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River Rail shouldn't expand 

A disservice to religious dialogue

I read with great disappointment the cover article in the latest edition of the Times. When I first saw the cover on the website, I looked forward to reading Doug Smith's reporting on atheists in Arkansas in the hope that it would be more than the kind of shallow caricature we too often see in our statewide daily newspaper. My hopes were misplaced.

Smith's article portrays a community of nonbelievers as narrow in their worldview and intolerant of other ways of thinking as many religious and sectarian groups. In what appears at times to be an attempt to put their statements or beliefs in a witty tone, Smith succeeds only in making his interviewees appear smug and dismissive. Additionally, by attempting to contact only the most vitriolic and divisive figure he could find in the Christian religious community, Smith did precisely what his article implies that the religious community does to atheists; paint a whole community with a single brush. Had he bothered to make more than one phone call, Smith would likely have found that there are many in the religious community who both support the decision to allow the bus signs but also the state Capitol display. Even much of the "Statement of Principles" quoted in the article would find support among many religious people. 

As a religious professional (I am a Presbyterian pastor), I come across people who believe, disbelieve, wonder, struggle and even surrender and walk away from questions of faith. In my experience, believer or nonbeliever is not as important a distinction as some would have us believe. I know many good, ethical, generous, giving and deeply grounded people of faith and many who have no faith at all in the traditional sense. 

Smith's article does a disservice to any hope for dialogue between communities of belief and nonbelief. By reinforcing the stereotype that people of faith are intolerant of those who do not share our point of view and with his sloppy reporting painting a picture of people who do not have religious or spiritual belief as arrogant and intolerant in their own right, Smith buys into the dominant political culture of division and irreconcilable differences in society.   

To Smith's final dismissive paragraph, Jerry Cox may fear atheists but I do not. My faith is not based on anyone else agreeing or disagreeing with me. I, for one, believe in a God big enough to not feel threatened by a few billboards. The God in whom I believe is concerned with much bigger and more impactful things.

This was lazy and sloppy reporting at its worst. I expect better from the Times. You should be ashamed.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Wm. Lowry
Little Rock

River Rail shouldn't expand

I'm a lifelong resident of Little Rock. I worked in the downtown area starting in 1960, and intermittently until 1980. I witnessed the deterioration and decay of the downtown area, and the many unsuccessful attempts by the city to save this area.

Yes, it's true that there have been some successes in revitalizing downtown, but those efforts have been focused on tourism and entertainment, not retail trade. Attempts to create a population center of permanent residents have failed, as has any rebirth of a real retail trade area.

At the heart of this revitalization effort is River Rail, an expensive tourist attraction. It never was or will be a major transportation system. It's too slow and unpredictable to even serve the one-hour-for-lunch crowd in the downtown area. Now we have another study outlining the proposed expansion of River Rail.

I recently read where Jim McKenzie, Metroplan's executive director, said, "Nobody is talking about taking any money and expanding the streetcar [system] right now. In the future when it becomes appropriate to do, we'll know the cost, we'll know the route and we'll know where the stations ought to be."

May that appropriate day never come! If our politicians are serious about controlling our debt, then may the day never come when it is "appropriate to do so." The 55 percent of we Americans who still pay taxes saw over $20 million go toward this River Rail project in 2004. And we saw our financially strapped city government contribute money for its operation. Now we have a 90-page study that recommends an expansion that will cost over $100,000,000 to construct, and $1,000,000 annually to operate.

Do you really believe that spending $100,000,000 to take this trolley to Park Hill and Roosevelt Road will do any more for the economy than a couple of added bus routes? Will it ever be appropriate to spend $100,000,000 for this expansion? Logic says not.

Of course, this project changes dramatically if those developers who have been feeding on the city for years want to come up with private funds for this project. I'd love to meet one who's developing properties in the 17th and Main corridor down to Roosevelt Road.

Will we ever learn the difference between want and need? I have my doubts.

Don Shellabarger
Little Rock

Pryor shills for big oil

I was very disappointed to find in my mailbox a slick, glossy expensively-made flyer from Sen. Mark Pryor's office trying to sell me on reasons why major oil companies should keep their tax-free status and government subsidies.

According to the flyer, removing the subsidies would cost Arkansans jobs and usher in higher gas prices.

Not according to the Treasury Department, which found that removing these domestic subsidies would reduce U.S. oil production less than one half of one percent, and would increase exploration and production costs less than two percent.

Considering the price that the domestic industry receives for crude has more than doubled over the past several years, the industry should be able to afford that — without laying anyone off or jacking up the price at the pump.

The global oil market, not the domestic industry, determines gas prices. The Treasury Department estimates that subsidy removal would cause a loss of less than one tenth of one percent in global oil supply, and thus would have no impact on global or U.S. prices.

It saddens me to be reminded that, regardless of party affiliations, we still have the best politicians that money can buy.

Brad Bailey
Fayetteville

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