Letters to the editor

Sitnick’s still a class act

Leni Sitnick, our former mayor, revealed her customary generosity of spirit again in her recent defense [Letters, March 1] of Asheville Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson (and his department) against the intemperate remarks of the least mature member of our new City Council, Bryan Freeborn.

If Leni were a different kind of person, she might have grounds for some resentment against the parks-and-rec department. For several years, Leni promoted, boosted, recommended and urged the idea that Asheville ought to have a film festival, and incubated the idea to the point that a considerable number of local film aficionados were united behind the concept when the city, under Mayor Charles Worley, was ready to do something about it. So the mounting of the first Asheville Film Festival was a wonderful example of a large number of folks, inspired by one visionary leader, producing something extraordinary.

At the opening of the first film festival, the department’s superintendent of cultural arts — Brinson’s lieutenant — rose at the key moment and, with a nod toward the young festival coordinator, said: “This beautiful girl went out to the Sundance Festival and took it in, and said ‘We could have a festival like this in Asheville.’ And so today, we have this wonderful festival!” And he initiated loud applause.

Not a word of recognition or appreciation for the extraordinary leader who had planted and cultivated the seed. Nor for any of the savvy, experienced, dedicated film experts who were the core of the planning and programming, like Lee Nesbitt, Anne Watkins, Gayle Wurthner, Mary Cherrix, Leanne Campbell, Mike Rangel, Kathi Peterson, Steve Lutz and Alison Watson. It was a disgraceful slight.

But Leni rolled with the punch, and she has showed that today she has as big a heart as ever. She’s a gem. We’re lucky to have her.

— William Jakobi

Be careful how you say that

It was a sad sight to see former Mayor Leni Sitnick’s somewhat truculent letter on a high-energy new City Council member [Letters, March 1]. Words like “appalled,” “arrogant,” “tart,” “caustic and biting” would seem to me to model the very behavior that was being argued against, rather than modeling “mature,” “professional,” “courteous” expression.

If it is OK for an older person with rich life experience to quickly use rough expression on an energetic, talented, highly community-oriented young Council member, or to use it on any other human being, I hope someone will let me know. I am an older person with rich life experience; I possibly could enjoy recasting this letter.

Also, I think I may get a whiff of a major problem we often have in our contemporary society. We seem to want to organize ourselves into competing armies. Then we act like members of our army can do no wrong and members of the other army can do no right. In the long run, sometimes our best friends are those who rigorously shake a finger at us when we go over budget, or who give us an early warning when we forget to put our pants on.

— James Sheeler

Singing for your supper

If I owned a restaurant in Asheville, I would put a notice on the front door stating the following: If you work for the Mountain Xpress, please dine somewhere else. You’re not welcome here.

I’ve stopped reading your paper and didn’t know about Mackensy Lunsford’s latest victim till I got a call today.

It’s really hard to make a restaurant work. These people put their hearts and souls into it. It seems to me that it would serve the public and restaurants better if Mackensy quit being a critic and became more of a PR writer. It’s just a matter of time before she puts someone out of business.

The Citizen-Times seems to get it right; I usually want to go check out the place after reading reviews by them. I would think that the Xpress would like to write positive things about Asheville, even brag about our great area. The restaurant reviews by Mackensy always have a negative note. Something is always wrong.

Knowing that Mackensy works for this industry, I would hope she could change her style of writing and let us know the good things instead of the bad. Otherwise, stop the bleeding. Get someone who can help local restaurants, not kill them.

— Chuck Landers

This Dem voted for Dunn

I voted for Joe Dunn for mayor — the first time I have ever voted for a Republican. I saw in him a straight-talking man with experience.

When Dunn was removed from the Regional Airport Authority board by Jones, Freeborn (who essentially voted himself in), Cape and Newman, we all lost — Republicans and Democrats alike. The contention was that City Council needed someone on the board who was a member of Council. What is more probably the truth is that this is a power grab by the “progressives” on the City Council.

What did we lose? We lost the potency of a vigorous democracy that has inherent, disagreeing factions that have to come to a consensual agreement about important matters. What we have is freewheeling, cut-your-throat “progressives” who do not listen to neighborhood complaints about development or affordable housing, and who refuse to answer pointed questions about possible hidden agendas related to affordable housing. Monopolies have seldom served any purpose other than cementing more power in place with the powerful.

— Marsha Hammond
West Asheville

Humane treatment doesn’t include slaughter

When I recently moved to Asheville (in close proximity to Warren Wilson College), I looked forward to learning more about this progressive institution. Therefore, I was dismayed to learn that the school’s farm raises, kills and sells animals for human consumption. This is directly antithetical to its mission of nurturing the pursuit of truth and promoting wisdom, spiritual growth and contribution to the common good.

In his letter, [Letters, March 1], Warren Wilson farm manager John Pilson’s arguments regarding the so-called benefits to eating locally grown animals are not only specious but are inconsequential because he fails to address the most crucial element of this issue: Killing animals for food is cruel, unnecessary and unethical.

Mr. Pilson claims that the farm creates a “beautiful working landscape.” If Warren Wilson killed its animals in a glass slaughterhouse, I doubt anyone would agree with this statement. The killing done in slaughterhouses occurs in the most cost-effective manner possible, and the animals’ pain is not taken into consideration.

The farm’s Web site states that the animals are raised humanely. However, what does that matter if they are only allowed to live for a few short months and then are slaughtered in a violent manner? We humans cannot ignore the fact that, as Leo Tolstoy pointed out: “A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.”

