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Staff Editorials

Things to be Thankful for

Far be it for a newspaper editorial writer to put on rose-colored glasses and declare all is well. But when you survey the landscape across Pickens County, any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that we’re mostly doing things right. Sure, the county has too many kids living below the poverty line and a few too many adults self-medicating with meth or opioids - We’re not immune from the societal ills that plague modern America.

But if you start a pro’s and con’s list, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. Right off the bat, consider that you are generally safe and secure in our small town environment. Stranger-on-stranger violent crime is practically non-existent in our newspaper in the past year.

When our police officers can spend a good bit of time handling geese problems at the park and take time to respond to calls about bears turning over garbage cans, you know we have crime more under control than most places.

You might also take note that we still have plenty of rural roads. Even though Main Street traffic is occasionally frustrating, it’s nothing compared to what happens in every metro county.

You might also peer out the window. Chances are you will see trees, maybe a mountain view, maybe a stream. Pickens’ mountains are not the grandest, nor our streams the biggest, but we certainly have more scenic beauty than a lot of places.

On top of all these basics here are a few things specific to the year thus far that deserve a nod.

• Football, more precisely the Dragons’ greatest season ever. There’s nothing that brings a town together like a great football season. So, many thanks to the 2018 PHS football team for an amazing year. Now that football season has wound down, fans can get out and support our PHS Dragons and Dragonettes basketball teams whose seasons are underway.

 

• And talking football,  the Dawgs are in the hunt again this year. Though a different sport, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recall that the Braves were a pleasant surprise all season. 

 

• Be thankful you have better things to do than spend time looking at a little screen seeing what other people are doing.

 

• Resources – whether its housing with Habitat for Humanity, food from CARES, funds or goods from the Thrift Store, books from the FERST Foundation or medical care from the Good Sam clinic, we’d wager than Pickens has more resources available per capita than anywhere in the world.  People must ultimately solve their own problems but here you’ll find plenty of people stretching out a hand to assist.

 

• We are thankful for the people who showed up at this year’s Veteran’s Day service despite the torrential downpour and really cold weather. On a day when county offices and banks were closed and many were taking advantage of an extra day to sleep in and rest, we are grateful so many people came to show their respect for what our local veterans have done for us. Standing in the rain that day, we were reminded that thousands upon thousands of veterans of our armed services have served our country in rain-soaked, cold trenches and thousands more are keeping our nation safe this holiday. 

 

• Laughter. Without laughter the world would be a sad place so thanks to groups like our very own Tater Patch Players for hosting improv nights and shows throughout the year that make us laugh - and sometimes cry. 

 

• Employment - Drive around any place in Jasper and check out our classifieds. There is plenty of work for those who want it. And not just low-paying work. There are very good jobs in our little county.

 

• The new Golden Age of Television - whether streaming through our TV screens or old school broadcast, there is plenty to watch.

 

• Holidays - Any reason to celebrate is something we should be thankful for and November and December are chock full of  time to be spent with family which is always a blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving from our staff

 

Yelling fire on a crowded internet

On 60 Minutes Sunday, there was a segment about the biggest tech companies, Facebook, Google and Amazon, collecting everyone’s data. As those interviewed explained with products like the Android phone from Google, the only way to use it is to agree in the very long user’s agreement that the company can store and use your data.

There is literally no other way to use the phones/ software or social media other than agreeing in legal jargon that you don’t mind what the company does in exchange.

The segment revealed that Facebook not only tracks data of its users, but, in at least some cases, kept all their messages, even those users thought were deleted. Some readers are probably getting nervous now when they realize that every single message ever sent on a Facebook app may be retrievable.

Maybe most frightening, the Amazon Alexa devices can keep listening to conversations which aren’t directed at it according to the Sunday night news show.

Shocking, because it is so obviously true, was a comment made by Jeffrey Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy. When asked did any of those corporate actions violate a law, his reply was, “There are no rules on the internet.”

