Monthly Archives: June 2007

Heads Up, West Asheville

Another Asheville-specific post…

Via BlogAsheville, it looks like someone was robbed at gunpoint last night by the Wachovia on Haywood Road. As the blogger says: “Don’t be scared, just be aware.”

BlogAsheville post here.

Dateline Asheville: Partisan Election Controversy

Skip this post if you don’t live in Asheville, where our city is seeing a tremendous grassroots reaction to our city council’s recent decision to make municipal elections partisan. For the first time in 12 years, Ashevilleans will soon vote a city ticket in which candidates must declare a political affiliation.

I was surprised to note the loud and rowdy local response, with people seemingly coming out of the woodwork to oppose the move. At a visit to the local farmer’s market near my house, I was asked to sign a petition against the move to partisan elections. I told the woman with the clipboard that I had to educate myself on the change first before I signed anything.

Well, now I’ve thought about the issue, read about it and asked questions. And frankly, I couldn’t care less about it. I merely find myself disappointed that the issue that galvanizes so many fellow Ashevilleans isn’t something more meaningful. Our city is threatened by overdevelopment, with luxury high-rises slated to appear all over as working-class people are priced out of their own neighborhoods and available affordable housing dwindles. Already no one who works downtown can afford to live there, and gentrification is rampant. New downtown construction is never affordable housing or even hip retail space; it’s high-rise hotels and million-dollar condos.

Atlanta and parts of South Florida are already casualties of overdevelopment and gentrification. Our city faces the same fate, as well as the looming threat of our 400-million-year old mountains being randomly shaved bare of trees and dotted with 10-bedroom trophy mansions. That’ll sure improve the view, and can only enhance the joy and wonder I feel when I look around at the still-wild and beautiful part of the world that has nurtured my spirit for nearly 30 years. Look around you, those who share this amazing city with me. Unethical developers will have their way with us and our mountains if we don’t speak out. Me, when I look to the mountains, I want to see mountains. Who else has the power to stop overdevelopment in Asheville but the people of Asheville?

So far, this seems to me to be a classic instance of speak up or suffer the consequences, which for Asheville will be a substantial loss of scenic beauty, increased pollution, increased traffic, a compromised downtown skyline showing brand-new buildings rather than ancient mountains, higher property taxes and a downtown slowly losing its one-of-a-kind Asheville funkiness to big hotels, pricey restaurants and condos that lie owned but empty, waiting for their wealthy residents to spare a weekend away from their main residence.

I don’t hate wealthy people. I just hate my city being compromised to line the pockets and pander to the interests of those who do not hold its unique charm as dear as I do. And I will hate a downtown that caters far more to the wealthy than to the working-class majority.

My lesson from the partisan-elections issue is that there are better things for me to spend my time on.

Erm, the whole point of this post was supposed to be to point y’all to the excellent local political blog Scrutiny Hooligans, which has a typically fine summation of the partisan-election brouhaha. Read it here: Partisan Election Controversy — Long on Rhetoric, Short on Facts

And join the anti-development group PARC (People Advocating Real Conservancy) here, and get on the email list of (development watchdog group) the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods here.

This 1’s for the Math Nerds

Pyracantha of Electron Blue is cracking me up today…

I commend her for sticking to her studies. Only the bravest souls dare to teach themselves calculus and trig.

If you’ve ever dealt with the pure evil that is trigonomic identities, read this:

Ugh, Trigonometric Identities Again

Of all the mathematics I have yet done on my now seven-year journey, I have been least fond of trigonometry. And the part of trigonometry that I’ve disliked the most has been trigonometric identities. These are those arcane laws or perhaps descriptions of how one trigonometric feature is the same as two others in relationship. Or they describe the relationships between sines and cosines which are added or subtracted. There seems to be no end to them. I remember when I tried to work with them three years ago. The memory numbs the mind. I am sure that somewhere out there are math geeks who just LOVE trigonometric identities. But I’m not sure I want to have any contact with these people.

A Green Glass Tower 1,000 Feet Tall

According to Worldchanging and the Mother Jones science and health blog, the German architectural firm Gerber Architekten is planning a 68-story skyscraper in Dubai that will emit no CO2, be lit by natural light during the day, cool itself with wind power and supply all its own energy needs.

