Letters to the editor

Culture Watch blind-sided Roberson

I appreciate your usual good judgment and decent arts-and-culture reportage, from which our organization and our members have often benefited. In fact, the existence of your newspaper itself was one reason that our organization chose Asheville as the host city for the Stoneleaf Theatre Festival. Our organization and many of our member organizations and individuals have been frequent advertisers in — and readers of — your newspaper. It was therefore with tremendous disappointment that I read Steve Shanafelt’s ill-considered and mean-spirited paragraph on the creation of a new theater-arts education program at TC Roberson High School [“Finally, Something Even Lamer Than the A.V. Club,” Oct. 11 Culture Watch].

If your paper has printed one piece of solid journalism recently on the state of arts education in North Carolina’s public schools, I have missed it. And believe me, my organization and others in Raleigh and statewide spend a great deal of time and money advocating for more and better arts programs in schools across the state — programs like the one begun at TC Roberson. I don’t have the time or space here to cite all the statistics about how arts education reduces school violence (you sure could have said a word about that, given recent events) and brings up test scores, but they are plentiful and compelling (see www.artsusa.org). How great [mentioning] that would have been, rather than you taking pot-shots at the high-school kids who had their acts together enough to send you the press release that you chose to throw back in their faces.

Our organization sponsors a statewide high-school play festival every fall, and [this year’s] kicked off with four regional sites, one at Western Carolina. … [If] you covered it, you saw some very dedicated kids and teachers working together and learning a lot, all through the vehicle of theater. Maybe you still think it’s lame, but that would be your fault, not theirs.

Reporting on culture in a city the size of Asheville need not be all cheerleading pablum and great reviews, but aim your snarky glance at someone your own size. Report on the professional theater, music and dance offerings in Asheville with the sharpest wit you can muster — we can take it. But leave the kids out of it, will you? They need all the support they can get.

— Terry Milner
Executive Director,
North Carolina Theatre Conference
Executive Producer,
Stoneleaf Theatre Festival

Steve Shanafelt responds: While I’ve already addressed this issue at length on the Xpress A&E Blog (www.mountainx.com/blogs/ae), I would like to say that the column was expressly poking fun at the program’s stated goal of turning out professionals in the fine arts, and said nothing negative about the students or the instructors. As far as needing to “pick on someone [my] own size” goes, I’d say that a publicly funded institution entrusted with preparing our youth might just have a little more sway than one cynical columnist.

The third degree

In spite of the beautiful foliage, October is the most solemn month in my spiritual tradition. Many of us spend the time from the Autumnal Equinox until the new year at Samhain thinking about loved ones who have died in the last year. We honor our ancestors by erecting detailed and heartbreaking altars — photos in sepia, bronzed baby booties, gold spectacles. We spend six weeks in an introspective state of mourning which will end with the coming of the third harvest festival, Samhain.

In the midst of this time of contemplation comes word that the country in which my family has resided since the early 17th century has decided that it is permissible to torture others of our species in order to keep some of the people “safe.” Ironic really, at this time of year. We remember, you see. My spiritual community honors and mourns the loss of those numberless “others” who were tortured and executed in the theocratic states of Europe during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We sometimes give this time period the evocative name “The Burning Times.” You see, we Witches remember what a real witch hunt was and is. We remember a time when the powerful preyed upon the weak, wielding a Bible in one hand and a fiery brand in the other. This was after the signing of Magna Carta, when a free people’s rights — including habeas corpus — were enumerated, writ large in a document that the president of my country has just rejected with the stroke of a pen.

Even with those rights in place — which, let me stress, is not the case today in America — women and some men were accused of witchcraft [and] tortured in ways that are still horrendous to read about, even in this age of violence as sport and entertainment. They were locked away and physically abused until they broke under the pain and gave up names of their families and neighbors as more fodder for the Inquisitional machines. We remember Sprenger and Kramer’s Malleus Malificarum, a book so popular that every judge kept a copy on his bench. A handy reference tool, this “Hammer of the Witches.” It gives us anecdotes about simple and weak people who somehow posed a threat to the combined power of these church-states, these theocracies. It gave permission for three degrees of torture — you do know that’s where the phrase “the third degree” comes from, don’t you? The third degree is torture to death, something that seems to be in the news with some regularity these days.

As we remember all this here in the time of final harvest, I also make this vow. Not in my name. Not now, not ever. Not even to keep me or my family safe. Because I am a student of history, and I remember.

— Byron Ballard

Wanna play chicken?

Have you noticed something missing for the last couple of weeks when driving down Merrimon Avenue?

If you’ve been wondering what happened to our dancing Chicken mascot, you are not alone. Many of our regular customers have asked us about this symbol of our small business, which has been open now for nearly 12 years, earning recognition at the local, state and national levels for our homemade baked goods and wood-roasted chicken.

