Letters to the editor

Editor’s note: We have received a number of responses to our March 22 cover [“Don’t Say the F-Word”] and feature story “Comfortably Numb“] about the F-Word Film Festival at UNCA. Please see the replies from the writer and the cover designer at the end of the following three letters.

This is no time for silence

As a 30-year-old woman who has identified as a feminist since age 16, I read with interest the differing views regarding the “f-word” in Hanna Miller’s illuminating article, “Comfortably Numb[March 22]. Of course, the debate surrounding the term is nothing new.

Folks, we live in times that demand our fearlessness to speak out about who we are and what we believe. With an unjust war raging to guarantee our domination over the world and its resources, environmental degradation heralding our domination over all creatures and their habitats, and civil injustice enforcing a culture that recognizes only one type of family as legitimate — these are not times to be silent or complacent.

I respect all peoples’ rights to determine their own values, but I encourage everyone who believes in justice and equal rights not to fear the “f-word.”

Feminism is, to quote the oft-sighted sticker, “the radical belief that women are people.” It’s also tied to an understanding that the global, political and socioeconomic systems in dominant (i.e. “First World”) culture were created by and for patriarchal domination — a system where the dominant group maintains power over (rather than power with) everyone else. Witness the effects: “developed” nations destroy indigenous peoples and their land through corporate control and industrial development; governments wage wars to ensure economic domination; the corporate elite control political systems and policies that determine everything from who rises to office to which species vanish to whose lives are expendable.

Feminism encourages a special focus on how women have been affected by this system and how we are called to respond. Women with the privilege of social and economic comfort can become so accustomed to living comfortable lives within patriarchy that they only vaguely notice its existence. Cheers to Lori Horvitz for helping college students see the forest through the trees!

Feminism calls us to recognize that women — as well as indigenous people, nonwhites, non-Americans, GLBTs, working-class people, and animals — are subjugated under the very systems that prop up the few at the top. Usually those few are wealthy, white males, although “others” have managed to join their ranks by mimicking their behavior (et tu, Condaleeza?). Men, however, have also been maligned by patriarchy, as it forces them into a strict model of manhood. And fewer men feel content with a status quo that doesn’t benefit the masses.

Feminism also means that it’s our role — those of us who don’t agree with this unjust system — to stand up, speak out and change the system. More than just “doing whatever we feel like,” feminism shakes us into awareness of the interconnected systems of oppression and motivates us to dismantle them. Feminists do this work in many important ways: through motherhood, fatherhood, teaching, protesting, creating art, spirituality, making subtle shifts in mainstream systems and bringing on the revolution! And, yes, we have the right to do it “our way” — hairy legs, make-up, parenthood and power suits are all optional.

— Kirstie Fischer

Just say the word: feminism

“To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it.” (Paulo Freire)

Saying “Women of the World, Relax!” is like saying: “Polar Bears of the World, Relax! The melting ice caps won’t affect you.” Yet this ridiculous motto was penned in the recent feature by Hannah Miller [“Comfortably Numb?“, March 22 Xpress] to describe the attitude of UNCA students on the subject of feminism. The article revealed an epidemic disinterest in a word that represents more than a hundred years of political, social and cultural activism.

The problem is not a lack of feminist activity. Look around Asheville — women are running businesses, writing, rocking out, making art, living in community, straddling family and career, and negotiating conventional and nonconventional relationships. There is gender consciousness, media savvy and pop-culture awareness — and feminism among men. On the recent playbill have been such feminist forces as Tracy + The Plastics, The Rebelles, The Sex Workers Art Show and the Asheville drag scene.

The problem is in the unwillingness to embrace a word, thus losing touch with a hard-won history. People are afraid of the word “feminism” for its lingering, antique associations, one of those being that the movement is too complex to understand. The author committed a common sin in saying: “Feminism, of course, has by now had so many waves it’s a shame it can’t be surfed.” It does a disservice to dismiss [feminism] based on these complexities. It would be better to urge people to dig into the meaning of its changes to find one’s core beliefs. With a little research, one finds that, rather than telling women what they can’t be, nondualistic thinking tells them what they can. Even when you come around to feminism, there will still be people that linger in criticism. But is time to get over what other people think.

