Letters to the editor

Speech that suppresses freedom is not free speech

As a past recipient of the Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award, I have been honored to participate in several annual MLFSA award ceremonies. I have always found the members of its awards committee to be of the highest moral and intellectual caliber; indeed, they have always been truly desirous to support ordinary people and activists who are trying to win freedoms, right wrongs, or otherwise elevate society to a more peaceful, less polluted and less prejudicial plane. Nothing that’s transpired in recent weeks leads me to conclude that their ideals have changed. In fact, all involved seem to have deeply considered many difficult issues and acted in good conscience.

Therefore, I write in response to the letters that appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of the Mountain Xpress (“Free Speech Award is phony,” and “Is all free speech not created equal?”), one of which mentions me by name.

The authors’ hair-splitting over minutiae aside (bullhorn vs. amplifier, and eligibility requirements vs. listed purpose), the tone of their arguments failed to represent the “winsome communication” Mr. Hunt insisted Helen Gordon’s anti-abortion activities comprise.

The bottom line is, Ms. Gordon did not have to reject an award that was specifically created for her (the Constitutional Challenge Award). Considering the distress many MLFSA committee members and past award recipients expressed when they were notified this anti-choice activist had been selected to receive the Free Speech Award, one would think Ms. Gordon might have appreciated the pains the committee took to reach a fair resolution of the dilemma. But instead, Ms. Gordon chose to reject the award.

Once done, that should have been the end of it. Yet the folks she works with, whose hate speech frightens many women away from getting needed medical care at the only abortion clinic left in WNC, have turned this situation into a political cause celebre — for motives which appear to have less to do with their convictions regarding free speech than as their entree to further their right-wing agenda. I noticed that Mr. Hunt did not mention in his letter the intimidating tactic he and his followers used at last year’s awards ceremony — plastering photos of aborted fetuses on attendees’ windshields. Who will be the next victims of Hunt and his freedom-bashing “free speech” — is he going to start picketing gay bars?

In short, there are many more peaceful ways Life Advocates members may counter lifestyles and choices they disagree with, rather than by physically menacing folks in the fashion they’ve chosen (after all, to some of us, the very use of amplifiers constitutes noise pollution). Perhaps in time they will see the merit in opting for less intrusive methods.

Regardless of the ongoing debate, I have no doubt that many Asheville-area residents will continue perpetuating the ideals long expressed by the Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award.

— Lady Passion
High Priestess, Coven Oldenwilde

Christian history often contradicts notion of kind and loving God

This letter is in response to a letter written by George Smith, appearing in the Aug. 23 issue of Mountain Xpress. Mr. Smith quotes the Bible quite often in his letter. First of all, I would like to point out that the Bible was written by men, and no matter how inspired they might have been, they are still only human and still — quite obviously — subject to human prejudice: hate of things and people that are unknown or not understood.

Mr. Smith wrote about Jesus running the money changers out of the temple. This, to me, sounds like Jesus was intolerant of greed. Greed and hate and intolerance all harm others and leave no room for compassion or love. Being gay, however, hurts no one. I personally know many loving and compassionate gay people. I hear no love or compassion in your letter, Mr. Smith. The brand of Christianity you preach is the exact same kind of thinking that spawned the Crusades and the Inquisition.

In fact, Mr. Smith, if you looked at Christian history objectively, you would find that it is quite tarnished and constantly contradicts the teachings that God is good and loving. To quote Vine Deloria Jr., a noted Native American professor at Colorado State University: “When I happened to be reading one of the Old Testament prophets, it suddenly occurred to me that the Judeo-Christian deity had been a pretty rough character all along. He was always throwing fits of anger over some real or imagined slight; He monitored every activity of His chosen people to see that they were obeying some rather vague instructions He had given them; and, to hear some Protestants tell it, He had a large ledger book in which He recorded all our evil thoughts and deeds. This behavior can be described in a humorous way but it is not very funny. It suggests a deity very closely modeled not only after a human personality but also after a personality that is unbalanced and immature. I personally would rather burn in hell than align with a personality like that!”

Mr. Smith, your letter oozes hate and a holier-than-thou attitude. Perhaps you should look into yourself rather than above, for in order to receive love you must first find it in you and learn to give it.

