Letters to the editor

What’s the rest of the story?

In reference to the Medford article [“What’s in a Name,” Nov. 17] and response [“Sheriff: Medford Article Was Spin and Innuendo,” Dec. 1], a reader who is not acquainted with the article’s author, nor with Sheriff Medford, can find it difficult to sort out facts and motivations.

I wondered whether the full body of the sheriff’s letter was printed, because the impressions created by what reached the pages of the Mountain Xpress is not what one would believe the sheriff would wish to convey. To say, “Were he not my son, no doubt your publication would be praising the fact that he is working, paying taxes, (etc.),” is too easily transformed in the mind of the public to “Were he not his son, he would not be working in the sheriff’s office, because prior events and the loss of his driver’s license would be expected to give other candidates for a taxpayer-supported job a decided edge.”

The public — which the chief law enforcement officer protects — would also be inclined to think of a person who has his driver’s license revoked as “paying” a price required by laws that protect us, rather than “suffering” the consequences of the law, which is a term commonly used when someone becomes victimized.

Perhaps the Mountain Xpress will print whatever may have been lost from the sheriff’s message, or possibly he will take the opportunity to clarify the matter further?

— Edward E. Loewe

[Editor’s note: Xpress did not remove even one quotation mark from the sheriff’s letter.]

Vincent’s era

So, Vincent’s Ear is closing. I took shelter in a house on Kenilworth Avenue during the blizzard of ’93, and Kristen Chambers, one of the residents, talked to me about her idea for a coffee house, to be called Vincent’s Ear. I thought it was a good idea but a peculiar name. When they got the space, I thought it was wonderful. I may have helped clean and paint, but that may be a wishful memory.

In any case, I was there opening night. With Rick and Joan Morris presiding, I was a regular, coming a couple of times a week, and always on Tuesday because Michael and Micah ran the place that night, each sexier than the other, each treating me as a kind of poet mascot genius-of-the-place. I paid for fewer drinks than I was given. Luckily, my tastes are cheap.

Bill Glasscock made me laugh, loud and sweet, the kind of a man John Cusack would play in the movies. What happened to the giant electric sailfish? Joan and Rick showed my whimsical plywood paintings on the Vincent’s wall, and almost once a week a call came that one had been sold to such-and-such patron.

Belonging for a while to the Vincent’s crowd made me happy. It made me feel I belonged to a group I never anticipated belonging to. When the crowd got younger and rougher, I liked that, too. I liked the grubby kids in their third-hand leather jackets and their multiple piercings. Their depressions could turn on a dime into mirth and laughter. I could come and sit in the corner with my tea, and watch. And though I never got much writing done there, some did, and I loved to see their radiant concentration, the look of application, sometimes of inspiration, spread across their brows.

My students did readings there. I participated in poetry slams when the room was packed to the ceiling. I sat and listened for ghosts when the place was empty but for me.

Well, the world flows on, and in the past two years, I have been to Vincent’s maybe 10 times. Still, on certain nights, in certain frames of mind, with Vincent’s gone, I won’t know where to go.

— David Hopes

Don’t stop Asheville’s magic

Vincent’s Ear is closing, being denied a new lease. I’m thinking about creativity, and about places where individuality and uniqueness are encouraged.

In December of 1986, I helped organize a winter solstice celebration on Lexington Avenue (before I even lived here). In true Asheville fashion, a space was donated free at a now-defunct dance school. The place filled miraculously with singers, dancers, and Lexington Avenue sparkled with magical lights, a portent of the creativity, the rich palette I was to find here.

This was a place that would say “yes” to the arts, and especially to new forms, new ways of expression. The Green Door in the funky basement of the Broadway Arts Building was always a welcoming venue. Vincent’s Ear became one of the new places — magic — where young people felt inspired and free to express in new ways.

Newness and creativity are messy, and not always safe. We aren’t sure how it will all turn out, but we trust. I’m thinking of how life might be in the new Wal-Mart development. You work, you eat and sleep, you buy. This is the way someone will plan life for you, as long as you earn money and spend it right there.

I don’t imagine magic will thrive there. Creativity is a unique ecosystem, needful of careful conservation. Be aware.

And thank you, Vincent’s Ear.