Because it is not time to relax! Just this month, South Dakota passed a law forbidding abortions to women in almost all cases, including rape and incest. I realize that not all feminists are pro-choice, but there are scores of other examples as to why it is not time to relax. A mere hundred years ago, women were not allowed what we now consider such basic rights as voting, owning property, obtaining college education and having careers after marriage.

Women may feel that in calling themselves feminists, they have too much to lose, but I feel the opposite is true. We stand to lose if we back away from this word and what it means. I urge people to rekindle a discussion of feminism. It is time to dissolve its obsolete associations and dream a new meaning for it. Feminism can look like what you want it to, so long as you suffuse it with hope, vitality and specificity — and not complacent disdain.

— Anna Raupp

We’re not numb yet

We are writing to voice our concern about your recent cover, “Don’t Say the F-Word,” [and the accompanying story], “Comfortably Numb?[March 22].

First off, we were offended by the cover illustration — a woman with duct tape over her mouth — since the point of UNCA’s F-Word Film Festival is for women to claim the word “feminist,” not to fear or devalue it. During this two-day event, six films by and about women are screened; hence, women are given a voice, rather than silenced by duct tape.

Walking into the Intro to Women’s Studies class the day the article appeared, we found students were distraught over the misconstrued and misrepresented points of both the festival and out-of-context comments. Not one student understood Hanna Miller’s statement, “[Feminism’s] standard bearers aren’t apt to be sloganeers, but should the need for a motto arise, it might be something like: Women of the World, Relax!” We’re not sure how Miller came to the conclusion that feminism equals complacency when, in fact, students embrace the term feminism as a social cause worth fighting for. This article only furthers the notion that women have nothing to overcome; that feminism is a bunch of whining man-haters; that sexism, racism, homophobia and classism are non-issues.

The point of the film festival is to open up dialogue about these struggles, and not until all women and — by extension — all oppressed groups have equal rights (not special rights), we won’t relax and be comfortably numb.

— Lori Horvitz
F-Word Film Festival OrganizerAssociate Professor of Literature and Language, UNCA Asheville

— Caitlin Shanley
UNCA Senior, Women’s Studies MinorAsheville

Writer Hanna Miller responds: I’m heartened that so many people have rallied to “speak out about who [they] are and what [they] believe,” as Ms. Fischer puts it. This is just the sort of debate that media — whether it be an alternative newsweekly or an annual film festival — should inspire. But some of the sentiments expressed above suggest that clarification is in order. To wit: The story was intended to document general attitudes toward gender and feminism on the UNCA campus, or “to dig into the meaning of [feminism]’s changes,” as Ms. Raupp writes. Ms. Horvitz inadvertently validates my depiction with her description of her students’ reaction to the piece: They were “distraught,” but — save Ms. Shanley’s co-signing of Ms. Horvitz’s letter — not one took action. It seems some students have learned what their feminist peers involved in the worthy projects mentioned by letter writers already know: Activism is exhausting. Whether they ultimately choose to participate is their responsibility; reporting on their decision is mine.

Cover designer and ad production manager Kathy Wadham responds: As a designer, my job is to convey images and words in a strong enough way to make people stop and look, pick up a product and, in this case, read the story. It is beyond a designer’s control how each individual interprets the concept. I am thankful for the positive and negative responses my cover received. The intention I had for the design obviously worked!

No luck o’ the Irish this time

I read, with more than one heavy sigh, Alli Marshall’s article on St. Patrick’s Day [“In Like Fionn,” March 15 Xpress] and the quotes attributed to me.

As I feared — much of my commentary came off as blunt statements of fact … and some of it was paraphrased in a misleading fashion. As a musician, radio host and music presenter for more than 25 years, I have been interviewed several times, and I am always flattered to be asked and careful to avoid in my replies just the sort of breezy, opinionated tone that comes through in the comments attributed to me in your article.

Two sections were particularly troubling.

• “Of course, you can find plenty of Asheville musicians strumming bouzoukis, thumping bodhrans … and otherwise interpreting the Irish tradition. But local talent won’t do for Magill.”

It’s not that “local talent won’t do” for me. When I’m booking for the Celtic Series, my main concern is: What acts will fill our 500-seat Diana Wortham Theatre at $28 a ticket? Usually these are top international touring acts — the very best in Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton music. The article makes it sound like I disparage our local talent, which is not at all the case. We have a terrific local scene with some very talented and dedicated players; in fact, I have twice booked John Doyle (a local) and Liz Carroll for the Celtic Series.

