Letters to the editor

Would that be free speech, or subsidized?

As popular as MAIN [Mountain Area Information Network] is, Asheville City Council did the right thing when it turned down Wally Bowen’s request for space on the city’s communications tower. Bowen requested $9,600 [worth] of space for broadband equipment. Some on Council argued that the cost would be only in lost opportunity.

Hello. Why is it so politically correct to turn a blind eye to the fact that if I can find a benefactor to pay my rent, I suddenly have a lot more walking-around money? Or money to buy programming that may run counter to the political viewpoints of the taxpayers who own the tower and expect fair representation from their elected officials?

Bowen argued that the gift would not be supporting his political agenda because users did not have to log onto MAIN’s home page. Besides, free speech is protected by the First Amendment. Sorry, Wally. Your free speech ends where you start expecting others to subsidize it.

Mumpower pointed out that the Housing Authority was paying full price for their tower space. He said it would be hard to imagine anybody more up against a wall, trying to help the poor with limited resources. But other members of Council thought it was a good idea to enter a barter arrangement with Bowen, even though Bowen couldn’t say what he could offer in return until the antenna was up. This might raise more than an antenna, in light of MAIN’s history of TIIAP [Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program] grant violations. Bowen’s representation that MAIN serves low-income households is not supported by the number of moderate- to high-income folks, including some members of City Council, who take advantage of MAIN’s discounted service.

What would Wally do if Sinclair Broadcasting requested free tower space?

— K. Rhodarmer

[Wally Bowen, executive director of MAIN, responds: MAIN has no “history of TIIAP grant violations,” period, although this accusation was made at the council meeting by conservative radio host Bill Fishburne. For verification, I encourage Mountain Xpress and any concerned citizen to contact the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which administers TIIAP — now called the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP). Also, as Mountain Xpress reported [“No Access,” July 20], MAIN offered to provide free wireless access at five of the city’s community centers at no charge, which would have saved the city $5,160 annually.]

[Editor’s note: Xpress spoke with Clyde Ensslin, an NTIA public affairs officer, who reported that neither he nor the administrator of the TOP grant program was aware of any improprieties on the part of MAIN. Xpress requested an archive search by NTIA, and we have received a statement from NTIA that the record of MAIN’s grant, originally awarded in October 1995 to deliver Internet service to isolated and economically deprived areas in Western North Carolina, was closed as of May 8, 2000. “That project achieved its goal,” said Clyde Ensslin, public affairs officer for NTIA, and the archive contained “no record of any allegations of any improprieties.”]

Keep dishing it out

Hooray and hallelujah! I don’t know where or how you found Mackensy Lunsford, but I am oh, so glad that you did! I have long thought that Mountain Xpress had a gaping hole as an arts and entertainment paper — to me, food is both art and entertainment, and I always wondered why there was no food critic/writer.

Not only have you added a wonderful section to the publication, but you have added a tremendous writer. Mackensy’s articles are funny, honest and informative — very readable and entertaining. “The Straight Dish” is my new fave section of Xpress. Thanks so much for the fabulous addition.

— Kelly Gold

Hearsay herbal claims lack data

As a news junkie, I greatly enjoy the local sources — the Asheville Citizen-Times and some of the smaller outlets.

And as a retired scientist, I get huge rewards from the rich New Age reservoir all around us, supplying us with new health notions, theories on how things actually work (like the human brain) [or] where babies come from, all against a wonderful background from the usual Biblical authorities. What a rich lode of priceless nonsense!

Today, in your very own fine print medium, a young lady was on about some plant leaves obtainable from a plant originally from Europe, but which, like a stray dog following us home, “followed us to the New World” [“Getting Comfy With Comfrey”, July 27]. As for invasive plants, well, you can all just cool it — this stuff works great on the private female regions, the writer says; and as for data, well, “many of my friends swear by it.” That’s by, not at.

None of this would have any particular meaning to me, not being of the female persuasion anyway, but I’m still hurting over what happened to poor echinacea. Doesn’t work, say some of the authorities recently. Well, hey, some of my friends — .

I’m a mite troubled by your article, however, where we don’t know anything about the author, but who soon gets around to stating that “today, most doctors don’t just discount [comfrey], they warn against using it. [Comfrey] has been declared unsafe for internal use by the Food and Drug Administration.” Oh, goody, I put hardly any trust in the FDA either, but she states, “Many herbalists, however, dispute that contention.”

Now I’m stuck. I know the FDA has been totally bought by big pharma, but who are these herbalists anyhow? I keep watching for data but never get to see any. The invasive plant folks are out to “get” Oriental bittersweet, but could I please see some data? Just a number or two: How much timber is being ravaged? OK, your friends swear by a lot of cures, but could I just see a little number somewhere? Big pharma’s data ain’t any good either, but there are scientists working on their own (Dr. Wolfe, et al.).

— Allen Thomas

[Writer Corinna Wood responds: A portion of my original article was cut due to space limitations. Perhaps some of the omitted information would be helpful: The FDA’s declaration was based on a study in which the pyrrolizidine alkaloids were extracted from the roots of comfrey and injected in large doses into rats. Researchers found that this caused pre-cancerous liver changes in the rats, which somehow became translated as “comfrey causes cancer.”

Many herbalists have called this study into question for several reasons: It makes a big difference when one compound is isolated from the rest of the constituents that make up the chemistry and magic of the plant; one would have to drink dozens if not hundreds of cups of comfrey to consume the amount of alkaloids each rat was given; humans and rats don’t necessarily respond to alkaloids the same way, and there have been no clinical studies done with humans. (Source: Dorena Rode, “Comfrey Toxicity Revisited,” Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, November 2002.)

In fact, as herbalists Mary L. Wulff-Tilford and Gregory L. Tilford state, “In thousands of years of use by millions of people, only two reports of hepatotoxicity (liver cell toxicity) have been documented in humans.” And in both these cases, poor nutrition, pre-existing illness, and use of liver-toxic drugs were contributing factors.]

Drug-control ads promote danger

This spring, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy unleashed a new round of anti-marijuana newspaper ads aimed at parents. One of the most egregiously deceptive ads was headlined “Introducing a Really High-Tar Cigarette,” and claimed, “Quite a few people think that smoking pot is less likely to cause cancer than a regular cigarette. You may even have heard some parents say they’d rather their kids smoked a little pot than get hooked on cigarettes. Wrong, and wrong again … one joint can deliver four times as much cancer-causing tar as one cigarette” [emphasis added].

Fact is, however, scientific studies — many summarized in a 1999 Institute of Medicine report commissioned by ONDCP itself — have never shown that marijuana causes lung cancer or the other cancers caused by cigarettes. It’s appalling that the White House is actually telling parents not to worry about a drug — tobacco — that has been proven deadly and highly addictive.

While kids should be discouraged from smoking anything, the data are crystal clear that tobacco is far more carcinogenic and far more addictive than marijuana. Prohibitionists’ constant concern that reforming marijuana laws will somehow send the wrong message to children is particularly ironic, because ONDCP’s ads tell children, in effect, that if they’ve already tried marijuana, cigarettes are no big deal because they have one-quarter the tar.

That’s a message that could literally kill. For more information go to www.mpp.org.

— Bob Niewoehner

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