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Active activism
I've just finished reading Danielle Friedman's comment on Duke Against War's peace encampment [Triangles, "K-ville Makes Peace Tents Look Like Ghost Town," Feb. 26], and wish very much that I hadn't. In five paragraphs, Friedman leaps from a frank dismissal of local student activism--citing a campus group that she's taken 10 minutes to speak to--to a bizarre condemnation of the state of contemporary campus activism.

Is she looking for a job at the Times? In eight months of existence, the student group at Duke has transported over 200 students to national and local peace events (I myself chartered a bus of 50 to the national demonstrations last fall, while about 150 went this January); secured the opposition to war, in writing, of over 500 students (on a campus of 6,000); been covered for its events by every local media outlet; and brought street theater and organized dorm discussions to the entire campus. Had Friedman joined the contingent of buses leaving Chapel Hill and Durham this January for D.C., she would have seen both the involvement of this group, and the overwhelming interest of sister groups at UNC. Before labeling the work of these groups "a brief glance, a pause, a slight shift of opinion, a discussion," or "passive activism," I recommend you find a reporter willing to talk to the people organizing this work, and get some idea of what's really going on.
– Mark Higgins, Duke University, Durham

Quality of school life
Regarding Mr. Burtman's Feb. 26 article ["Building Blocks"] on efforts to site and design an urgently needed third high school for CHCCS, some of his comments concerning the motivations and attitudes of southern district residents and the advocacy group CATS (Citizens Advocating for a Third High School) are inaccurate. As a CATS representative and southern district parent, I would like to set the record straight.

There has never been an effort by either CATS or the majority of southern residents to lobby for a high school with "all the bells and whistles of a traditional campus." Yes, we have supported the concept of a "comprehensive school," meaning a school with a full complement of course offerings and activity options for students. With 1,500 high schoolers soon to be located south of Rt. 54 alone, we feel that they deserve the same educational opportunities afforded those at the other district high schools. However, we have clearly and repeatedly voiced our willingness to share a football stadium and, wherever practicable, other athletic fields with the community or other schools. We strongly support a building design with a smaller footprint and would like to see creative options employed to reduce on-site parking requirements.

Mr. Burtman proposes smaller or more specialized schools. Despite possible educational benefits, the school board rightly abandoned such options because, quite simply, space is imminently needed for 1,000-1,500 students, and two smaller schools are significantly more expensive than one large one. Similarly, transportation expenses associated with busing students from all over the district to specialty schools are prohibitive.

CATS members have consistently focused on helping to site and design a high school that both minimizes the cost to taxpayers and addresses important quality of life issues. We believe that cost considerations should include not only property and construction expenses, but also costs associated with additional infrastructure requirements (roads) and ongoing support (transportation costs). Quality of life issues for the community, including traffic control, air quality, safety, and commuting hours, have associated costs as well, both monetary and otherwise. Southern residents support the efforts of CATS not because they are "spoiled" and "used to getting their own way," but because these efforts make sense and are to the clear advantage of the entire district.
– Ava Nackman, Chapel Hill

Best scope of vision
Dan Coleman writes, yet again, of his disagreement with WCHL radio's list of 50 people "who made a difference" in Chapel Hill-Carrboro over the last half-century [First Person, "25 People Who Really Made a Difference in Chapel Hill," Feb. 19]. In his view, the list was too heavy on "mainstream movers and shakers." Then, for the second time, Dan offered us his list of "progressives" he felt were overlooked (the same basic article appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald on Jan. 25).

As the non-voting chairperson of the seven-member selection committee, I want to respond to this second volley. My response is that I agree with Dan's choices, as I often agree with him. Each WCHL committee member had a personal list, none of them the same. I agree with all those. I have a list myself, and I'm pretty sure I agree with that one too.

All of them are right, and none are. It's in the eye of the beholder. I think Dan understands this, because he acknowledges that his list is just his list, skewed by his experiences and biases. So is WCHL's. So is yours and mine.

What Dan seems not to understand is that the committee got it too. The six voting members generated 175 nominations, a number overlapping with Dan's. You could make a reasonable argument for any. The committee members regularly reminded me that it was "a" list, not "the" list. None ever thought of it as a "Top 50."

So Dan's disagreement is fair enough. But then he gave us this nonsense: "to name the most important people in a locality ... is invariably a political act. It is to promote certain values and to obscure others, to assert a place in history for some people and events, to deny it to others. ... Those (making such a list) claim for themselves the scope of vision needed to judge history and seek implicitly to tie their own stature to the achievement of those they presume to honor."

Sorry, but we were just making a list. If I thought I was accomplice to asserting someone's place in history, I would be paralyzed by the unbearable weight of the undertaking to which I was called. Also, I would have worn a tie to the meetings.

The suggestion that committee members were trying to "tie their own stature" to others is the only part of The Independent piece which angers me. None of these people asked for the job or were compensated, and none except me needs to bask in any reflected light. Although members were barred from voting for themselves (and none would have anyway), four of them--Sandy McClamroch, Lillian Lee, Roland Giduz and Rosemary Waldorf--were initially selected for the list by their colleagues. All four then withdrew their names. That, Dan, is stature, and they didn't need you to explain it to them first.

Trying to invest list-making with an illusory importance strikes me as cover to justify Dan's doing just one thing: responding with a byline, again. WCHL's list did not include enough people from Dan's particular crowd to suit him. And he has a vitally urgent opinion on the subject that must be shared over and over again until every last one of us finally gets it.