Let that sink in. If you want to use an Alexa device, cell phone, or Facebook whatever information the company wants to collect and store in a data file about you is fair game. At this point, as far as most of us know, all the companies do with that information is target market the various ads and deals you receive based on your online profile. 

But the implications going forward are disturbing.

In a much closer-to-home scenario, our local schools (at least some parents and students) have been thrown into a degree of chaos over panics that developed online with fears that violence might unfold at a campus.

In the first recent incident, local people on social media picked up a threat that was real, without noticing it was aimed at the  Pickens, South Carolina high school, where a student was ultimately arrested. There was never a risk for Georgia, but enough people failed to notice the “S.C.” that school officials felt the need to  calm parents’ nerves by using their all-call phone system.

In the other incident, word of two teenagers verbally arguing last week got blown out of proportion, according to school officials. In the superintendent’s timeline, the flashpoint  was reached when a parent asked online if anyone knew about someone bringing a gun to school the next day, and that became widely circulated on social media.

We’d argue this is the modern equivalent of someone yelling fire in a crowded theater if they got the whiff of a cigarette. Our yelling fire analogy comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1919. If it is falsely yelled to cause panic, it’s illegal, but, not so clear are the repercussions if it’s yelled in earnest mistake or if it’s posted as a legitimate question.

Those who spread and blew out of proportion two kids arguing into a situation  requiring a six-person team of sheriff officers and school officials spending hours sorting it out last Thursday, assumedly didn’t yell it falsely. 

But as dearly departed Stan Lee, (creator of Spiderman) noted, “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” And when you have the ability to yell/post fire or gun (even if it’s a question about a gun at school) you also have the responsibility to see that a panic doesn’t ensue. The better way to handle school security concerns, as the superintendent states this week, is by privately reporting a potential threat to the school administrator, sheriff, central office or 911.

As much trouble as the posts caused, there are no rules that prevent someone from posing questions about guns in school on social media even if they totally made it up. As we are all learning:  There are no rules on the internet.

 

Can we keep ignoring the costs of major storms?

Just imagine you’re a passenger in a car and your spouse says, “don’t want to be a chicken little, but there could be something wrong with the brakes. Probably not, a bunch of mechanics told me there was a problem, but those guys might have just wanted to sell me something and a few other mechanics doubted the first mechanics, so who knows? Besides, it’s a long ways before we come to a stop sign.”

Switch this analogy to climate change. The majority of scientists believe it is occurring and is the result of what us humans are doing. Maybe they are wrong; maybe it’s a hoax; maybe the planet will correct itself or it’s a natural cycle; maybe there’s nothing we can do short of shutting down the whole economy to stave off the effects and we might as well get used to it.

But, just like with the brakes, considering the worst case scenarios - flooded coastal cities, disruptions with weather patterns and food systems, displaced people - shouldn’t we consider some basic maintenance? The old ounce of prevention idea.  People eat rigid diets, take blood pressure medicine and walk, not because they fear a heart attack that week, but because they take “one day” into account.

No one can directly tie the latest hurricane to climate change. But it’s long been thought that warmer oceans mean more and bigger storms. A Science Magazine article on sciencemag.org stated that hurricanes are directly tied to the surface temperature of the oceans and the warming Atlantic “will likely lead to even higher numbers of major hurricanes.” 

One of the key arguments against taking any action to address climate change is the cost. The federal government has rolled back fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and decreased regulations on industry, all in the name of economic growth. The economy is doing well.

But Hurricane Michael inflicted a heavy financial toll. According to Ga. Public Policy Foundation columnist Jeffrey H. Dorfman, “As of this writing, I estimate Georgia cotton growers suffered $550 million in losses. Worse, Georgia pecan growers suffered $560 million in lost crop, damaged and destroyed trees, and lost future income while waiting for replanted orchards to mature. Georgia vegetable farmers also suffered heavy losses, perhaps over $400 million. Topping even that, Georgia timber owners may have lost $1 billion, with 250,000 acres completely lost and 750,000 acres with varying levels of damage. Add in “smaller” losses, such as almost 100 chicken houses and 2 million chickens destroyed, plus damage to peanuts, soybeans, container nurseries and greenhouses, and the total losses in Georgia’s agricultural industry will almost surely exceed $2 billion.”