— The Tattooed Heathen
Rebecca King
Breckenridge, Colo. (formerly of Asheville)

Free-animal ads are a bad idea

If you need to part with an animal, please don’t give it away “free to good hands.” Always ask for a small protective fee of $10 or $20. This discourages unscrupulous individuals who will pick up free animals and sell them to labs or use them for dog fights. You can donate the money to your local animal shelter. Real animal lovers won’t mind the small fee, and others won’t bother.

— Monika Wengler

Enjoy the fall colors, but don’t overlook environmental threats

Yesterday, I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway hiking the Point Misery Trail, one of my favorite areas in the Craggies and Black Mountains. I was reminded once again that the vistas we enjoy this time of year — when the leaves begin to change at the higher elevations, then slowly work their way down the mountain slopes to the elevations where most of us live — are composed of the national forest lands. These are the forests that give us these spectacular vistas, colors and purple undulating rows of mountains — what the Cherokee called “catalooch” or “catalooche.”

Coming down the Parkway, I was also reminded of some of the threats to these forests that we take for granted. Below me in the Big Ivy valley were several 15-year-old clear-cuts, still visible as rectilinear engravings across the forests. Because of how a forest recovers from clear-cutting and the equal age of the trees, these patches will usually change color as one large, unnatural patch on the landscape — very different from the collage of color in a natural forest.

Not far from the Big Ivy vistas, we became aware of a strong smell of diesel fumes. There was no apparent source until we were a mile or two further down the road, when we encountered a dump truck clouded in black and blue smoke from its exhaust. We had smelled it from miles away. While one truck is not the ruin of the forests, it reminded me of perhaps the greatest threat that faces the mountains: air pollution. The stress caused by air pollution on our forests is making them very sick, and their weakened immunity — just like in people — leaves them vulnerable to disease and drought. It’s also causing the global warming we read about, and as it was described in an article I read this morning, global warming will likely affect our fall leaf colors as well.

Further down the Parkway, another change became apparent. Our communities are sprawling out to the very foot of the mountains, sometimes climbing up the mountain itself. Sprawl is a serious problem for everyone, and is usually addressed after it’s too late. Asheville and Western North Carolina do not have to be too late; [we] have time to do something about it.

As we enjoy our fall colors this year, let’s remember that things are changing in our world, and that citizens — just like those who met in Asheville 101 years ago to create the eastern national forests — can turn these changes around for the betterment of the next century in Western North Carolina. Let’s celebrate our fall colors with a vision of what we can accomplish together.

— Taylor Barnhill
Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition Asheville

Kaufman responds to critics

Barbara Taggert rewrites my views for her own purpose when she says, “It’s interesting to me to note that Wallace Kaufman … refer[s] to electricity as being equivalent to genetically modified organisms when, in fact, nuclear power would make a better comparison.” [Letters, Sept. 20].

It makes a better argument for Taggert, but it’s hers, not mine. I suggested that the precautionary principle would have ruled out the introduction of electricity — whether generated from fission or coal. I am grateful to Mountain Xpress for allowing me to make my own arguments and ask the same from readers.

Fact is, I don’t much like nuclear power myself. Of course, those folks who want electric cars will have to decide what kind of fuels will charge their environmentally friendly vehicles. I’m for fuel cells myself.

Taggart also says, “Electricity occurs naturally in the environment; humans merely harness it.” To which I reply, genes occur naturally in the environment; humans merely harness them. Try lightning, Ms. Taggart. Nature makes that, too.

Many more people are killed by electricity every year than by nuclear power. Same for another natural product: alcohol. Taggart and many who share her views are modern prohibitionists. Fine, but let them tell us what they would prohibit and when, then honestly measure the consequences.

Contrary to Ted Wilcox’s rant from Sandy Mush [Letters, Sept. 20], I share his view that altering DNA is “pretty serious stuff.”

Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, shared his view that “the ‘messers about’ are the types of people whom history tells us are not always reliable or honest about their research or true motives.” Steven Spielberg presents the same stereotype in his juvenile story of scientists in Jurassic Park. Mr. Wilcox may be from quiet and beautiful Sandy Mush, but he carries Hollywood science in his head. Many of my friends in the Third World feel Western environmentalists are “not always reliable or honest about their research or true motives.”