— Linda Metzner

Vincent’s has been a vibrant arts crossroads

I’m writing this letter in response to the news of the upcoming closing of Vincent’s Ear coffee shop. As a 10-year resident of Asheville, I’ve had many pleasant experiences in that establishment, and am deeply saddened to witness it being forced out of business.

I hope their landlord will become aware of the major contribution Vincent’s has made to the arts community of this city. Without it, many young musicians, visual artists and writers would have no place to meet, converse and share their work. Nor would the community be exposed to many of the international arts presentations that Vincent’s has attracted and presented throughout the years.

I fear that this is one of many examples of local property owners shortsightedly acting against their own best interests. If Asheville loses places like Vincent’s Ear, it will also lose the very elements that make our city so attractive to people from other areas: a thriving local arts community that respects and encourages diversity.

I hope other readers will get involved and contact Vincent’s Ear to see what they can do to help. Let’s stop the downtown property owners before they kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

— William Coonan

I’m stickin’ to the union

I’m sure that the [union] organizers who were beaten by police, arrested, framed up on false charges, and hanged in the first half of this century would disagree with [Tres Hundertmark’s] letter [“We’re Talking N.C., Not N.Y.,” Nov. 24].

Unions got us many of the things we take for granted (some of which we are starting to lose as unions disappear) — things like overtime, the eight-hour day, safe working conditions, and employer accountability.

A union doesn’t make people rude or apathetic. People make themselves that way. Perhaps I should have added that a union or cooperative could also offer training and set higher professional standards for its members. This would also take some of the training burden away from employers.

AIRA is a good organization … [and the] money they raised for flood victims is laudable. But they are an organization of owners. What I’m proposing is an organization of employees.

It’s a shame that the word “union” provokes such bad associations from people. Though some of them have been greedy and manipulative, most have been organizations aimed at getting workers the rights they deserved.

As Utah Phillips passed along in his stories, a union is “a way to get things done together that you can’t get done alone.”

— Sam Wardle

[Editor’s Note: Guest writer Sam Wardle is responding to Tres Hundertmark’s letter regarding his Nov. 3 Commentary, “Local Restaurant Workers Need A Union.”]

Reviewing Ken Hanke

Although he certainly doesn’t need it, I’d like to offer an apologia (defense) of Xpress movie reviewer Ken Hanke [“No Heart for Huckabees,” Nov. 24], in light of anger increasingly being the motivation of uncivil discourse these days, both written and verbal. First the general, then the specific.

1. An accomplished movie reviewer’s primary purpose is not to tell you whether a film is good or bad. No movie (or other art form) is good or bad in itself, but good or bad, pleasurable or unpleasurable, for a particular viewer. In other words, even if 98 percent of people think Ghandhi is a great film, despite the apparent consensus, it is still not a great film for that [remaining] 2 percent. So, the reviewer’s job is to enable you to tell from reading the review (as opposed to counting stars, as if somehow a film comes with them), whether or not it is going to be the kind of movie you would enjoy viewing. Most movie reviews are more about the wittiness of the reviewer and less about the film content. I can almost always tell from Mr. Hanke’s reviews whether a movie he loves is not for me, or vice versa, because he details the plot, discusses the writing level of the script, and then examines the acting level in terms of these.

2. Ken Hanke understands the history of cinema back to the silent era, and often brings into his reviews a discussion of the movie’s stylistic and narrative predecessors, even in genres I have no use for (like horror). You won’t find this outside of a college cinema class, and I appreciate learning something when I read.

3. Mr. Hanke loves movies. For anyone to sit through so many mostly mediocre movies and not become completely jaded with the genre is a testament to his devotion to his task. You can especially observe this in his frustration with a movie that could have been great for him, but falls short for whatever (usually commercial) reasons. He has an enthusiasm for the medium that is at times infectious.

As far as the movie in question goes, I Heart Huckabees, it was enjoyable to me precisely because it was sophisticated, required a pre-MTV attention span, and projected at least a half-dozen fleshed-out viewpoints which were all satirized and shown to have virtues (Rambo Christianity excepting). If the movie had a message, it might be that you have to find your own way to uncover meaning in your life amidst uncertainty, confusion and clamoring easy-answer philosophies and religions.

So I’d just like to give thanks for a little sophistication and complexity (in this case for both reviewer and movie) in a time where, increasingly, the public discourse is spearheaded by monochromatic bullies the likes of Hannity, O’ Reilly and Limbaugh — for whom volume is proportional to truth, disagreement is terrorism, and anger is seen as more virtuous than wisdom.