• “‘Unless you’ve grown up in one of the big Irish centers like New York or Boston, you’ve never heard real Celtic music: music that is the glue that holds the community together.’ [Magill] continues, ‘All the music we hear is professional music by professional groups. Generally, the artists want it slick, because otherwise they wouldn’t make a living.'”

The first quote is simply inaccurate. What I said was “Unless you’ve grown up in one of the big Irish centers … you’ve probably never heard real traditional music.” The term “Celtic,” as it is used in the article, is a music-marketing term that includes everything from traditional music to the Three Irish Tenors to Riverdance (which is heavily Balkan!) to Enya to the Pogues and Black 47. Using the terms “Celtic” and “traditional” interchangeably simply adds to the misunderstanding in public perception that we who try to promote traditional music must overcome.

As to the second comment, what I remember saying was “most of the music we hear over here in the U.S. is professional music by professional groups,” and the rest of the quote is a fairly crude and facile condensation into a single sentence … a fairly lengthy discussion of professional artists’ objectives. Yes, artists want to get work and sell their CDs. That means satisfying their audiences’ expectations, and that requires a certain level of polish and professionalism. But they are also serious artists who are attempting, like all artists, to make a statement in a unique, effective and lasting fashion while respecting the tradition from which the music springs. Saying that, “Generally, the artists want it slick, because otherwise they wouldn’t make a living” is not only a mischaracterization of my comments (I find the term “slick” to be pejorative and avoid using it), but a sloppy and unfair portrayal of the artists’ motives as crass, commercial and even mercenary.

Anytime I comment for an article, I cross my fingers and hope for the best, and in this case I even joked at the end of the interview, “Well, have I given you enough to misquote me on?” It’s too bad in this case the jest was prophetic.

— Jim Magill, Director
The Swannanoa GatheringAsheville

If the job description fits

In the Jan. 25 Mountain Xpress, Mayor Terry Bellamy was quoted as saying, “I am not going to listen to a 13-hour meeting on Wal-Mart” [“New Directions: Council Takes on Parking Deck, Prepares for Wal-Mart]. She was referring to the kind of massive debate that unfolded in connection with the Wal-Mart Supercenter in east Asheville in 2002. Currently there is another Wal-Mart Supercenter trying to make its way into West Asheville, and Council is trying to figure out how this meeting should be structured.

I really resent the mayor’s statement and see this as a growing sentiment of public officeholders. It’s all in the attitude: “I am not going … .” That’s exactly what she will do; she will sit there and listen to a 50-hour debate, if that is what the public wants! As a holder of public office, the mayor’s salary is paid for by the public, and she should and will do what we (the collective public) want.

I understand that Council members have lives outside of government and may not want to be in session until 1 a.m., but public comment is very important, and anyone who wants to be heard should be given a chance. Since Asheville is a small town, there can and should be as much conversation as possible between the lawmakers and the people who are affected by those laws. This town should be molded by a collective hand, not a special interest group — and certainly not by someone who is too busy or simply doesn’t want to “listen.”

Also, Wal-Mart is a very important issue; it’s not something to be taken lightly. This can and will set the precedent for upcoming land-use debates. How and what we as humans use our land for is very important, as it’s a finite resource. Looked at from a local perspective, this is very important to our economy here in Asheville. People come here because it’s not Atlanta or Charlotte; this is Asheville, with its many unique local businesses and beautiful mountains. If we continue to allow big-box stores to be built unimpeded, we will become just another cookie-cutter town — nothing special.

— David Braverman

The big green payback

Not mentioned in your article on the greening of Asheville [“How Green Is Asheville?“, March 15] was an excellent and inexpensive reference book from the Rocky Mountain Institute: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins.

It is amazing to read their research and practical examples of how short the cost payback — in terms of energy savings — can be with various retrofits of existing buildings or by incorporating efficiencies in new construction. This gives the lie to the idea that the extra cost involved would borrow from our children’s future.