Wilcox is correct when he says, “True environmentalists are just as concerned with the plight of the world’s hungry as they are with the condition of our shared environment.” That phrase “true environmentalists,” however, is the kind of phrase all fundamentalists, bigots and tyrants use to promote their beliefs as the only true belief. Bigotry, intolerance and closed minds are as prevalent on the left as on the right. The variety of people who have a genuine concern about nature is much greater than true believer Wilcox understands. An intellectual and social precautionary principle should come into play here: Beware of people carrying messages only the blessed can hear.

We also agree that “social tyranny” is a major cause of hunger. We have seen it everywhere hunger exists — the former Soviet Union, Latin America and Africa. The poor are tyrannized by their own governments and power elites. No multinational can force the Indonesian or Brazilian governments to cut their tropical hardwoods. Multinationals did not spread AIDS in Africa or set Hutus against Tutsis in Rwanda. Multinationals did not nationalize the productive farmlands of the Soviet Union or Africa or Cuba.

Large corporations have, at times, financed and supported tyrannical regimes. Then, so have environmentalists. I well remember in the 1970s when good environmentalists were supporting Mao Tse Tung, the killer of millions and the despoiler of his own land.

Mr. Wilcox asks that I, “Cut the bulls**t. OK?” That’s exactly what I am trying to do.

— Wallace Kaufman
Pittsboro, N.C.

Judge a nation by the way it treats its animals

As the election looms ahead, a candidate’s position on laws governing the treatment of animals has become a weighty issue for many voters. In observance of World Farm Animals Day on Oct. 2, animal, consumer and environmental-protection groups will hold vigils at the national and all 50 state capitols to memorialize the suffering of animals raised for food, and expose the devastating health and environmental impacts of animal agriculture. The focus of this year’s World Farm Animals Day is on raising candidates’ awareness of, and demanding reforms to, factory farming practices.

According to a 1995 survey conducted by Opinion Research Group of Princeton, 93 percent of Americans oppose farm-animal suffering. A 1999 Peter Hart Research poll found that 85 percent of Americans oppose raising farm animals in tight confinement. Numerous studies have demonstrated that animals experience many of the emotions that we do — including joy, affection, sorrow and pain.

Candidates for public office would be wise to pay attention to the words of Mahatma Gandhi — the world’s foremost moral leader and champion of humane farming — whose birthday is honored on World Farm Animals Day. Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

— Steve Abrego

Stop barbaric bloodbath of proposed deer slaughter in Biltmore Forest

The proposed slaughter of deer in the town of Biltmore Forest is nothing less than a senseless, barbaric bloodbath and needs to be stopped. Although a local attorney was able to get a temporary injunction halting the planned Biltmore Forest deer slaughter, it appears that the Town Council is not above a little “sleight of hand” when it comes to changing existing laws to ensure that the killing spree comes to fruition. Do I detect the stench of blood lust here, folks?

Although the Biltmore Forest Deer Commission has been studying this supposed “problem” for three years, they have not tried any of the nonlethal solutions. They also were apparently unaware of the great success of roadside-reflector systems in dramatically reducing collisions between deer and cars.

A member of Carolina Animal Action, a local animal-rights organization, provided the Commission with information about the reflector systems at their Town Hall meeting on Sept. 12. Local veterinarians at that meeting offered to implement a sterilization program. Other birth-control methods and ways of protecting ornamental shrubs are available as well. Still, they seem to have their sights set on mercilessly murdering some deer — and with bows and arrows, yet!

Talk about being brutal, bow hunting is one of the cruelest forms of hunting because primitive archery equipment wounds more animals than it kills. Studies indicate that bow hunting yields more than a 50-percent crippling rate. For every animal dragged from the woods, at least one animal is left wounded to suffer — either to slowly bleed to death or to become infested with parasites, diseases and infection.

Please take a moment to speak up for the animals and to help stop this senseless slaughter and torture. E-mail me now for more information at: starring_kayla@hotmail.com. Thank you.