According to Der Speigel, the Burj al-Taqa (Energy Tower) will be “a giant 68-story building projected to rise to a lofty height of 322 meters (1,056 feet), which would make it number 22 on the list of the world’s tallest buildings.” The glass facade will be built from a new generation of vacuum glazing that will not even be available until 2008. As well as passive efficiency designs, the building will also include cutting edge strategies to generate its own electricity:

A 60-meter (197-feet) turbine on the tower roof and two photovoltaic facilities with a total area of 15,000 square meters (161,459 square feet) will produce sufficient electricity to meet the building’s needs. Additional energy is provided by an island of solar panels with an area of 17,000 square meters (182,986 square feet), which drifts in the sea within viewing distance of the tower.

The excess electricity will be used to obtain hydrogen from sea water by means of electrolysis. The hydrogen is then stored in special tanks. At night, the energy facility uses fuel cells to generate electricity, keeping the tower working through the hours of darkness. In the daytime, on the other hand, highly reflective mirrors on the roof direct the sunlight onto a cone of light that goes through the center of the building and provides its various floors with plenty of natural light.

The project still lacks investors and its true effectiveness in delivering on its energy promise remains unknown until it is actually built.

But it’s a beautiful idea whose ideas I would love to see tested.

Subtle Summer

I was having lunch with a friend the other day when I noted that I hadn’t done much this summer. She was quick to correct me. Of course I had — I had gotten to have lunch with her a lot, hadn’t I? And seen my friends a lot? Didn’t that count?

Good God. Of course it did! But I’m so into measurables, so into constantly educating myself (in school and out of it), so into always having to be doing something that is taking me somewhere. I had hardly thought to count fun and connection as having “done something.”

This summer I haven’t “done” much but work a little, relax in the evenings, and see my friends a lot. And unsurprisingly, it’s been my happiest summer in years.

I am learning what to do when left to my own devices. Apparently, when I actually dare to just do what I want to do, I will work and play in the information-fields of the internet as long as there is daylight, then clean my house and spend the dark-time before bed knitting and watching movies. If a friend invites me to dinner I will go; if she gives me a gardenia from her garden I will savor its fragrance for days, always thinking happily of her when I catch its lovely smell. Smelling a gardenia and thinking of the friend who snapped its stem and gave it to you — now that is a moment that a good life is made from.

I have no major accomplishments this summer. Or perhaps that’s completely wrong. I have done some good things. I have slowly learned to stop worrying about sailing my life forward, and turned inside to the needs of my heart and my sense of fun. I have had lunch with Lala a good 4 or 5 times, with more to come. I can actually go to parties that happen on weeknights, like my friend Laura’s 35th birthday potluck dinner bash tomorrow. I have knitted up a fine sock for a friend and started another pair, which I may give to a friend and may give to a man who attends my church who is in hospice care with cancer.

This man’s situation gave me pause. Like a lot of people who have remained partnerless in the long term, I deal with a level of aloneness and even loneliness that hardly anyone around me understands. (Thank God.) The dying man from my church is 86, and sent word to my pastor that he wished to have people call him at his home. He wanted to feel connected and to talk to someone.

Goodness knows I want the same thing sometimes (as so few people seem to understand well, it is quite strangely possible to have many friends, but still be quite overwhelmingly lonely in the endless quiet of your home). But I am not 86 with my life over, asking strangers to call me. No matter how unbearable your situation, someone always has it worse. I am reminded of a children’s book that my friend CCR once showed me when we worked together in a bookstore, Fortunately, Unfortunately.

Unfortunately it often happens, especially in summer, that I very much wish that I had someone to talk to about what I am seeing or thinking, and there is no one there but the cats.

Fortunately, I am not 86 and in hospice care, calling on strangers to reconnect me to the world.

You can talk yourself right out of most agonies with this fine trick:

Unfortunately I have let my health go for months, and feel more and more hopeless about being fit and athletic again as I grow older.

Fortunately I have taken back my health from worse straits, and know it can be done.

Unfortunately I have a dear friend of over two decades who suffers from depression and I have to sit and watch him turn into a dead-eyed stranger, feeling as helpless and stricken as if I watched him drown while my hands were tied.

Fortunately summer is still full of birdsong and peace, and I have other friends who care more both for me and for themselves. And where there is life there is hope, even for my friend, so changed.