Dan, if you'll just let it go, then next time we'll all agree to let you name the names. But only if you're willing to claim the scope of vision needed to judge history.
– Paul Vancil, Chapel Hill

Ongoing dialogue
It speaks volumes about our upcoming war that arguments against it are consistently lucid, well-reasoned and factually solid, while arguments in favor of it are cartoonish, naive, and must fall back on vague jingoisms about "the greatest country in the world" [Back Talk, March 12].

Dave Stauffer's letter is too childish and devoid of actual content to bother rebutting. But Gerald Belton's raises at least two points that demand correction.

One: It's imprudent and shortsighted to bandy about the word "terrorist" so confidently. We do not get to separate the terrorists from the freedom fighters, history does. George Washington could have been considered a terrorist in his own time, yet history remembers him as a hero because he succeeded. Members of the IRA are branded terrorists in our national media for their actions against British incursion, but if they succeed, they will probably be deified like Washington. Terrorism is not an acceptable response to inequality, but let's not shit ourselves: Most events that have been viewed as "terrorist attacks" have not been the unprovoked lashings out of madmen, but frustrated and "last hope" sort of responses to structural and institutionalized violence.

Two: Belton avers that the first shot in this war was fired on Sept. 11. This is incredibly naive and wrong-headed. The attacks of Sept. 11 were committed by a small group of Islamic fundamentalists without any proven official ties to government. However, if they were connected to a government, it would certainly be Afghanistan's, not Iraq's. Belton seems to be one of the hawks still clinging to the belief that bin Laden and Hussein are in cahoots. Just because someone has dark skin, hates America and lives in the Middle East does not make them a religious fundamentalist. Hussein is a socialist and atheist; his Baath party is anti-clerical. Bin Laden has publicly referred to him as an "infidel." If we start to lump everyone who hates America's imperialist policies and arrogance into some camp of conspiracy, we'll have to go ahead and bomb Canada and Western Europe as well.
–Brian Howe, Chapel Hill

In response to Dave Stauffer's comments regarding Hal Crowther's "At the Twilight's Last Gleaming" [Back Talk, March 12]. Dave, you say, by way of Jack Nicholson, that "you can't live under the blanket of freedom and then question the manner in which it is provided." Well, I know that I am one of the less informed people on the planet but Dave, exactly when did they amend the Constitution? In stating that all liberals are "scared little men willing to ignore the problems in the world and refusing to fight or stand up for your country," you are partially right. In fact we/they are scared little men (with good reason), who are not only not ignoring the problems of the world but are standing up for our country by questioning its policies. And as for the "real men" who are protecting our sorry asses, to whom according to you we would "turn to in a time of crisis"--Dave, we are in a time of crisis and I don't think we are calling in these guys. By the way Dave, here is another zinger from Jack in A Few Good Men as he was being led off the brink for overstepping his authority, "You want the truth, you can't handle the truth."
–John Shoneman, Hillsborough

Twilight discussions
I just wanted to let you know that your recent article on GWB called "At the Twilight's Last Gleaming" [Hal Crowther, March 5] is a brilliant distillation of the problem and the threat of this aberrant administration, who in two short years has set us back politically, morally and (yes) even rhetorically more than 50 years. Congratulations on a splendid analysis. Keep it up.
–William H. Race, Chapel Hill

The conflict with Iraq is a complex affair and you do not do it justice by being jingoistic ["At the Twilight's Last Gleaming," March 5]. The issues are real and wanting them not to be does not change them. Spain, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and other former eastern European nations have publicly supported the U.S. administration on this. So, there are very good reasons to not go to war, but unless you want to claim those countries are merely the lapdogs of President Bush, there clearly are also very good reasons for a forceful action there. Do not insult the leaders of those countries by saying they are also crazy or in the pocket of Bush.

No one, not even Bush would choose war over a lasting just peace. So the issue really lies in what are the real choices here! Is it war vs. peace? Or is it war vs. a worse later war? In 1937, France and England thought they had a choice of war or peace after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. Hitler needed the war material production of Czechoslovakia for two years to run the planned war with the rest of Europe. England and France had the choice of war or war; war then or war when Germany was ready; very ready. They let Germany decide when that war was to be.

So does this apply in the present case of Iraq? The worst case scenario for no forceful action now is a Saddam armed with nukes and bio and chem and starting a new war using them as leverage to keep U.S. forces out of the conflict. The worst possible case is the oil fields of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar being nuked instead of just destroyed. Along with many dead, that would also be a world depression. Can you say that this likelihood is so low that it should not be considered? I think it should be considered. There is ample evidence of Saddam to consider it.

It still may not be likely enough to do anything about it, but that is exactly where part of the discussion belongs. Not in name calling or saying that anti-Muslim sentiment is running amok.

The other part of the discussion is also clearly the al-Qaeda connection. Despite what some say about the different nature of them, it is possible and even likely. Poland thought that same thing when Nazi Germany allied with the Soviet Union to invade and divide them. Saddam does clearly directly support terrorism by paying the families of the Palestinian suicide bombers. So this is also a discussion point.

My point is that it is a complex issue. I've thought about this and read more than anyone else I know, and currently I think force is needed, but it is not a strong conviction. There are good reasons to not go to war, they need to be discussed with reason and detachment, not with jingoes.

By the way, I disagree with almost every other Bush policy. I did not and will not ever vote for him. But that does not mean everything he does is wrong or motivated by things other than what he says.
– Mark Riggle, Durham

Talk Back
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