Letters to the editor

Don’t mess with my reproductive choices!

This letter is in response to Josh Johnson’s letter stating his opinion about abortion and freedom in America [Aug. 30]:

Attention Josh: The difference in an abortion and the murder of a child already born is that that child was chosen to be born. A woman made a choice to bring that child into the world. Women have the right to safe and legal abortions because it is our legal choice to determine for ourselves if we are going to continue a pregnancy. I will repeat this to anyone who has a warped and distorted opinion like yours for the rest of my days: I have the right to choose my own reproductive future!

Educate people on birth control. Go after fathers of children already here and make them take care of the children that they are half responsible for bringing into this world. Take better care of the babies that are here and being neglected or abused. But don’t think for one minute that anything any individual or politician says is going to change the fact that I am responsible for my own reproductive choices!

— Barbara Wilson

Don’t look for answers in politics, beloveds

Physicists and other scientific folks marvel at the symmetrical interaction of the infinite, that which I would call the Divine: God. Theirs is the quest of those bent on unraveling the secrets of the cosmos through knowledge.

There are those who seek similar goals and call themselves “Reverend” or “Father” or “Brother” or “Sister” or “Imam” or “Rabbi” or what-the-hell-ever, and aspire to knowledge through revelation, enlightenment, salvation or a myriad of other descriptive nouns. Folks are brilliant or spiritual or mundane or whatever makes them feel good.

I, myself, would gaze upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or sit up late, by lamplight, with some good brandy and a volume of Poe. Or be a Bedouin.

There are folks who are enthralled with television. What can I say?

The shared experience is that of what, for lack of a better word, I call the “feelgood.”

It is now the political season, and many seek the answer to life, the universe and everything in politics. Crap. Politicians are either too new and idealistic to get anything done, or deal-makers divvying up the public’s substance ’round some pork barrel, or jaded rascals with whom one could not trust one’s paycheck for one second. Unfortunate but true; like the carpenter who wants to nail it, the doctor who wants to operate on it, the wine-bibber who wants to have a drink on it — the politician wants to politicize it. Beloveds, do not let yourselves be fooled: Our humanity cannot be legislated, presided over or adjudicated. That feelgood led to the State — to the police garrison our own militarized, once-great nation has become. Tyranny. The feelgood of our electoral system is that we are still allowed — every two, four and six years — to fool ourselves into thinking that we, rather than Corporate-State interests, rule our destinies. As long as the politicos have their way, beloveds, you are naught but a cipher in a wicked and evil game played by people who don’t know their own butt from a bucket unless it profits or empowers them.

The common good is not served by those who are enamored of political ambition. The common good is served when common people go about their daily lives, in their common way, and nobody with delusions of “power” over them or their livelihoods confiscates their rights, their goods, their well-being or their freedoms. Before we voted away our great Republic and installed this tyranny — this new “Republic” — such things were so simply understood as to be considered simple common sense: Don’t touch fire, ’cause it’ll burn you; don’t interfere with other folks, but count on those same neighbors to stand together for the common good. Behave as is seemly. A guy named Thomas Paine once compiled words so entitled: “Common Sense!”

Common sense tells me our culture — our once-taken-for-granted freedoms — were voted away from ourselves, by ourselves, and that no good will come of more of the same. Our culture has not ended in some great cataclysm. We are letting it rot away until we’ll soon be left with only carrion for soup. Some would sell even that wretched remnant of our birthright. Rotted pottage. Don’t play, with the rules askew so! It’s a sham, and thus are its victims made into players in their own oppression!

A livable environment cannot be voted in. Goodwill is not on the ballot. What do you reasonably expect of the same politics? If you want to vote for the common good, why not write in “none of the above”?

If “none of the above” actually did get a majority, who knows? Maybe we can even yet set matters aright, given time — a lot of time. Planets and civilizations heal slowly. For now, I’d settle for a very simple and polite public outcry that’d get rid of “private” surveillance cameras on North Lexington, Carolina Lane and Chicken Alley. Gawd only knows where else, too. Wonder of wonders, technology has birthed a new brat: videocam stalking! Or is it videocam voyeurism? Is it me that’s the damn fool here, or are not “private surveillance cameras” some deviant manifestation of an Orwellian Newspeak kind of lie? Surely, it is at least the definitive contradiction in terms. I pray fiercely that I am deluded, that it is not the English language itself that is perpetrating trickery! At any rate, ’round here we need to be behavin’ our very best, or at least we should put on a show that we are, because we have come, literally, to being watched!