— Lowell Smith

These women are cooking

The March 23 evening at the Grey Eagle with Kat Williams and Friends was an incredible, talent-drenched and house-rocking event. I am continually amazed at the caliber of singer-songwriters here in Western North Carolina, and these women and others like them are the ones who are busting things loose in the music world.

We are looking forward to the “Jam” (a la Warren Haynes; let’s bring on the women) that Kat and friends are cooking up for the summer. Can’t wait; stay tuned. They will be all over the map before long.

— Linda McCane

Eclectic evening was a treat

I just wanted to let you know how enjoyable Kat Williams’ (and company) March 23 show at the Grey Eagle was.

It was an incredible evening. There was a charge in the air (partly due to a diverse crowd) which added to the eclectic array of music. Laura Blackley and Ginny Wilder were perfect complements to Kat’s repertoire. This was my first chance to see and hear Kat perform, and I look forward to future shows.

— Richard Camuto

No sale on national-forest proposal

Residents of Western North Carolina should strongly oppose the proposed plan to sell off 300,000 acres of public national-forest land to raise money to fund rural schools. While school funding is certainly a priority for us, we believe that it should be acquired through national income taxes and state property taxes. These systems seek to tax people proportionally by their wealth, instead of through the sale of national treasures which would deprive everyone of over a hundred years of national-forest protection of Nantahala and Pisgah national forests — just so the upper class won’t have to pitch in for rural education.

Selling off these lands will destroy natural, historic and scenic resources and promote unsightly development, but will not provide a solution to the issue of rural school funding. The public is allowed to comment on this matter until May 1, due to a recent deadline extension. Some parcels might be removed if we can convince our representatives of our outrage at this proposal.

— Katie Morris

Medicinal benefits unjustly withheld

In his recent letter [“Making Sense of Medical Marijuana,” March 15], Bob Niewoehner mentions losing his mother to breast cancer, and he despairs at marijuana’s medicinal benefits being unjustly withheld.

Put cannabis+tumor into your favorite search engine and ponder: How many cancer patients have been sacrificed since 1974 to preserve prohibition?

Reading Mr. Niewoehner’s letter brought a tear and reminded me of my own mother’s tortuous decline and death due to Alzheimer’s. She never had the benefit of cannabis’ potential relief (search cannabis+Alzheimer’s).

Cannabis prohibition is of foul root [with] devastating effects — completely without merit. Try these additional search strings if you have any doubts: … “Shafer Commission”; “Francis L. Young.”

— Rick Steeb
San Jose, CA

There is danger in lying to the nation

I admire and respect Sen. Russ Feingold for standing up and working to uphold our Constitution, and all of the points therein that were created to protect the American people. The bottom line with Feingold’s call to censure is that if we are not safe from the breaking of laws [by] our own president and his administration, then how can we be safe from terrorists?

This president marched our troops into war under false pretenses. Our young people were led to believe that they were going to Iraq to avenge the death of 3,000-plus innocent people killed on Sept. 11, 2001. They were led to believe that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Neither of these allegations was true. The result of the president lying our troops into war has created more and more terrorists and caused America to lose more and more soldiers.

Terrorists are not born, they’re made. As long as the American people stand by and allow the president to lie to our nation, the more danger the American people are in. I salute Sen. Feingold for standing up to protect our nation, and I encourage all of Congress to stand with him.

— Kim Granelle

Nonprofit medicine doesn’t look that way

Nonprofit funds are procured under the guise of altruism but become organizational charity theft when used for extravagant salaries. The explanation (rationalization, rather) is that high salaries are necessary to attract leading professionals within a competitive system. But isn’t that a most terrible commentary on America to say the economy demands we act like pigs with charity money?

Consider these “nonprofit” salaries buried in the “Money” section of USA Today: Catholic Healthcare West CEO, $1 million plus $896,000 expenses/allowances; Memorial-Sloan Kettering CEO, $2.3 million, with two surgeons making $1.6 M each.” Kaiser Permanente’s Foundation Hospital outgoing president, $7.4 million; and Universal Health Services CEO, $16.2 million (“Non-profit Hospitals Top Salaries May Be Due For a Checkup,” Sept. 30, 2004).