Try CCR’s game sometime. There’s always a way to reframe your troubles. Even, it seems, the most nightmarish ones.

This week I am pep-talking myself to skip yardwork this Saturday and spend the whole damn day floating down a river in an innertube with a group of friends who are famous for their ability to have massive fun. If I can somehow bring a few copies of The Economist with me to read, this will be the best of both my worlds. :0) I want to be the person who floats down the French Broad with a big Ziploc bag of The Economist floating along behind my tube. It’s beer for the mind.

Perhaps I am starting at last to figure out the secret to a happy summer. Stop demanding so much of yourself and of life. Life is long and there will be time to write screenplays. For now fine movies beckon you to watch them, new music waits for you to find it, long and lovely playlists ache to be rearranged out of disorder into love and appreciation, and the cats would like you to scratch their chins as you lie with them in the summer grass.

Everyday Economic Enigmas

I love economics it for its strangeness, its mystery, its nonintuitiveness. I love how it combines chilly mathematical formality (complete with calculus-based modeling) with the outlandish irregularity of unpredictable human behavior. For like Soylent Green, that’s what markets are: people. Markets — being made of people — never behave as you think they will.

Penn and Teller once demonstrated that if you shoot a watermelon with a rifle, the melon actually jumps towards you, not away from you. Markets behave in the same nonintuitive ways, moving in queer directions all but opposite from where sense says they should go. Economics is a land of puzzles, a social science where people must figure out other people, where logic has all the answers but illogical creatures make all the moves.

I’ve begun reading the excellent Freakonomics blog, a blog dedicated to weird news from the world of economics. I loved today’s short piece on the new book The Econonomic Naturalist, in which a Cornell econ prof publishes the 500-word short answers his students supply to intruiging, real-world economics questions. No, these aren’t foolish “oh, those crazy freshmen” responses, but cogent and impressive answers from young ivy-league economists. Here’s one of the questions:

Why do brides spend so much money — often thousands of dollars — on wedding dresses they will never wear again, while grooms often rent cheap tuxedos, even though they will have many future occasions that call for one?

The answer is found here, in chapter 1 of the book, which I found online on the author’s website. (I read the whole first chapter online — it’s outstanding. Totally worth reading.)

The questions are not about the fate of nations, but are small, simple ones the author and his students find in “the wild,” in the everyday world. Why are there Braille dots on drive-up ATM machines? Why do female models earn so much more than male models? Why do 24-hour convenience stores have locks on their doors? Why does milk come in rectangular containers (jugs and cartons), while soda comes in round cans and bottles? Find interesting answers to all the above here and here (link to PDF file).

Little intellectual puzzles from a vast and a fascinating social science. Delicious stuff.

Oh, how I wish I could take a class from this man. I will have to settle for running out and buying this book at my earliest convenience…

Laugh Your Asheville Off

If you’re a stand-up comedy fan, please note that there’s a new comedy festival coming to town next month on the weekend before the dreaded Bele Chere.

If you’re NOT a comedy fan, please keep reading anyway. I’d love your help in spreading the word about this fest, since it was founded by two of my closest friends (Greg and Rowan) who sunk their savings into renting the Wortham and hiring comedian Todd Barry to come to Asheville.


Together these two took all their savings, rented the local theatre for two nights and paid a famous comedian to come to their town. (This is not cheap for anyone to do, much less an unemployed college student and her boyfriend the waiter.)

And the first annual Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival was born.

(Their friend Jen was relieved to note that their headlining comedian is actually funny.)


Official website

Todd Barry slings deliriously funny observations with a dry, squirrelly delivery tuned as tight as a mandolin…
– The Onion

Comedy albums that demand repeat listens are rare, ones that grow with each listen even rarer. Weird, rewarding, and a funny sort of unsettling.
– David Jeffries, All Music Guide


Download the free Rhapsody player and listen to Todd Barry here.

Also scheduled to appear: Johnny Millwater, Joe Zimmerman, Scott Oseychik, Mike Buczek, Carlos Valencia, Asheville’s own Brian “big B” Fox, Clint Nohr and Jelisa.

The First Annual Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival
Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place

Asheville, NC
July 19: 8PM
July 20: 7PM and 9:30PM
Tickets: $24 – $28
recommended for mature audiences 18+