We are a community that has been proud for a long time that we think globally but act locally. We drop the ball, sometimes. Let’s pick it up and pass it on here, beloveds. We’re about the final outpost where one can yet dare to dream, and it’s lookin’ bad for the home team if we don’t outplay a very nasty opposition. Dreamers and darers and folks like us are enjoined to just keep on digging’ it and doin’ it right! It ain’t over till it’s over. And after all, is Asheville not the best?

— Rod Personette

Free-speech flap misses the mark twice

The flap over giving the Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award to Helen Gordon for challenging the Asheville noise ordinance misses the mark on two counts.

The award-committee members who voted for Gordon to receive the award say that she was being recognized for challenging the noise ordinance. (She was arrested by Asheville police for using a loudspeaker outside FemCare to counsel women about abortion.) I don’t understand what using a loudspeaker in a residential/commercial neighborhood, no matter what the message, has to do with free speech. Does this mean that anybody with any message should be able to stand on a street corner with a loudspeaker and yell out anything, from religious preaching to commercial advertising? The beauty of the noise ordinance is that it merely analyzes the loudness of the message or other noise source, not the content. The sidewalk preacher who used to proselytize bus riders at Pritchard Park nearly every day would have been arrested had he delivered his sermon through a loudspeaker. So it doesn’t make sense to me why an awards group whose purpose is to promote free speech has turned into one promoting illegal loud speech.

On the other side of the dispute are those who voted against giving the award to Gordon. The 1998 award recipient, Lady Passion, says that the award is meant to honor those who “stand up for the right of free speech in ways that promote social justice, racial harmony, community betterment, and self-determination.” In other words, this is an award for those who speak out on issues of interest to the liberal and progressive community. Passion continues, “I don’t think all free speech is created equal. Speech that fosters intolerance and hate is not free speech.” If that is the philosophy behind this award, then I think somebody needs to take another look at the First Amendment. Free speech does not come with self-appointed judges who will decide what constitutes hate and intolerance. That’s the point of free-speech guarantees: There is no judge. Otherwise the speech is not free.

I believe that the Marketta Laurila Award can continue its honorable tradition by recognizing those who embody the values it holds dear. Just drop the free-speech part. Call it brave speech, speech that puts the speaker in some kind of jeopardy.

— Julian Price

Greens and progressives, please vote Democratic

I want to congratulate and thank Mickey Mahaffey for his fine Sept. 13 commentary, “Sam Neill, the people’s candidate.” As always, Mickey was articulate and sincere, and the piece well written. I want to also voice my appreciation to Mickey for taking a stand for an establishment politician. Mickey is a voice for the street people, environmentalists, the poor and alternative-culture-minded of our town. To endorse a major-party candidate took thoughtful independence and courage.

Mickey is breaking through the dilemma facing progressives in today’s political climate and making a sound choice. Recent political shifting has moved Democrats to more centrist than liberal or progressive positions, leaving voters mostly only choices between conservative and centrist candidates. The appearance of the Green and Natural Law Parties is a reflection of this frustration. What Mickey points out is that, when there is a race for our representative in Washington between Republican Charles Taylor — an enemy of everything progressive — and a man of quality and commitment to representing the people’s interests like Democrat Sam Neill, please, people come out and vote for Sam Neill.

I want to echo Mickey’s call, and expand it to the election as a whole. I have written pieces for Mountain Xpress that can fairly be called progressive, green and a call to a higher social consciousness. I am also an active Democrat. Why? Because there is an enemy to everything progressive out there, and it is called the Republican Party. And there are good and sincere people of vision within the Democratic Party. Sam Neill is one of them. I, personally, am actively working for the election of Asheville City Councilwoman Barbara Field to the state legislature because she is another such effective, thoughtful and caring person. She, too, is a Democrat.

For president, we have the choice between Al Gore — an environmentally sensitive person who wrote Earth In The Balance, and who sincerely believes in universal health care, raising working people’s life standard and other progressive issues — or George Bush, a Texas oil man, millionaire, frat boy and sneering cynic who co-opts a term like “compassionate” while he presides over a state that is a death-row factory and anti-progressive at every turn. Or, we can choose Ralph Nader or John Hagelin — both good men with important ideas, but we all know that enough votes [for them] will elect the sneering, smirking frat boy. So will enough apathy, [if] people on the left [don’t] vote at all.

And so on down the line. We who consider ourselves political progressives have a choice. Unless we somehow switch to a parliamentary system where small parties can have actual representation, we have the Republicans and the Democrats — one unrepentantly anti-progressive, the other having wandered from its progressive roots, but still the natural home of progressives. The party names say it all. Republicans want an elitist republic. Democrats still strive to be democratic and inclusive.

