Letters to the editor

Deal with poverty, not parks

[A few] days ago, the voters of the city went to the polls to decide the fate of the $18 million parks-and-recreation bond issue. The next day, I opened the newspaper and saw that my fondest wishes (regarding this issue) had been fulfilled. The rich and the beautiful people were unsuccessful in getting the rest of the working people of Asheville to pay for their playgrounds.

Let me say to them: Too Bad!!! My heart bleeds for all the yuppie scum who won’t have ultramodern playgrounds. I suppose they’ll just have to renew their country-club memberships and jet off to Paris to have fun.

What sickens me is that Her Majesty, the Royal Exalted Mayor, and the Court Jesters (also called City Council) spent months of their time and city-staff time on this stupidity.

Back in 1993, when I ran for City Council, it was estimated that it was going to cost $180 million to fix the city’s water, sewer and storm-drain systems. Somehow, I think that the price, six years later, is much more expensive. Yet Her Majesty and the Court Jesters wanted to spend money to keep Asheville all nice and trendy and touristy.

If the city runs out of water — like we almost did a few months ago — I don’t think the tourists (or local people) will care much about the number of green spaces.

Yet another problem I have with Her Majesty and the Court Jesters spending this money concerns the tremendous economic poverty of some of our citizens. We have, by conservative estimates, over 400 homeless people living in Asheville. There are another 1,500-2,000 people living in precarious housing situations, perhaps just one bit of bad luck from being on the street.

Aside from federal [Community Development] Block Grants (that are distributed to many different nonprofits), the city government collectively picks its nose and does nothing. Why not have an $18 million bond issue to create low-income housing in the city? Or perhaps improve the streets and sidewalks in some of the poorer neighborhoods? Heck, the city spends $4 million for rehabbing the police station and wants to spend $15 million to $30 million redoing the Civic Center (which has never made money).

My point is, where are the priorities of Her Majesty and the Court Jesters? Do they even care at all about the poorest citizens in Asheville — you know, the people trying to raise a family on a $6.50-per-hour job at one of our fine tourist traps?

When will the poor and the working class in this community get to see some of the great economic development promised by Her Majesty and the Court Jesters?

[The city] has given the Asheville Chamber of Commerce $90,000 per year, for as long as I can remember. Where is the development?

Actually, a better question for Her Majesty and the Court Jesters is: When are you people going to stop taking the rest of the community for a ride?

Just look at your failed bond issue. That should tell you that the little people, those you look down your blue noses at, actually vote once in a while. So when’s the ride going to stop, Leni?

— Daniel M. Breen

More meditation for swami

With reference to Swami Nostradamus Virato’s dismissal of the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, with his harangue on a series of unrelated (but mostly correct) issues about prejudice, violence and war [Letters, May 12]: The Serbian government is in the process of forcefully removing around a million human beings from Kosovo. Most of them have had their homes and property, identity papers and official records destroyed. Hundreds or thousands of them have been raped, tortured and executed.

For anyone [to ask] humanity to ignore this situation is to demonstrate extreme ignorance and hypocrisy.

The swami should return to contemplating his navel.

— Norm Kowal
Black Mountain

Domestic violence strikes men, too

I am a children’s program manager at the domestic-violence shelter in Albuquerque, N.M. When our founders developed this organization, it was still believed that women were the sole victims of domestic violence. I would still say women are often more likely to be victims — but there is an ever-growing number of men who are coming forward to report their own abuse.

When I do presentations with young boys, I bring up a variety of concerns. I first quiz them as to how many would [be willing to report it] if their girlfriend or partner had beaten them. None of them respond that they would seek help, but instead would say they were in a fight with another male.

Additionally, many say they were taught, “Never hit a girl” while growing up, but very few were told never to hit anyone, or what to do if a girl hits them.

Finally, I tell them about the first case I worked on where the survivor was male. His wife, unable to best him physically, simply hired gang members to do the job for her. [The boys I tell this to] are never surprised.