Jeremy Bentham, the founding father of modern utilitarianism, argued that the capacity for suffering is the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration, and if a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. College officials certainly cannot disagree with Bentham, nor can they ignore Mahatma Gandhi’s assertion: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Finally, Alice Walker spoke up compellingly for voiceless animals when she said: “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

— Leslie Armstrong

Veganism is environmentalism

John Pilson raised some interesting points in his recent letter [Letters, March 1]. Perhaps animals raised in more “natural” settings do indeed contain healthier fat content than those reared on cramped, corporate megafarms. Since I refrain from eating my fellow earthlings, I haven’t read the studies he mentions. I do know that people who eat meat, dairy and eggs are much more likely to suffer heart disease due to elevated cholesterol levels, and dietary cholesterol comes exclusively from animal products.

The “sustainably raised” animals that Mr. Pilson promotes should be more appropriately called “elite meat.” These products will never be available for the masses. Moving the 9 billion chickens slaughtered for their flesh every year in America out of intensive confinement and into sustainable environments would take tens of millions of acres — and that’s just for the “broiler” chickens. Much more land would be needed to move the egg-laying hens, pigs and veal calves out of the tiny cages in which they languish. I’d be thrilled to see the animals get some more space and suffer less abuse. But clear-cutting an area larger than North Carolina to create grazing pasture would be both economically prohibitive and environmentally devastating.

Researchers at the University of Chicago recently completed a study entitled “Diet, Energy and Global Warming.” They concluded that switching to a vegan diet can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions more than trading your gas guzzler for a hybrid Toyota Prius. Science tells us that veganism is better for our health and is strong environmental action. We need to listen to the science, not our taste buds.

As a dedicated environmentalist, I concur with Mr. Pilson that we should, whenever possible, choose local foods. But thinking locally is only part of the equation; we also need to act globally. For more information, visit www.goveg.com.

— Stewart David

Not deschooling society — rather, building community

Good, clear story about Blue Mountain Schoolhouse [The learning community, March 8]. What do we do now that Kent Priestly has blown our cover? It’s gonna be hard to have folks picture us rockin’ and whittlin’ on the back porch now that we’ve been outed.

It’s true, we are tweaking and tuning our alt-education, counterculture plans, but to what end? It’s one thing to track our history back to the 1970s Zeitgeist — honestly, Kent is a helluva investigative reporter — but the real point of what Blue Mountain Schoolhouse is doing in Asheville right now has little to do with Illich’s Deschooling Society.

At the core of Blue Mountain Schoolhouse is a response to an invasive corporate culture that could not exist before mass media cranked up its TV laugh track. Community is a powerful antidote to the toxic cynicism and commercialism that bends mass media to its uses, that separates us into small clusters of consumers.

We are still capable of rising above corporate manipulation in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Our felt community with the people crushed by last year’s hurricanes drove our generous response. But how do we build community in our everyday lives?

Real community is not some abstract entity, but the living, face-to-face interaction of people in an open, caring environment. Like many others living here in Southern Appalachia, we find community working directly with people. All of us in Blue Mountain Schoolhouse, meeting in our homes, studios, workshops and coffeehouses around town, find that kind of community at the heart of each class — and the relationships that often continue on long past the last class session.

A couple of lesser points in Kent’s story need some clarification.

We didn’t actually downsize from three employees to none. We never had employees. (Could never afford to hire one.) From time to time, we had a single part-time temp helping out with events or registrations. Except for that, so far the Schoolhouse has been a teachers’ cooperative run entirely by volunteers, with the oversight of a board of teachers. And just to expand a bit on costs, Blue Mountain Schoolhouse teachers approve the catalog budget and split the costs equally.

A final clarification has to do with my sidekick, Jenny. I could see how Kent, sizing up those big brown eyes in the office, might think she was an overgrown spaniel, but he never saw her circle, point, flush and retrieve up in Pisgah. Jenny’s a North Carolina-born bird dog, a Llewellin setter pretty much, a breed known locally as a Lemon setter. Just had to set the record straight on that one. She’d have done the same for me. Thank you all at Mountain Xpress for your community-building work and for helping to get the Blue Mountain Schoolhouse story out.

— Gene Senyak, teacher
Blue Mountain Schoolhouse, Asheville

[Editor’s note: Besides being a teacher, Gene will (no doubt reluctantly) allow that he is also the founder and a leading spirit behind Blue Mountain Schoolhouse.]

Making sense of medical marijuana

As a recent Madison County resident and an active and long-time proponent for the use of medical marijuana, I would love to share a little something with your fine readers. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Web site recently reported on a comprehensive review published in the October 2005 issue of the scientific journal, Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. That review concludes that: “Cannabinoids possess … anticancer activity [and may] possibly represent a new class of anti-cancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) and the metastatic spreading of cancer cells.”

Is it not amazing how scientific research continues to show us all, almost at a weekly pace, something new and potentially therapeutic about the cannabis plant? If a medical or biomedical explorer emerged from the jungle today with a plant that has numerous therapeutic benefits, is nontoxic, is an excellent source of fiber, fuel and fabric, and could possibly help cancer patients, that person and plant would be cheered around the world.

Sadly, and with high irony, that plant does exist in our lives. It is called cannabis, and processing it in most of America will be met by fierce governmental opposition and intervention — not reward or recognition.

In 1994, in Farmington, N.M, I lost my mother to breast cancer. I hope anyone who reads this never has to go through that ordeal, especially when there may be something that will help but is made unavailable. Please do what needs to be done to get the legislation passed to legalize medical marijuana, for God’s sake. Have your lawmakers take a step in the right direction for a change. You can read the full report and citations on line at: www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=6814.

— Bob Niewoehner
Wilton Beach Cay, Belize

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