Perhaps one day, the Green Party or a yet-to-be-created Progressive Party will have the strength to win elections. But, in the meantime, I ask progressives and Greens to fight like hell to impress the nation with their ideas in primaries and the lead-up to elections. But on election day, if they haven’t created a critical mass to win, please come home to the Democratic Party, and vote to keep the anti-progressive Republicans from winning. Work to bring the Democratic Party and the nation to a higher and more progressive political consciousness. Within the Democratic Party, this is possible.

When I was a very young man, I was part of a splitting of the Democratic Party. We progressives opposed a very good man of conscience named Hubert Humphrey in support of an extraordinarily moral politician named Gene McCarthy. We caused the election of Richard Nixon. Since then, I have learned to fight for my beliefs within the party that will at least listen to my beliefs, and to keep the family fight private, then support the Democratic candidate wholeheartedly. Why? Because I know who the enemy really is.

Thank you, Ralph Nader and John Hagelin, for raising the level of debate and pushing for important and necessary ideas. I don’t know that I would want either of you actually to be president. Politics can be purist, but governing is not for purists. It is a world of compromise and learning to take what you can get. I love the political purists in the streets raising their voices demanding that the needs of the people and the planet cannot be ignored. Just remember that the major party that will listen is the Democrats. So when the vote counts, don’t throw it away.

Please, you Greens and progressives, vote — and vote Democratic. For local, state and national positions, vote Democrat. The alternative puts people in office that you really don’t want there. Vote for Sam Neill. Vote for Barbara Field. Vote for Al Gore. Vote the Democrats into office and then pressure them for progressive causes. You will get an ear, not a sneer.

— Bill Walz

We deserve better than “Chainsaw” Taylor

Congressman “Chainsaw” Charlie Taylor uses his far-right-wing ideology to justify his irresponsible environmental voting record. Consistently, Taylor votes against clean air and clean water, to the detriment of our kids. He calls this being “pro-business.” He votes against protecting our national forests and special places like the French Broad River, claiming to be for “smaller government.” In reality, Taylor has little regard for his constituents because he’s too worried about protecting his big, corporate-polluter buddies and the far-right-wing zealots that push his agenda. We deserve better for our kids and for our future.

— Peter Baker

Jim Anthony’s DuPont State Forest offer to the public is hollow

In response to Julian Price’s letter [of Sept. 13, which held that the DuPont State Forest lands are better off under the private ownership of Jim Anthony], let me say that I consider there is nothing generous at all in Jim Anthony’s so-called offer to allow the public to see the [three] waterfalls [on the property Anthony owns]. When examined, the offer is quite hollow. Not only would the public be restricted to certain trails and viewing platforms, but the management of the “trust” land would be put in the hands of a board of trustees yet to be selected. Further, the “trust” itself is undefined, and conservation easements have yet to be written. The whole process could easily take years before anyone would know what actually would occur.

As to the other stuff, the trails are already there, no viewing platforms are needed, the water is now in good shape, and leaving 80 percent of the land untouched is easy when you only count the actual area of houses and roads as disturbances.

I never said, nor do I believe, that only government can manage natural lands. (Indeed, I am a director of the Carolina Mountains Land Conservancy.) However, the state forest is already there, and the Anthony’s inholding is in the middle of it.

This forest, bought by us taxpayers — the great unwashed public — is what gives much of the value to Anthony’s proposed exclusive, high-priced playground. This man got 10,000 acres for the price of 2,200. A big development in the middle of the forest is definitely incompatible with the forest. And yes, so is the AGFA plant, but this plant covers a far smaller area, did not bother Anthony, and many people believe AGFA will close [the plant] down within five years, anyway. Yes, the state made a mistake (or got scammed) last year for whatever reason, but only patsies are willing to live with mistakes that can be fixed.

Finally, Anthony is in a win-win situation, with profit either way it comes out. The state should, to quote our governor, “do the right thing.” Let Gov. Hunt know how you feel (800-662-7952).

— Bill Thomas
Friends of the Falls
Cedar Mountain, N.C.

Sour musical grapes from a local picker and grinner

Attention! Readers who would prefer not to see another letter bemoaning the demise of Asheville’s once-varied live music and entertainment “scene” may now peruse through the ads for adult nightclubs, gambling casinos and bed-and-breakfast inns.

I will preface this sad commentary with information about myself. I listen to a wide variety of music from many eras and hold what many call a “day job,” as well. My question to many local club owners and “entertainment coordinators” for the music festivals is: What the Sam Hill is going on here?

I have read many calls for a ban on construction of a new Wal-Mart in our area, as it is a large corporation with little regional variety of goods, and dedicated to the elimination of the mom-and-pop hardware stores in surrounding towns. Why, then, do we allow our precious cultural commodity (live traditional and nontraditional music) to be handed over to the very same out-of-towners when it comes to entertainment? Are we, in effect, encouraging musical homogenization in our fair city?