We have had men come to the shelter where I work, either with their children or without, but none have stayed long. We have had lesbians come for safe shelter, for protection from their partners — but I have not (in the three years I have been there) had a gay male seek safety.

Far underreported, [the topic of the abused male] is a subject that not many are willing to believe.

— Kathi
Women’s Community Association
Albuquerque, NM

Facing our civilization’s disease

I applaud Michael Hootstein and his wife Kathlyn Stein for actively seeking solutions to the problem of violent juvenile crime [Commentary, “Winning the war against ourselves,” May 5]. This is certainly a courageous and compassionate response to the devastating assault Kathlyn suffered in March of 1998.

In his commentary, Mr. Hootstein presents some relevant statistics on juvenile crime, but his analysis stops short of addressing the sources of anti-social behavior — and, thus, his conclusions address only the symptoms, not their underlying causes. To switch the metaphor he uses: We are not at war; we are infected with a crippling disease.

Increasing the teacher-to-student ratio in classrooms, a partial solution suggested by Mr. Hootstein, would make it easier for teachers to maintain order — but by itself, such an action would not alleviate in any way the festering problem of juvenile violence. Overcrowded classrooms simply do not cause violent juvenile behavior.

The disease with which our civilization is afflicted will only get worse, episodes of random and senseless violence will only escalate — until we, as a society, recognize this simple, universal truth: Violent, anti-social behavior is built into our very nature. It is part of our repertoire of natural responses. We are born predators in a fallen, predatory world that rewards and reinforces selfishness.

Altruism, compassion, compromise and other behaviors necessary to form and preserve a society are learned traits that must be continually reinforced, beginning at a very early stage in our development.

I would hesitate to label our societal models “failed and no longer relevant,” as Mr. Hootstein asserts (although I empathize with his feelings of anger and betrayal). A contributing factor to the weakening of our collective immune system was precipitated by the dramatic social upheaval during the ’60s and ’70s. Young people of this nation, empowered by an intoxicating sense of enlightenment, blithely discarded many of these models, which had served us well for generations.

Well, now it is the morning after. With pounding head and dry mouth, those of us who grew up during those decades must face the mistakes of our past. What we perceived to be enlightenment was really self-delusion. We have confused encouragement with indulgence, egalitarianism with lack of critical judgment, freedom with denial of responsibility.

Children abandoned to the school system or any other institution will surely become institutionalized, beaten down by systems that cannot meet their emotional needs, nor nurture their spiritual development. It is not the fault of the schools. Schools, even at their best, are poor substitutes for involved parents. Governments, regardless of the sincerity of their leadership, are even worse. Throwing money at the problem and inflating an already-bloated governmental bureaucracy won’t place us on the path to wellness again, despite the assurances of President Clinton and other politicians.

In the moral vacuum created by absent parents, children are fed on a steady diet of “Obey your Thirst,” “Just Do It,” “Question Authority,” “Second Place is the First Loser,” and other advertising mantras of self-gratification and egocentricity. They are bombarded with images of violence at the movies. They immerse themselves for hours in virtual killing grounds where they can act out fantasies of three-dimensional bloodshed and destruction at 1024-by-768 [pixel] resolution.

What these children are not getting are boundaries. What they desperately need (and what many would say they are actually seeking, when they act out violently) are attention and discipline. We must instill within our children accountability for their actions. They need to be encouraged and rewarded for good behavior; they need to be punished for bad behavior. In this way, they will come to appreciate right and wrong, and not merely to distinguish good from evil, but to love and seek the good within themselves and to resist what is evil.

How, then, do we begin to heal our society? First, by admitting that we are sick. Second, by acknowledging that we are not capable of healing ourselves. Finally, by turning back to the One who designed and created us, who loves us, who sustains us, and who wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other (please see Proverbs 3:5-8). When we have once again become one nation under God, only then will the healing process begin.