— Steve Crimi
Mars Hill

Grandma’s lesson is still haunting

I vividly recall my grandmother’s gloom-and-doom talk. She ranted about the impending end of time due to society’s cumulative sins. Condemning rock and roll got far more attention than praising her new Singer machine. It confused me when she quickly eliminated future generations, especially when I was sitting so close. At the earliest opportunity, I’d retreat to my bicycle and ride very fast, distancing myself from whatever her God had in mind. I promised I’d never speak of love and thunderbolts in the same breath.

Like others, I expected growing older to yield maturity, and maturity to generate understanding, and understanding to bring some measure of ease. It didn’t seem to happen, so I became an activist. Buses rolled, masses marched, wars were protested, Watergates were appalling. Silent majorities became mad zealots, compassionate conservatives grew religiously unjust, and disillusioned liberals grew timid and unrecognizable.

I hoped commitment to justice and peace would help wrestle need and greed from my (and human) hold. I never expected a Roy Rogers battle with black and white hats, but I never anticipated hatred and avarice to multiply so rapidly. At 63, I want to pass along an inheritance of optimism by remaining faithful to causes and open to change (except for computers and that Matrix thing).

Too often, I grow impatient and discouraged. Every once in a while, Armageddon-watchers tempt me. Listening, I feel a chill and an unseen presence shadowing me. Once again, I hear rants, judgments, condemnations and an abject poverty of hope. Lordy, lordy, it’s Grandma! And I’ve forgotten now whether it’s too early or too late for redemption!

Age has not made me wise. I just know that today, today I’ll celebrate kind words and just deeds. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow I’ll try to enhance — rather than diminish — my neighbor.

— Pat Farmer

Mars Hill grows nice roses

Not often do we get the opportunity in our fast-paced lives to “stop and smell the roses.” Mine came when my pickup truck quit on me on I-26 at Exit 15 on Nov. 13. God’s creations of the beautiful mountains between Irwin, Tenn., and Asheville, N.C., were the undoing of the fuel pump in the tank of my old truck. If one had a choice of where to break down, my first was — and would be again — Mars Hill, N.C.

The first good Samaritan I encountered was Roger Blankenship from Mountain Home. He picked me up [as I was] walking to the next exit, found me a tow on his cell phone, and stood by to make sure I got underway, even though he had business to attend to.

The service he called was Whitt’s Towing, whose very professional driver, Nathan Waldrop, had the truck and utility trailer loaded in no time and taken to a garage at Exit 13. Although they were closing, they were nice enough to put me in contact with someone who could work on the truck.

Tim Burchette out on Copper Hill Lane is one good mechanic! He found the problem, ordered parts, and had me on the road the next day. The old truck has never run better, nor stopped [better], due to some extra brake work he did. He will see my truck again if it needs work. His son gave me a ride into town, where I found some good food, friendly people and a neat college campus that really complements the town.

The icing on the cake was again getting picked up (unsolicited) by the good Samaritans, George and Dixie Redding, on my walk out of town back to my truck.

Even though I lost a day trying to move my fiancee from Columbus, Ga., to East Tennessee, I gained so much in crossing paths with the good people of Mars Hill. Bless you all!

— Ron Hannelsen
Elizabethton, Tenn.

All-American Wal-Mart is really made in China

Hopefully, Americans who lost their jobs to other countries saw the Nov. 16 Frontline TV report on Wal-Mart.

It clearly showed Wal-Mart is an outrageous dictator — the biggest capitalist who is driving small companies out of business, making huge profits using a new form of capitalistic slavery.

Dictating the prices producers can charge for their products to do business with Wal-Mart should be a crime. To match the prices Wal-Mart demands, the producers are forced to buy cheap-quality materials, fire high-paid, experienced workers [and] replace them with cheap, inexperienced labor. Producers have only two choices — either close their businesses; or, relocate them to China or other countries, where miserably paid people can be exploited and their governments subsidize it.

Will Americans ever realize what they are doing when spending their money on poor-quality, high-priced junk products made in China? America’s bad trade deficit would tremendously improve if Americans stopped buying imported junk. If big businesses (Wal-Mart) can’t sell [for] huge profit, they would stop importing.