— Kayla Rae Worden

Black and white: a balancing act

This spring, my life became black and white. Two boys — one black, one white — filled the view from my kitchen window. At first, I was hard-pressed to read between the lines. The first time, I saw the tractor go by with the white boy on the seat, the black boy being dragged behind, only to turn the corner with the black boy on the seat, the white boy being dragged. They knew about Texas. They played it out — not with ropes around the neck, but with taking turns hanging on — sharing the [ride] through that bit of news. The visual shocked me. To see how these boys played between the lines to strike a balance and fairness, I watched [them undertake] barrel rolls contesting their abilities. I watched as one challenged the other to try out for classic soccer and both sit afterwards, with ice packs, having made it. It wasn’t the game they were after, though: It was the challenge of fairness.

I witnessed a balancing act between these boys that took more courage than any effort I’ve seen in this town to put black and white into a readable perspective. These boys put together a history that left no stone unturned. At 2 a.m., I would wake up to a frenzy of lyric writing, pages of rap notes around them; these boys were putting it down so it could be heard. So it could be read. Black on white, ready for the morning edition — read all about it.

Should adults take turns being dragged around the yard? My own experience tells me we’ve lost the capability of keeping it playful. In my early 20s, my roommate was shot point blank on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. This was a black-and-white story that put my friend beside a man she admired wholeheartedly, a man whose life inspired her death — a man she would have volunteered to walk beside in life, had she been old enough when he was alive.

I see around me a world of adults racing to catch up to King and my friend. And I know if either of those two could be heard now, they would say: Stop chatting amongst yourselves. Stop looking for balance for the sake of past regressions. Just let the children be born into their love for each other. Bear witness to the way young children don’t notice color. Look to the anger in the eyes of older children when color is brought up as a reason to be different. Accept that the next-born generation is capable of playing this thing out. Give them a fair shake. Push the play button and listen to their music. Read their stories in black and white, and stop trying to read between the lines that, as adults, we are owed an explanation.

— Sally Duryea

Customers have a choice, when it comes to CP&L’s chemical spraying

It recently came to our attention (through a flyer that came with our Carolina Power and Light Company bill) that CP&L is now using a right-of-way-maintenance management program that entails chemical spraying.

Spraying will be “performed on a regular cycle and conducted throughout the year. When herbicides are used, applicators use small amounts of the following products: Accord (EPA registration #524-326); Arsenal (#241-346); Garlon 3A #62719-37); Garlon 4 (#62719-40); Stalker/Chopper (241-296); and Krevite (#352-395). Different methods are used to apply herbicides, including low volume foliar application from May through October, dormant stem application from October through April and cut-stump application throughout the year.”

We are truly concerned for our health, our wildlife, our water and the environment in general!

However, CP&L has provided people who have concerns about this program with an option, which would be to continue cutting the vegetation as in previous years. To exercise this option, it is necessary to call CP&L in Raleigh (919-546-6111) and ask for the Environmental Department, to request that your property be flagged for exemption from spraying. Please inform your neighbors so that they realize they have a choice.

— Mrs. Leonard Schulman
Black Mountain

Keep on praying

In response to the [letter saying] that “We Still Pray” goes against scripture, by Robert Carr [Sept. 6], prayer is not only Biblical, it is our sole means of communicating with God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit … .” In Matthew 6, Jesus is not telling us not to pray in public, but that our prayers should always be “as” in secret, to ensure our sincerity to God. For in everything that we do, we are to do it as unto God and not unto men. If we lift up anything other than Jesus Christ, we do it in vain. For only what we do for Christ will last, because God sees what’s in our hearts and knows our motives.

In the book of Daniel 6, all the presidents, governors, princes, counselors and captains consulted to make a firm decree that any man found praying to any god other than the King shall be cast into the den of lions. These folks can be called our Supreme Court. Daniel prayed three times a day — every day — and was found out, then cast into the lion’s den. But it was prayer, not doctrine, that saved Daniel, and those who sought to harm him were the ones the lions consumed.

[Neither] the Supreme Court [nor] anyone else can stop you from praying. In Ephesians 6:12, it reminds us, “For we wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” So, if there are those — and there will be those who seek self-glorification — pray for them that God will open their eyes and change their hearts. Prayer changes people, and people change situations. Keep on praying, for God will answer your prayer.

