Letters to the editor

Jerry’s not-so-holy gospel

As an aspiring curmudgeon, I look forward to Jerry Sternberg’s semi-regular commentaries in the Xpress. I find that his recounting of local histories provides a unique perspective. Therefore, I read with great anticipation the latest installment of the “Gospel According to Jerry” in which he suggests that the “good old days” were never really there [“The ‘Good Old Days’ That Never Were,” Feb. 22]. I couldn’t agree more that newcomers and old-timers alike shouldn’t naively romanticize our region by longing for it to be what it was 10, 25, 100 or even 500 years ago. After all, communities are a process, and the development of land and society to sustain human settlements is just a fact of life.

However, I found Jerry’s unequivocal condemnation of “progressives” disappointing and not quite up to snuff with his usual illuminating and insightful diatribes. He sarcastically called into question the motives of anyone who is critical of unlimited development, poor traffic planning or the proliferation of “big box” stores. These issues are, indeed, a fact of life, but to say that calling for better growth planning in our finite environment is anti-capitalist is like saying that anyone who shops at big-box stores selling cheap Chinese goods is a communist. It’s a broad stroke that makes the painter look damn sloppy.

Unfortunately, we live in an era when short-term planning for quarterly profits is ironically viewed as “conventional wisdom.” By buying into this anti-conservative perspective and focusing on divisive language and political stereotypes, Jerry is doing exactly what he’s condemning: oversimplifying complex issues by romanticizing the past and refusing to acknowledge the realities we face. The “good old days” of idealized free-market capitalism, endless natural resources and unlimited supplies of cheap energy are gone, replaced by no-bid contracts, endless wars and a deeply indebted federal government that continues to illustrate apathy and disdain for regional issues not directly benefiting the profits of their corporate handlers. Simultaneously, asthma-inducing levels of pollution, increasing dependence on foreign imports that weaken our local economy, the ongoing loss of farmland and many other issues are threatening the long-term health and self-sufficiency of our region.

Only by working together will we figure out how to develop a promising future instead of living in a fantasized past. Understanding our history, developing innovative approaches and engaging in real dialogues are vital for our collective success. Our community might be better served if Jerry spent his considerable wisdom and experience working to find commonalities with other folks concerned about the direction of our community’s growth — especially those with whom he seemingly disagrees. He just might be surprised at what he finds.

— David McConville
West Asheville

To bike, or not to bike?

Gospel Jerry suggested (twice!) that adults who ride their bikes should be ashamed of not caring for their families [“The ‘Good Old Days’ That Never Were,” Commentary, Feb. 22].

I don’t ride my bike as much as I should, but I envy those that are able to ride a bike to work. A lot of people choose to ride a bike, thereby saving thousands of dollars they could have spent on a car. They can use that money to help with their familial duties. To suggest that driving your car to work every day — as opposed to riding your bike — is a better way to provide for your family is truly puzzling (and in his own words, “regressive”).

— Andrew Laughlin

The good new days

Perhaps the panacea for Jerry Sternberg is to preach his gospel somewhere other than Asheville [“The ‘Good Old Days’ That Never Were,” Commentary, Feb. 22]. I, however, would be most grateful if he told us where he was relocating; if I ever needed to consider leaving, I would want to be sure to be as far away from this self-ordained prophet of doom as geographically possible.

To generalize as Sternberg does in his latest piece is to invoke stereotyping at its most destructive level. The last 20,000 people to come to Asheville are not all wealthy, young, progressive do-gooders who only advocate for self-serving projects and improvements. His description of them only serves to widen the rift, or create a rift, in our population. Cultural and financial diversity exists in almost all cities the size of Asheville. Of course change is going to create new community dynamics, but why view this with a pejorative eye? Instead of “hordes of newcomers,” why not an influx of new additions?

Perhaps Jerry would like to return to the good old days of segregation. Diversity is the logical prescription for the health and vitality of any city. If Jerry ventured out to such venues as bicycle paths and other physical facilities as well as to some of the neighborhoods with Habitat for Humanity homes, he would find octogenarians riding bicycles and wearing out cardio machines, and some new low-cost homes in “desirable” neighborhoods.

I agree that there are self-serving progressives, as well as conservatives of a similar ilk, but doesn’t this hold true for all humanity? The best and the worst are found among all people. Why doesn’t Jerry do something to improve the city, rather than suggest a ridiculous exodus. As Thoreau stated: “There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.”

— Ed Wolfsohn

Why is that?

I certainly agree with Ron Dame’s position that local taxing authorities should declare their intentions to maintain revenue neutrality [“County (and City) Should Declare Tax Intentions,” Letters, Feb. 22]. The value of my home increased 61 percent, and the value of a property I own in West Asheville increased an incredible 358 percent! (Obviously, I will be appealing this increase.)

Both properties lie within the Asheville City Schools jurisdiction, and are, therefore, subject to that additional taxation for which the rate does not ever seem to change.

Why is that?