Recently a representative of the city asked us to remove the Chicken from our sidewalk and parking lot, claiming that our mascot was a “walking sign” that violated signage ordinances. We asked the representative if removing the Chicken’s white-board sign advertising daily specials would comply, but were told that the Chicken itself was not allowed. We are unaware of any recent changes in the laws about what is allowed on our street, and so this questioning of our Chicken is a shock to us.

The young man who currently plays the part of the Chicken is himself a hard-working, enthusiastic salesperson both in and out of costume, as well as being a local performing artist. To refer to him as a “walking sign” is offensive; he is a living, breathing human being who enjoys displaying his creative spirit and pride in our products to the world, while bringing smiles to thousands of people who pass by each day.

Ironically, many of those smiles come from city employees in police cars, fire trucks and sanitation vehicles, all of whom frequently honk their horns and wave at our Chicken. Would this be the case if we truly were in violation? Is it the same contingency that recently wanted to silence the downtown drum circles, still trying to rein in the creative spirit that makes our town attractive to so many people?

Asheville is a city known for its artistic, eclectic, inclusive community. We believe our Chicken is a part of this fabric, representing a spirit of freedom, joy and pride in our small business. Our Chicken is also an important way for us to advertise what we are doing in this world, which is increasingly saturated with overwhelmingly expensive, franchise-dominated advertisements. After our 12 years of gradually growing success, why is our Chicken suddenly in jeopardy? We believe Asheville needs what the Chicken represents and less effort to rein in the creative entrepreneurial spirit.

— Ron Smith, Owner
PICNICS Restaurant

— Jason Martin

Take a hike, Jerry

I guess Jerry [Sternberg] thinks that words like “hip” and “newfangled” are insulting, but the fact is that the wave of the future is for cities to be designed for pedestrians first and cars second. [See “The Gospel According to Jerry: Round and Round We Go,” Oct. 11 Commentary.]

He should quit being so cranky about slowing down for kids, pets and seniors, and maybe buy a nice townhouse where he can stroll down to the grocery store.

— Jonah Rogin

Does state trump nation?

I am writing this in response to a problem with the Buncombe County court system. Rev. Christopher Chairamonte is in an ongoing battle to fight the banning of people from Asheville Parks and Recreation facilities. The public defender’s office not only has refused to make certain motions for his defense, but [he lost] his attorney in the middle of proceedings. On top of this, the judge refuses to assign another attorney and has refused to allow a jury trial — to which the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right — stating that the N.C. Constitution and law does not allow for a jury at the district court level. The judge then states that a jury trial may be allowed at the appeals stage.

Now herein lies the rub: First, does not [the] U.S. Constitution override the N.C. Constitution? Was this not established by the Civil War? Are we to assume that the state is superior to the nation? Second, in the first stage of criminal proceedings, it is up to the state to prove guilt, while at the appeals [level], the defendant has the burden of proving innocence. Have we come to the point when a city like Asheville is a law unto itself? Not only do “We the people” have no protection under Miranda rules in Buncombe County, but we also have no rights to a trial by a jury of our peers in a criminal proceeding. In this age of the PATRIOT Act, no-knock warrants, the “Peekaboo Act” and other questionable-at-best procedures, has the U.S. Constitution been abolished?

— Milford C. Weeks

The God in all life matters

Ever-vigilant animal-rights activist Terri David does not deserve vilification for speaking out [“No Peace Offered to Doves,” Sept. 20 Letters] against the ceremonial release of doves, which occurred recently downtown [to] commemorat[e] the launching of Gandhi’s nonviolent peace and justice movement.

Folks all around the world are waking up to the myriad and unconscionable abuses of animals and of this our sacred Earth. Seemingly innocent and harmless acts toward animals are increasingly realized to be cruel and unhealthy for all life.

I urge your readers to fully examine the startling ramifications of this abuse, which is perhaps best documented in John Robbins’ book, The Food Revolution.

The owner of those local doves proudly writes that “Mother Teresa and the late pope were each photographed releasing doves.” [“No Dove Left Behind,” Sept. 27] John Robbins tells how “At the Korean [Olympic] Games, many of the frightened and disoriented doves actually flew into the Olympic flame, with the result that the millions watching were treated with the less than inspiring spectacle of seeing the birds burned alive.”

Another letter on that same page [“There’s More Inconvenience to Truth,” Sept. 27] points out that even Al Gore is not comprehensive in his inconvenient movie, for he fails to mention the profound harm done to our environment by the meat and dairy industry, and how becoming a vegetarian is the single most important action a person can take to help curb global warming.

Please look into these matters, as if the God in all life matters. We must change our ways, or else we are doomed. Check out www.goveg.com/environment.asp.

— Ron Ogle

Going for broke

With this letter, I would like to take the opportunity to explain the state of our state.