— Bobby Stafford
Black Mountain

Let’s agree to disagree on abortion

Inasmuch as Helen Gordon has taken the opportunity — in refusing a Constitutional Challenge Award — to restate her beliefs concerning abortion, I would like to respond. The real issue in the abortion debate, of course, is when does a person become a “tiny boy or girl” [Letters, Sept. 20]. Gordon believes, and claims “truth” for her belief, that that moment happens at the moment of conception. The Supreme Court has held that it happens when the fetus is viable outside the womb. The Catholic Church, in effect, moves the moment forward to the act of intercourse. It believes that efforts to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg are sinful. The point is, everybody believes that his or her belief is “true.” That is the nature of belief.

When a culture has a variety of beliefs about an important issue, one of two things can happen. Either we agree to let everybody act on his or her own beliefs, or we have a fight about whose beliefs will be forced on everybody else. Currently, it is conservative Christians and some Catholics who are attempting to force the rest of us to conform our behavior to their beliefs. Since this kind of interference in other people’s lives is generally frowned on, they justify their efforts by proclaiming that they are acting on behalf of the fetus, and are acting as agents of God’s will.

I very much respect anyone who tries to express God’s will in his or her life. I believe that it is only when we live our lives in such a way that our lives become meaningful. But to be an agent of God’s will requires the wisdom and compassion of God. Otherwise, there is serious danger of self-deception and of falling under the influence of the false gods and prophets Jesus warned us about. One serious warning sign regarding issues of morality and spirituality is when someone starts quoting scripture, especially from a very old and obscure text such as the Bible. There is much wisdom mixed with much foolishness in that book.

One wonders how much thought the abortion prohibitionists have given to what the consequences would be should they win their battle. I grew up in a time when abortion was illegal, and remember what happened then. Those who could afford to went to Mexico or Europe for their abortions. The rest either used local criminal abortionists, tried do-it-yourself methods such as wire coat hangers, or had the unwanted baby either illegitimately or after a shotgun wedding.

It seems to me the only sensible course for those who believe that abortion is murder is to drop their efforts to force their views on the rest of society, and concentrate on educating people — realizing that those with different beliefs are as passionate about their beliefs as conservative Christians are about theirs.

— Doug Wade

Vision program no substitute for effective leadership

What if they had an election and nobody came? It sounds like a silly, rhetorical question, but for the honchos at Vision of Asheville-Buncombe County, it was a bullet barely dodged.

During the last week of July, Vision invited county residents to participate in a plebiscite to select the Community Dialogue Topic for 2000. Four choices were presented: Housing, Transportation, Health Care, and Jobs and the Economy. The Asheville Citizen-Times provided a mail-in ballot; votes could also be cast by e-mail or in person at any library branch. When it was over, Vision announced, “Transportation has been selected by the public” (all quotes taken from their Web site, www.abvision.org).

The “public” cast exactly 378 votes in this election. Housing received 87, Transportation 140, Health Care 38 and Jobs 113. Some plebiscite.

Two Vision representatives interviewed by David Hurand of WCQS on Sept. 13 acknowledged that: 1. They were surprised by the result (both having voted for Jobs); 2. The result may have been unduly influenced by the I-240 Connector controversy widely publicized in July; and 3. It’s possible that some folks might have voted more than once. Despite the low turnout, they defended the outcome as a valid expression of the public’s desire for dialogue on transportation issues.

Vision has invited citizens to participate in dialogue sessions, to be held once a week in 15 locations during October and early November. The stated goal is to “explore issues and to gain insight into other’s viewpoint [sic]. In this way, the dialogues are different from typical public meetings.” Two “facilitators” will appear at each session, to make certain that all views are heard and recorded. This elaborate show has been subsidized by a substantial foundation grant, according to the participants on the Hurand show. What happens next is not clear.

Does anyone wonder how Buncombe County managed to survive in the Dark Ages, before the advent of Vision, grants, consultants and facilitators? Do you reckon effective leadership might have had something to do with it?

— John D. Johnston, Jr.

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