— Emil D. Revala

The never shoulds and the never weres

First, I am responding to Rebecca Hecht’s letter about panhandling [“Would the Dalai Lama Give You a Dime?,” Feb. 22]. The point for me is not that I have to judge what the recipient is going to do with the money — will it be of good use, helpful to the person, etc. — but that it gives me the opportunity to practice charity: “Ask and it will be given unto you.”

Frankly, I don’t care if the person takes my money and goes to the nearest bar for a beer. It’s all about how I feel at that moment. When I lived in Manhattan, I was approached for money every day. Sometimes I felt like giving, other times I didn’t, but I didn’t analyze why or wherefore — it was just: Somebody is asking for help; will I give it or not? I have been penniless and had to request help from strangers, and I was grateful for everyone who felt moved to assist. It certainly wasn’t a “career” for me as it is for some, but I am not going to “should” on someone else.

Secondly, Jerry Sternberg is certainly correct that when the golden years “were” is the time it was good for you [“The ‘Good Old Days’ That Never Were,” Commentary, Feb. 22]. Pick your favorite moment in history — the Persian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire … Lithuanian Empire, Khazar Empire, Mongol Empire, Bulgarian Empire, the reign of Solomon, the Abbasid Caliphate: When your team was on top, those were the golden years.

I’ve lived in my present location almost 10 years. There are double the number of houses in my neighborhood now than when I moved here. Would I like it to be as it was 10 years ago? Sure! But then the people who have lived here 20 years would no doubt like to see me go away! It is pointless to lament what once was; the future is where we must live, and thoughtful planning now will ease many problems.

One factual error of Mr. Sternberg’s, however: As the photographs on display at the Biltmore House attest, the land that George Vanderbilt purchased for his estate was in bad shape — overgrazed and overlogged. That’s why he hired a forester and a landscaper to reforest his property!

— A. A. Lloyd

Those green, green fields of home

Of the myriad new houses being built in Montford, I had sincerely hoped that this one would be different. After all, it was being constructed by a self-proclaimed “eco-builder,” or so the sign out front said. I was even willing to overlook the spruce/fir lumber used for framing, even though there is a chance it came all the way from Russia or the Ukraine. The multinational timber companies have recently discovered that the lack of environmental regulations makes it cheaper to log and mill in these countries, then ship the finished product halfway around the globe to consumers in the United States.

It wasn’t really until the oriented strand board (OSB) started going up that I had to take issue. Did my eyes deceive me? Surely, even the novice environmentalist knows that this stuff is pure evil! Tens of thousands of acres of forest clear-cut to feed the chip mills of multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations like Willamette Industries. The chips are then glued back together using a toxic mixture of petroleum-based resins and volatile organic compounds that are known carcinogens. Maybe this is some new kind of “eco-friendly” OSB that I don’t know about? Recycled wood chips and Elmer’s glue? Please educate me on this!

But when you top it all off with Tyvek house wrap made by DuPont, I am just in awe, my mouth agape. Can anyone fail to see the morbid irony here? An “eco-builder” covering his “eco-building” top to bottom with a product manufactured by DuPont, perhaps the greatest industrial polluter on Earth!

Bottom line: It is a very pretty house, but the builder might want to consider changing his sign, because the only “green” I see is coming from the copper-based preservatives in the pressure-treated wood used to build the front porch.

— Joseph G. Allawos

Economic revenge of the nerds

Contrary to the creative-class theory espoused by Hal Millard in his cover story on “Rainbow Economics” [“The Economics of Tolerance,” Feb. 1], it is obvious that it is the low fertility rate that accounts for 90 percent of the economic success of gay-friendly communities. This factor also allows gay-friendly communities to add new homes without building more schools, a huge economic boon which Millard misses completely. But I will admit that there is something else — the last 10 percent — that really is a tolerance dividend, though a more technical, less artsy one than Millard presents.

Let’s remember back to more juvenile oppression patterns. Back in school, race and class were not major oppression patterns; that emerged in adulthood. Among youth, the oppressed groups are the gays and the nerds. The nerds are often the technical geniuses and technical economic drivers.

Nerd isn’t an exact synonym for intelligent person — it’s more a person who neglects athletics, fashion or social skills and/or is physically weak or weak-looking. However, such people often develop technical talents either as a cause of their neglect or as a compensation for other inabilities, thus … [the] stereotype.

So my point is that nerds get lumped in with gays by juvenile oppressors for whom being anti-gay is not a moral concern, but rather a point of superiority. Then the technically [talented] nerds face so many and such severe false accusations of being gay that they soon realize that in order to protect themselves, they also need to protect gays — or live in areas where gays are protected. Thus areas that protect gays may attract high-tech talent.

— Alan Ditmore

Is W above the law?

President Bush is breaking the law, and Congress needs to hold him accountable. If they don’t, they will be telling us that he and his administration are above the law.

The president already has the power to wiretap suspected terrorists and get a court order up to three days later. But he has circumvented this law, creating a dragnet that has led to innocent Americans.

Even the attorney general would not confirm that the program didn’t eavesdrop on innocent Americans. If Bush gets away with this, what else will he do? I, for one, urge Congress to get more involved. This issue needs to be followed through to the end — that, hopefully, being impeachment.

— Robert Kemp

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