— Erich C. Pearson

What domestic-violence stats don’t tell

I appreciated Julian Price’s commentary [May 12], in which he questioned commonly used statistics regarding domestic violence. As a former Helpmate board member and member of Men Who Care About Stopping Domestic Violence, I have certainly been guilty of tossing around these “facts,” without personally verifying the sources. I agree that undocumented statistics can be “counterproductive,” particularly when they turn out to be false. Generally speaking, we all need to be cautious about using statistics to justify anything, since they are so easily manipulated or misquoted to prove almost any point.

That being said, it is my personal experience that quantifying how often and how hard men and women hit each other is getting pretty far off the track of what matters.

Warren Farrell makes some good points in his article about how our culture “accepts” male-to-male violence, [due to] the roles men are expected to play as warriors and protectors. Indeed, men’s lives are devalued in many ways. Historically, we have been expected to work at dangerous and physically damaging jobs, to kill each other in war, and have been considered weak for showing any fear or softness. There is no question that these cultural expectations have had a devastating effect on men. We burn out and die at a younger age than women (or so the statistics seem to say!), and we are often distrustful of each other, seeing other men as dangerous competitors.

Men have also been cast in the oppressor role in our relationships with women. This oppression, which we now call sexism, dates back thousands of years, and its severity is often forgotten or ignored by men. It is only in very recent times that women have not been considered the property of men in nearly every culture (as they still are, in some). It is historically only very recently that women have had any right to own land, to vote, to participate as equals in decision-making, or to be educated. Within the past few hundred years, in addition to being lawfully beaten like animals, women by the millions were burned at the stake or imprisoned in mental asylums, where they were tortured and raped. Violence against women has been a part of the fabric of our social systems for centuries. It has been “acceptable” — just as men slaughtering each other in wars has been “acceptable.”

To this day, despite the consciousness-raising work that women have done, there are still many men who assert ownership over “their” women. While violence, such as battering, may be an important factor in how these men exert ownership, it is by no means the only factor. All forms of intimidation, humiliation, manipulation, esteem-crushing and “crazy-making” are utilized. Men who are caught in this extreme of exerting power and control over women do not show up in the “statistics” where couples are interviewed. They operate in extreme isolation. They deny completely any suggestion that something is wrong. They keep women as prisoners in their homes, without access to income, transportation or social contact. They will not voluntarily participate in counseling or communications-skills training. They do not acknowledge having any problem.

True, we cannot be sure statistically how many women live like this, imprisoned under threat of death, told in no uncertain terms that they, their children, even their pets, will die if they try to leave. But direct experience at domestic-violence shelters indicates that there are some in every community, in every corner of this country. To suggest that, in these women’s lives, domestic violence is a “two-way street” is absurd. It’s like saying that the only thing lacking between the Jews and Nazis was good communication skills.

It’s possible that there are relationships in which men and women hit each other, and in which “communication skills” may prove beneficial. Let’s not confuse these relationships with the torture, desperation and isolation of imprisonment and torture, by lumping them all together “statistically.”

Two more points: First, the domestic-violence shelters exist because women, despite the horrendous abuse and intimidation of sexism, have never stopped fighting to be free. Courageously, despite being pushed back again and again, women have collected themselves and turned to face oppression, to declare the truth, [and to declare that, for] a long, long time, something has been horribly wrong, and it needs to be healed.

Second, blame is not useful. Men who imprison and attempt to possess women are not evil men, though they certainly do brutal and destructive things. They are simply caught up in what, for centuries, was considered “normal” behavior. That behavior needs to be interrupted and brought to light, where it will, eventually, die. That work belongs as much to men as to women. We need to educate each other about the truth of how women have been abused, and we need to challenge each other to end all behaviors that constitute such abuse.

In the meantime, whatever the statistics may be, women and children need safe places to go. I am grateful to Helpmate for providing such a place in our community.

— Art Mandler

Men get abused, but seldom battered

I wanted to respond to the Commentary section on domestic violence, published in your May 12 edition. I have worked in the domestic-violence field for almost 10 years as a community educator, support-group facilitator, crisis-line advocate and researcher. While I am convinced, personally, that violence against women by male perpetrators is the predominate scenario of abuse to victims, I also know that there is violence in gay male relationships and lesbian relationships. Certainly, yes: There are men battered by women.