Opening hamburger joints [and] coffee shops — and telling people all over the world to embrace American-style freedom and democracy — does not improve the American economy, and certainly does not bring home the bacon for the people here.

— Elli Cleber

Give N.C. something to crow about

I like what Bernard B. Carmen asks (suggests) in the last paragraph of his letter to the Mountain Xpress: “Asheville Should Arrest Marijuana Policy” [Nov. 17]. Sure might open some space in the Buncombe County Detention Center if a ballot initiative from local voters were passed to decriminalize marijuana. Moreover, it might defer a need for an additional jailhouse in downtown Asheville. Besides all of that, there is money to be made through a tax obligation that is currently not being fully complied with — the “unauthorized substances taxes” (N.C. General Statutes 105-113.105 through 105-113.113 at www.dor.state.nc.us/taxes/usub/substance.html).

When will our elected leaders use common sense about today’s world and listen to what so many people want from it? I am willing to lend my liberal voice to the subject of decriminalizing marijuana and providing medical marijuana to our region. I just don’t know how to get a ballot initiative started. Local growers would benefit by replacing revenue lost to tobacco wars; locally owned coffee shops could sell marijuana brownies along with their delicious blends of java; and sick people with any number of ailments might find comfort in the smoke. North Carolina most certainly would make the national news, being less criticized for its conservative reputation [and,] instead, lauded for its progressiveness. Who is next to the podium? Speak out!

— Michael J. Harney, Jr.

Sinclair is breaking bonds of trust

WLOS, as controlled by Sinclair Broadcast Group, has become a polarizing force in the greater Asheville community. …

The public airwaves are too important to allow the continued abuse by those who would pervert them for their own political agenda. Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman makes nightly “commentaries” which, especially during the last few months prior to the election, were — in my opinion — a violation of the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (prohibiting “electioneering communications” within 60 days of a general election). This type of action by WLOS serves to pour gasoline on the already burning fires of division in our country.

Earlier this year, Sinclair refused to air a show of Nightline with Ted Koppell because it was, in their political view, undermining the president’s war in Iraq. Just prior to the election, Sinclair made an attempt to air a propaganda piece defaming John Kerry. The orchestrated attempt to subvert the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 raised such an outcry locally and nationally that Sinclair backed down, but used the opportunity to show elements of the program as “news,” expound on its content, and flout the law.

Recently, Sinclair refused to show the movie (aired nationally by ABC) Saving Private Ryan, excusing their actions by saying they were afraid it violated the new FCC rules on obscenity. This seems a transparent lie when examined in context of their extremist political agenda.

When an institution which is essential to informing the public … is so blatantly co-opted by an extremist faction, the cords of trust which bind our society together are forced to break. I request the FCC do a complete and open investigation of Sinclair and WLOS actions leading up to the 2004 national election, and publish the results before considering any renewal of their license.

— James V. Frerotte

Did we learn from Capone?

I’m writing about Bernard C. Carman’s thoughtful letter: “Asheville Should Arrest Marijuana Policy” [Letters, Nov. 17].

I’ve been doing some thinking outside the box, so to speak, and I’ve started to suspect that many, if not most, of the most vocal so-called “drug warriors” are perhaps being paid by the drug cartels to keep the drug cartels in business.

The notorious gangster Al Capone made most of his money from alcohol prohibition. Capone often boasted that he “owned” the city of Chicago. Obviously, he didn’t own all of Chicago. However, most — or perhaps all — of the politicians and high-level police officials who ran the city were on his payroll.

Al Capone was a very successful businessman. I wonder if perhaps the drug cartels of today might be following his business model?

Usually, to understand why a counterproductive policy continues — follow the money.

— Kirk Muse
Mesa, Ariz.

Cannabis was no accident

Bernard B. Carman [“Asheville Should Arrest Marijuana Policy,” Nov. 17], got it right about cannabis being a “God-given plant.”

In fact, not only did God put it here, He said He created all the seed-bearing plants — and said they were all good — on literally the very first page of the Bible. That is no accident.

Re-legalize cannabis (kaneh bosm before the King James Version), because it is biblically correct. Obedient Christians do not say the table of the Lord is defiled or to be despised.

Biblically, it is time to stop caging humans for using a good, God-given plant.

— Stan White
Dillon, Colo.

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