We are now the highest-taxed state in the Southeast, with a 24 percent increase in the state budget [over] the last four years. To cover this increase in spending, the state increased our taxes by $650 million in the last term alone. According to the Civitas Institute, we had a $2.4 billion surplus that was spent — a surplus made of nonrecurring funds, but spent on recurring [expenses]. That means in January, the state will most likely increase taxes.

To avoid this, we need to elect people who support zero-based budgeting and a taxpayers’ bill of rights. These reforms would allow the legislature to look at the budget and start at zero, then restrict the budget to the rate of inflation and population growth. This would enable the legislature to cut waste from state departments.

We need to protect our trust funds from being raided, as well. According to [the Civitas Institute’s Web site] at jwpcivitasinstitute.org, the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by our gas tax, has had $3.4 billion diverted from it since its creation. Now the DOT is short on funds. If we protect our trust funds, our infrastructure can be maintained.

We need to end entitlements to illegal aliens. Current legislators will say that they have restricted access to drivers’ licenses, but we are still one of eight states that do not meet the federal Real ID Act, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The legislature did nothing to prevent illegal aliens from using our services such as schools, health care or even food stamps. We can and need to require citizenship for services received in our state, or our services will go broke.

We need a constitutional amendment restricting the use of eminent domain. Right now we have a general statute, but a statute does not bind future legislation from changing it. The only way to protect our property is with a constitutional amendment.

Finally, we need to elect ethical people to office. We now have a pay-to-play environment in Raleigh. Our Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Black is under federal investigation for illegal legislative and campaign activities. According to The Charlotte Observer, my opponent Bruce Goforth has received money from Black and from lobbyist[s]. He has stated in the Asheville Citizen-Times that he has not. It saddens me when elected officials mislead the people.

— Eric Gorny

Follow this leader

I have been a voter for 40 years. N.C. Rep. Susan Fisher is one of the most outstanding elected officials I have seen.

A year ago, I was on the opposite side of an issue from Rep. Fisher. I and a number of my friends contacted [her] and explained why we felt there was another, and very serious, perspective that a lot of us in the just plain, regular, general community felt was important.

Rep. Fisher actually listened to what we were saying, she and her staff did further analysis, and she modified her position. Not only that, but even as a freshman legislator, she also tried to make sure that others understood that there were community citizens with an alternative perspective on an issue that was already well along in the political process.

Susan Fisher is a gutsy, intelligent, energetic, highly ethical and honestly open-minded elected official. As far as I am concerned, she is a model for what I still hope all public officeholders would be.

— James Sheeler
West Asheville

Vote for clean energy

The Charles Taylor campaign is promoting him as a friend of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his years in Congress, Charles Taylor has voted with business and industry and against clean air and water, clean energy, the Endangered Species Act, fuel economy and public lands. The League of Conservation Voters, which is a highly respected nonprofit that educates citizens about the environmental voting records of all members of Congress, has given Mr. Taylor a dismal score of 6 percent. Based on his voting record, they have named him as one of their Dirty Dozen worst Congressional representatives, and they are urging that he be voted out of office.

Heath Shuler is the candidate that the League of Conservation Voters recommends as the best choice for protecting the environment in our mountains and elsewhere in our country. He is a charter member of the Friends of the Smokies. He will work to protect our national parks and national forests. Heath promises to oppose the Bush Administration in its efforts to weaken the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. His plan for energy is to provide market incentives and tax benefits for new and existing companies to expand the use of alternative, clean-energy programs, and to develop a program for the current century that is not written by Big Oil. Heath Shuler is committed to clean and renewable alternative energy to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

Heath Shuler is the candidate who is truly a friend of the environment.

— Kathryn Sherrard


A lesson in etiquette: Our Oct. 4 Campaign Calendar incorrectly identified Mark Martin, candidate for associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. Martin is an incumbent justice, not a judge.

Letter from the editors

Dear reader:

If you’re reading these words, odds are you found them in one of two places: on the page in this week’s Mountain Xpress, or online at www.mountainx.com. Either way, we’re glad you’re reading, and we’re happy to announce that our newspaper now offers more news and views than ever before — because we’ve started blogging.

To see what that means for you, point your browser to www.mountainx.com/blogs, where you’ll find our first three blogs: one devoted to news, another to arts and entertainment, and a third to featuring your voices, as they are heard each week in Xpress‘ ever-popular Letters section. And while our staff writers and editors will have plenty to say on our blogs, we’re hoping you will too — all of our blogs offer readers a chance to post comments, questions and news of their own.

And that’s not the only way Xpress is diversifying into other media. This month, A&E reporter Alli Marshall, along with local DJ Pat Ryan, launched a weekly radio feature on WOXL 96.5. Tune in every Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. for “Pat and Alli’s Hot Picks” — a rollicking preview of top local-entertainment suggestions for the upcoming weekend.

That’s all for now. We’ll see you in the papers … or in cyberspace or on the radio dial.

— The editors

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