover the ways in which they deceive themselves. When people are faced with issues that are “too terrible” to think about, they may use “numbing” and “denial” to avoid thinking about [them].

These measures are not useful when people are in danger and don’t take steps to protect themselves. Our inaction regarding the massive nuclear-weapon stockpile, which endangers everything that we hold dear, calls for our active involvement. We must overcome our resistance to learning about this terrible menace.

Our government and news media do not go out of their way to inform us [of] the risk that a miscalculation by one nation could lead to unimaginable nuclear destruction, through our MAD policy. In fact, on the [pretense] of national security, our government has cloaked in secrecy many of the most important facts to which we should be entitled in order to understand the problem and take appropriate action.

However, there are sources of information, and it is vital that we seek them out in order to do just that. We also need to strongly encourage the media to inform us more fully. It is incumbent upon us to be in a position to inform public officials that we will neither accept the MAD policy of the past nor allow nuclear issues to be exclusively managed by the experts, who have continued to lead us on this precarious journey.

A first step in learning more is to attend a forum called “Can We Live Without Nuclear Weapons?” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville — [featuring] panelists Harry Petrequin, World Federalists Association; Ralph Hutchison, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance; and Col. Ned Cabiness, retired, U.S. Army, former delegate to START; and moderated by Dr. Terry Clark, WNC Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

— Lewis E. Patrie, M.D.

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