However, I want to comment specifically on the issue of who is “hitting first,” a point brought up as a key point in the articles. First, there needs to be a consideration of acts done in self-defense and acts done to control. These cannot be seen as equal types of violence; they have quite different motivations. If a man abuses, short of a physical assault, and the woman retaliates in defense, through a physical act, I would certainly not view her as the aggressor or the batterer.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am not convinced that the authors were all talking about domestic violence. Battering is a form of aggression and control. It is abuse used to control the partner and it occurs in a pattern of behavior; it is not just hitting someone out of anger or poor impulse control. I am wondering if much of what the writers are talking about is men and women fighting — not battering, but fighting — not abuse for control, but fighting due to poor communication and lack of conflict-resolution skills.

I hope your readers will consider these comments. I certainly want there to be acknowledgment that there are battered men, and these men do need services; but I don’t believe we have men flocking to emergency rooms or missing days off work due to injuries inflicted by their abusive female partners. Something else is going on here.

— Lori B. Girshick

Get mad at the criminals, Hootstein

Mr. Michael Hootstein’s commentary [“Winning the war against ourselves,” May 5] was written with an air of intellectualism, but he lacks the basic human emotion that should be calling for justice, not for himself, but for Kathlyn, his wife.

The emotion is called anger, and when properly directed, it can be therapeutic. Hootstein’s article reflects fear, a fear that prevents him from calling for justice against those who shot his wife. Like kicking an innocent dog out of frustration, he attempts to blame society at large. As a part of that society, I take exception to this.

I understand his fear of the punks who shot his wife, and his desire to leave Asheville for what he describes as “a safer community,” but he is shirking his responsibility to society, particularly those who live in Asheville, by not exposing the identify of those would-be killers. Yes, exposing them would take courage, since our laws are now designed to protect the criminals and not their victims.

Not exposing their names gives credence to Hootstein’s theory that society is responsible. He and the media (Mountain Xpress), as a part of society, have an obligation to warn the rest of us of impending danger. This would be a great start in the war against juvenile crime, particularly since our present laws allow them back on the streets. Will the Mountain Xpress or Hootstein be responsible when [these kids] shoot another unsuspecting victim?

As for Hootstein’s constant reference to juveniles being disenfranchised — as a justification for the attempted murder of his wife — the doors of our present socialist society are wide open for those who wish to join it.

As for those who wish to act in an anti-socialist manner, by dress and attitude, they have chosen to banish themselves. We as a society may owe them the right of free expression, but we also owe them swift punishment when they infringe on the rights of other citizens. Possibly the socialist door has swung too far open, and we should return to a republic form of government.

P.S. As the publisher of a newsletter, I and my staff in Florida were instrumental in changing the juvenile-disclosure laws in Florida, where it is now lawful to publish the names of dangerous juveniles who have committed certain heinous crimes.

— Bob Collins
Mountain Home

Critical Mess

In response to your article “Traffic Hell” [ May 12], I am compelled to voice my opinion. As a member of the local cycling community, I am all too aware that there currently exists in Asheville and surrounding counties a very fragile relationship between the motoring public and bicyclists. The Asheville Bicycle Racing Club is dealing with this situation by encouraging its riders to abide by the rules of the road and to respect motorists. Even when faced with hostile situations, riders are advised to remain calm and report incidents to the local authorities.

Such demonstrations as the one staged downtown by the Critical Mass riders are counterproductive to these efforts. These bicyclists claim to be advocating bikes for transportation, but I fail to see how enraging motorists, taunting police and breaking laws can achieve this message. As someone who spends countless hours each week cycling on our local roads, I can only hope that the general public will understand the difference between this small group of protesters and the rest of the cycling community.

The ABRC is over 100 members strong and is one of the largest and most well-known racing clubs in the Southeast. We advocate for recreational bicycling and bicycle racing, through positive and productive venues. For the sake of the riders who use the local roads the most, and to minimize the negative backlash, I encourage the Critical Mass protesters to please keep their future demonstrations peaceful and legal.