Agriculture is big business in Georgia. When you count related jobs like processing plants, paper and wood manufacturing, about one in 10 Georgians’ livelihoods is tied to our crops.

Aside from the crop losses in Georgia, the insurance claims for homes and businesses were estimated at another $1.5 billion (and rising) in damages.

In Dorfman’s column he noted this was an “unprecedented” storm. Maybe it was the worst, but certainly was not unprecedented. In fact, south Georgia suffered through Hurricane Irma in September 2017 when it was thought to have destroyed 30 percent of certain crops. And in 2016 Hurricane Matthew churned through in October causing somewhere around $90 million in damage in Georgia.

Rather than question how expensive addressing climate change might be, let’s compare it to the cost of doing nothing. 

There is no fiscal sense in continuing to ask for federal assistance to rebuild and replant in hurricane areas if we are doing nothing to reduce the risk of more and larger storms. It’s not about an environmental agenda, it’s about protecting our assets like crops and condos on the coast.

It may be that climate change turns out to be just a bunch of hot air, but with these kind of costs rolling up every year, it’s time to say “just in case, let’s take a look.”

 

Classrooms are no place for cell phones

Over the last week we’ve heard several school teachers describe the horrifying impact of cell phones on students in the classroom. These teachers used unsettling phrases like “epidemic” as they describe a drastic change they’ve seen with their students over the last few years. They trace the change back almost entirely to our kids’ cell phone, social media and technology use. These teachers we know, and others around the country, are literally begging parents to help them get a grip on a scourge that is destroying our kids’ minds and undermining their education. 

One teacher gave an alarming example – she told us creative writing was once the easy, fun lesson in class but that students these days have a hard time coming up with original ideas. During one creative writing assignment half the class couldn’t think of anything to write about.

“It’s like they don’t know how to imagine anymore,” she said. This teacher went on to describe the mood in the classroom when she asks kids to put their phones away. She said they get fidgety, “like drug addicts.” 

Other teachers talked about how much phones distract students in class (One teacher said she could “walk in juggling hamsters with her hair on fire” and students wouldn’t bat an eye), how they make kids mentally and physically lazy, how students don’t participate in events at the same levels they once were, and how phones and social media ramp up drama and cyberbullying in school. 

The argument that smart phones are a “tool for learning” is a dangerous one. In fact, cell phone use in school does the exact opposite - it puts students’ learning at risk and exposes them to more cyberbullying. Kids aren’t using their phones to find out which country sank the Lusitania – they’re Googling memes, taking selfies and sending each other photos.

It might surprise people that Silicon Valley parents  in the tech industry are exceedingly cautious about their kids’ use of phones/screens. Many ban them completely. In a New York Times article “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley,” a former Facebook executive assistant said, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

The article goes on to quote former Wired editor describing screens for kids as, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine,” being “closer to crack cocaine.” 

Other tech giants like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs also spoke publicly about severely limiting or prohibiting their kids’ screen and phone times – and study after study backs up their decisions. A 2016 London School of Economics study “found that schools which ban the use of phones experienced a substantial improvement in student test scores,” according to a Huffington Post article. 

Incidentally, many of these Silicon Valley parents - and parents of kids in the world’s top performing schools – keep technology out of the classroom all together, or strictly limit it.  

France recently banned cell phones in schools through eighth grade to boost concentration and reduce cyberbullying. NPR visited one school to see the results – the principal reported a radical “night and day” change. He said kids are friendlier, more polite, and interact more, and that administrators and students don’t have to deal with ramifications of harmful pictures circulating on social networks. 