The United States ranks No. 1 in amount of healthcare spending per person, yet 37th in health-care performance (World Health Organization). Of all industrialized countries listed, we are second-to-last in disabled-persons earning capacity (annex to Society-at-a-Glance 2002). Furthermore, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff cites the United States [as] 42nd in infant mortality, and finds it “unacceptable that the average baby is less likely to survive in the U.S. than in Bejing or Havana” (Jan. 12, 2005). And according to Dr. Kenneth Liegner’s testimony before the New York State Assembly Committee on Health (Nov. 27, 2001), a 7-year-old Lyme-disease patient was kept alive on expensive medication until, due to insurance company policy, she “died within one month of cessation of intravenous antibiotic therapy.”

Tragically, although the United States is the only industrialized country with no pharmaceutical-price cap, “Right-to-Life” proponents oppose universal health care, practicing socioeconomic Darwinism in creating more American road kill.

— Bruce Deile

Give me my truth straight up

Is time going by so fast that we wait patiently from one scandal to another for the ultimate answer? Does the truth ever get completely uncovered? Our minds are blown all over this country. My main question is: Why won’t they answer questions?

Seems all we get is doublespeak. I, for one, like my truth straight up, not sidestepped. The rule of law is getting lost in the hype, or in Mr. Bush’s terms, catapulting the “propaganda.”

When I think I am being listened to over my private home appliances, I feel more than invaded. I feel like all I was taught in school while growing up has been cast to the wind. I feel like the Constitution and Geneva Conventions have been thoroughly invaded.

One final question: Should Sen. Feingold have to stand alone in his attempt to hold Bush accountable?

I don’t won’t to be ashamed of my country!

— Brenda McAfee

Let’s rearrange our priorities

As we hit the three-year anniversary of the Iraq war, the president [was] trying to distract the public. We must remind the country that the Bush pre-emptive doctrine has been a disaster in Iraq, making America and the world less safe and costing American taxpayers billions of dollars — an economic disaster. And, now we have a pending proposal before Congress to take even more money out of much-needed social programs like Social Security, Medicare, education and so much more in a reverse-Robin Hood budget — take from the much-needed programs and give to the corporations.

We need to get our priorities corrected, get out of Iraq, quit making threats toward Iran, mind our own business (which isn’t imperialism) and spend our tax money in supporting our own citizens and reducing the national debt. We need an immediate exit strategy implemented. Unfortunately, U.S. troop presence helps fuel the insurgency. Iraq will best be able to achieve stability when U.S. troops leave.

Congress has an important responsibility to stand up to the president and insist on an exit strategy, demand a fair budget and support our own citizens, but the Republicans running Congress won’t stand up to President Bush, and many less progressive Democrats lack the courage to do so as well. We, the people, need to let our voices be heard both with our senators and representatives and at the election booth. Change is definitely in the wind.

— Linda Myers

Look at facts, not rhetoric

No matter which side of the political spectrum you call home, I trust that you developed your beliefs based upon a lifetime of experience after observing what works and doesn’t, what makes sense and what doesn’t. No one just told you how to think, right? Well, time to turn those grey cells on again and reassess this blind support of the president.

We, as American citizens have the responsibility to make thoughtful decisions and not just let ourselves be convinced that this war is still justified. Clearly, the reasons to go to war were very foggy and many had doubts at the beginning, but chose to support the president due to the “United We Stand” philosophy. That is admirable; however, the time has come to make a judgment, to reassess based upon the current facts and not upon rhetoric.

Americans, please speak out; exercise the hard-won rights won from wars past and participate in this democracy. The wire-tapping censure is just the first of many corrective steps that need to be taken at this point. Remember the plight of the lobster: Thrown into a pot of boiling water, it scrambles to hop out, immediately recognizing the danger, but [in] water gradually heated, it is lulled into blind, complacent death. Folks, the water is warming quickly in our proud nation! Let us wake up lest we lose all of our freedoms in this vague war. Our freedoms were won in wars past, and we owe it to our veterans not to let their sacrifices be for naught. Speak out against the current pre-emptive war rhetoric and wiretapping freedom-squelching PR we are being force fed.

Instead of a public relations campaign, the president needs to come up with an exit strategy with a timeline to bring our troops home. Iraq will best be able to achieve stability when U.S. troops leave. Congress has an important responsibility to insist on an exit strategy.

Please let our nation’s freedom ring. Sincere thanks to our dedicated troops.

— Marilyn Peterman

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