— Treavis Taylor, president
Asheville Bicycle Racing Club

Bike protesters need training wheels

The “Traffic Hell” article [May 12] gave a pretty good picture of what happened when the Critical Mass protesters tied up traffic in downtown Asheville on April 6. The protesters rode their bicycles slowly in traffic in order to “encourage other people to get out there and ride their bikes and get away from the use of automobiles.” They told the reporter that the overall reaction of drivers was positive, with some negative reaction. There were quotes from the protesters, some sympathetic onlookers, and some cops.

But where were the voices of the delayed motorists? I wish that the reporter had asked a few of the motorists such questions as, “Do you support these tactics as a way of getting people to drive less? Has this protest moved you to drive less in the future? Have you been delayed in getting to an important appointment? Is the ice cream going to melt before you get home? Could you have put those three children I see in the back seat on your bike?” Or, “Could you have walked?”

As far as the police intervention, organizer “Peter” said that the police were arresting people for saying what was on their mind. It looked to me that the police were arresting the cyclists for tying up traffic, which is what they should be doing.

One sympathetic onlooker was upset by the behavior of the police, exclaiming, “All [the Critical Mass riders] were trying to do was get people to ride bikes more often.” But the method they were using was illegal, and when your protest is illegal, you have to accept the consequences.

When told that the protesters could have avoided the entire incident if they had applied for a permit, the participants said that that was an illegal requirement, under the First Amendment’s right to free speech. Well, that is simply not true. The courts have ruled that requiring permits for peaceable assembly and protest is not a violation of the First Amendment.

Now, let’s get to the heart of the issue here: Is this tactic of tying up traffic going to be effective in achieving the goal of the protesters? Riding bikes and using cars less may be a wonderful idea, but … [only] in the opinion of the protesters.

Nevertheless, the bicyclists hold their feelings genuinely and want, I assume, to get a few more people to bike or walk more. Is the Critical Mass mode the way to accomplish this? I say no, this will not work, and as far as I know, it hasn’t worked since its inception in 1992. There are many reasons for this … [but let me] get to the nitty-gritty of why this particular protest method will likely not work.

Let me pose this scenario of how the protest might have affected one or more of the motorists caught in the traffic jam caused by the protest. A guy is in his car heading down Merrimon, on the way to his doctor on Biltmore Avenue for his annual physical exam. Because of this bike protest, he is late and has to reschedule for a later time. Two weeks later he gets back to the doctor, and she says in a very earnest tone, “If I had seen this two weeks ago, I believe we could have got it in time.”

OK, so that’s a bit far-fetched. But I am sure that many of those horrible motorists, who had their consciousness raised by being slowed to a crawl by the Earth-saving bikers, had good reasons to be [equally] put out by this unnecessary delay. Once they discovered that the delay was being done to them for their own good, then from that day forward, I bet they will never, ever be moved to ride a bike when they could take the car.

But, you protest, can’t they see that this continued automobile use is destroying the planet and our city with pollution? Probably not. But I can guarantee you that after this experience with the Critical Mass protest they will never see it.

That’s not rational, you say. You’re right, it may not be rational, but when did rationality play much of a part in the long, sad plight of human history?

What will play in the minds of the delayed motorists is the attempt by some holier-than-thou environmentalists on bicycles trying to shame them into being “better” persons. And shaming leads to anger and even violence. It will never lead to the desired behavioral change so wished for by the activists.

So, please, all you activists and advocates, if you genuinely want change for what you believe to be a better world, try something besides shaming the rest of us. The implication — that, if we don’t take the action you desire, we are uncaring, insensitive and unenlightened racists, polluters or warmongers — will not help your cause, no matter how noble or right it may appear to you. I encourage you to gently, yet persistently, educate with good arguments, and to appeal to our enlightened self-interest, and then you may get some of what you want. I know it probably doesn’t feel as good, but do you want to feel good — or be effective?

— Burleigh Branson

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