We’ve heard there are moves to integrate more Chromebooks and move away from phones in class in some grade levels, but we think the local school system should ban cell phones from all classrooms and require they be kept in lockers during school hours. The system’s current policy that gives teachers the choice of whether or not kids use phones is, on the surface, reasonable – but it puts educators in the tough position of beating back the constant pressure from students.  

We can prepare our kids for the digital age without doing collateral damage to their minds. Parents and administrators should heed teachers’ cries for help and help keep phones out of class and  limit them outside class. Our kids and their futures – our collective futures - are at stake.     

 

Bring out your dead... or don’t

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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My husband just wrapped-up a production of Greater Tuna, an affectionate but satirical play that comments on small-town Southern life. In one funeral scene, two characters look over the dead body of a beloved judge.   

“Well don’t you think he looks nice?” Pearl asks. “I think he makes a lovely looking corpse, don’t you?”

After some contemplation and close examination of the body, Vera throws a wrench into unspoken Southern funeral etiquette.   

“One dead body just looks like another,” Vera says. “They look dead. And still.” (dramatic pause) “And waxy.”  

Anyone who has been to a funeral in a Southern town has heard – or has said themselves - things like, “He looks so natural, doesn’t he? So peaceful.” Or “Didn’t they do her makeup well? It looks just like her.”

With Halloween a few days away, death and the way we deal with the dead seemed an appropriately macabre topic. There’s no doubt we’ve been creative over the eons, engaging in everything from mummification, to Tibetan sky burials, cryonization, cremation, Viking ship burials, tree burials, Towers of Silence (Zoroastrians see the dead as unclean, and expose them to the elements until bodies are cleaned, then they put the bones in lye to dissolve), and the latest development in taking care of or disposing of a body – liquefaction.     

My husband and I were talking about the intriguing tendency to comment on the appearance of a corpse in the South, where no one dies but everyone “passes away,” and our conversation shifted to caskets and burial vaults. We reminisced about a family friend who was a grave digger, and who also (poetically) built and sold pine caskets, one of which he was buried in when he “passed.” My husband, who also wants to be buried in a pine box because burial vaults “rob you of returning to the earth” through decomposition, had a professor who blamed widespread use of burial vaults on lobbyists. Apparently in Georgia vaults are not required by law, but most cemeteries do require them for “perpetual maintenance of grounds.” People can be buried on their own land with a permit in whatever kind of casket or box they please, and can “go green” and not use a casket at all. Family of the deceased also don’t have to buy caskets from a funeral home, and the funeral homes have to use whatever casket you want.   

The thing I like so much about Southerners and their relationship with death is there is a kind of humor and closeness with it that was clearly seen in a Southern Living interview with etiquette experts and authors of Being Dead Is No Excuse, a ladies’ guide to hosting the perfect Southern funeral. The authors highlight a few staples of a Southern funeral – we like big funerals and love to attend them. The authors take issue with long obituaries, eulogies (“where people talk about how loyal the fanny pincher was”), paper products at receptions, and themed weddings that include things like camouflage coffins or carrying uncle John to the graveyard in a pickup truck. There’s also a definitive funeral reception cuisine, they say, where stuffed eggs and green bean casserole are okay, but ribs are absolutely not.

“Nobody dies better than a Southerner.”     

My husband likes to joke that when his father died it was during a brief period in his life that he had a mustache. The scene is hilarious. There he lay, in his casket, with a mustache that looked awkward and out of place. When I worked at a photo lab in high school I processed several rolls of deceased people in their casket. It’s interesting that outside of the U.S. open casket funerals are apparently a horrifying and unusual prospect.

Some of our traditions are dying out, like sitting up with the dead, but with the plethora of new and old traditions still going strong, death has options - we can go out open-casket style or be picked apart by birds in the Tibetan Sky Burial. 

We’re all going to die in this body, but there’s some comfort knowing none of us have the “right” way to go out figured out.