How many local acts are featured in proportion to regional and national acts at our street festivals and celebrations? Is there a way to compete with larger venues who book national acts according to [the number of] albums sold at Blockbuster music stores, or alcohol sales at the end of the night? Is a musical ensemble’s real worth defined by audiences that are “as likely to tool up in an SUV [as] a Beverly Hillbillies-styled jalopy” (as Ken Hanke’s recent write-up about a local musical festival in Mountain Xpress suggests) [Sept. 13, “Taste of the times”]? I drive a Toyota, if you were wondering.

Club owners: Does a nonfunctioning P.A. system at your establishment for musicians to use sound reasonable? When was the last time your were double-booked for your psychic-healer session due to a “scheduling conflict”? Do nonlocal acts receive different treatment?

Mountain Xpress editors (I assume you have them): Do you actually read or respond to letters from local entertainers saying, in effect, “You spelled our name wrong and listed us as a ‘power pop’ band instead of __________ (fill in correct style of music).” Silly me. I assumed if one proofread one’s own listings sent in to local papers, they would print them correctly — while still being able to run full-page ads for “stadium rock” music at faraway venues.

Can a band get a write-up without describing themselves in a press kit as “psycho,” “boogielicious,” or “new school twist taking traditional music to the next level”? Most local musicians (properly housetrained and groomed daily for parasites) are actually quite friendly and entertaining to hear demonstrating their craft (music). Before you pay a $30 cover charge to see a national band you heard was “killer,” look into your own backyard and seek out the still-undiscovered cultural treasures beneath your noses.

P.S. Always tip your food- and drink-service professionals.

— C.J. Wyrick, picker and grinner

Helen Gordon’s actions did not merit free-speech award

Perhaps it is the content of what Helen Gordon says and what her beliefs are that enrage so many. Perhaps this is the problem that bars her from receiving the Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award [Xpress, Sept. 13, “A stretch for free speech?”]. However, it is her opinions and not her conduct, I believe, that gained her the nomination. I do not [believe] her actions in any way merit her eligibility for such an award.

Fighting a noise violation is not the same as taking on the noise ordinance itself. Helen Gordon is just like any other person who, on a Saturday night — just a little too late for the neighbors — was a little too loud. The only difference is that Gordon seeks to slip out of her violation and create a future loophole for her cause by claiming that her free speech has been infringed upon based on political grounds. To nominate Gordon as a candidate for a free-speech award would be to nominate every person who challenges the noise violation (of which we can be certain there are many).

The “right to free speech” is not really about being able to say what we want, as it is so many times misrepresented, misconstrued and abused. As I understand it, the right to free speech is about protecting an individual’s ability and right to voice unpopular sentiment and opinion. The protection of unpopular speech guarantees the speaker or conveyor of such sentiment the ability to do so free from harassment or other negative repercussions, such as loss of job or loss of life, and is more important in this sense than how obtrusive a message may be conveyed.

Meredith Hunt admits in the [Xpress article] that Gordon “was cited and arrested not for the content … but for using a bullhorn, which violates Asheville’s noise ordinance.” So it seems that the city does not have a problem with what Gordon has to say, just the manner — specifically, the volume — in which she conveyed it. Hunt further asserts that, in this way, the city has “abridged her right to free speech.”

It may be more appropriate to say that the city was merely enforcing the rights of the individuals affected by this amplification of free speech to work and conduct their lives without undue duress and distraction.

There are a few details that need to be re-examined surrounding these circumstances:

1. Asheville’s noise ordinance has nothing to do with infringement on free speech. It serves to protect people from undue stress and the needless distraction that comes from excessive noise.

2. A legitimate complaint was made due to the noise levels amplified by Gordon and her megaphone, which deigned to pass through FemCare’s walls.

3. Whether Gordon may or may not use a megaphone in her speeches is not at contest here — rather, her choice of volume levels.

4. Gordon has not been barred from practicing her “sidewalk counseling,” nor has her right to use her megaphone been prohibited. In fact, she and her megaphone still gather every Saturday in front of FemCare — albeit at slightly lower volumes, in order to avoid further noise violations.

Free speech may mean many things to many people. However, I believe free speech was not intended to include what amounts to … the verbal abuse of a captive audience — in this case, the “audience” consisting of health-care workers and their clients.

In a moral and sympathetic world, free speech should not seek to take advantage of any persons who are arguably in the midst of one of the most emotionally delicate moments of their lives. This tactic used in the name of “free speech” preys on weakness, and seeks to derail confidence and discourage self-determination. This tactic is called coercion. The clients of FemCare have already made their choice. No matter how hard that choice is or how conflicting their situation maybe, it is their right and their choice.

— Hassan Pitts

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