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Staff Editorials

Jasper is just Jasper, thank goodness

Jasper is Jasper. It’s not Blue Ridge or Ellijay or Ball Ground. 

It gets tiresome to hear so often how many tourists flock to the other towns, and if Jasper did something differently we could be like them – as it’s incorrectly assumed everyone here wishes it to be.

The usual list of suggestions for local betterment include improving the road leading into downtown, developing progressive leadership, more attractive streetscapes, better signage on the four-lane, installing fancier night lighting, luring a tourist train to operate here or finding magic gnomes to cast spells on the courthouse lawn. If we just did the right combination of those things, then we might also become the type of town with fudge, olive oil and bike shops downtown.

Maybe someone out there has the formula to suddenly make the First Mountain City widely known as a place to visit. However, that seems improbable; Not impossible. We are not closed to new ideas, but if you believe changing the growth patterns along the Highway 515 corridor is as simple as sprucing up street corners, you are sorely underestimating the challenge.

Jasper is one of the finest places to hang your hat, but Jasper doesn’t appear to be a great place to visit -- as in be a tourist. It certainly doesn’t draw the crowds like our neighbors to the north. 

There is no definitive answer as to why tourists, weekend shoppers and even casual dinners are more attracted to areas both to the north and south.

But here are a few things that are different with Jasper.

• We aren’t truly a mountain county. We may have the first mountains you reach driving north from Atlanta, but you really need to move up the road another 30-40 miles to hit solid mountains. Burnt Mountain is nice to look at, but that’s about it for natural attractions. No public lakes, no national forest, no streams, very limited hiking. Without those assets you miss the cabin rental business, the rafters, the hikers, the trout-fisherman. You also miss the efforts that private business throws into marketing when their operation depends on steady visitors.

• We aren’t a metro county either. Cherokee and Forsyth counties may be booming now and when they fill up, whether we want it or not, the wave may reach Pickens. But there is plenty of open space to the south - witness the growth in Ball Ground. Metro-housing expansion may be an unstoppable force for change eventually, but not right now.

Perhaps we aren’t destined to be the type of place where out-of-towners flock on weekends, nor the type of place where 200-home subdivisions and new chain restaurants open weekly. But, just because tourists prefer to head further north doesn’t mean we have done something wrong.

And the fact that we have to drive 20 minutes (either north or south) to reach Chick-fil-a is a fine tradeoff for not sitting in traffic for 20 minutes to get on Highway 515 from Jasper.

In fact, we might do well to remember Jasper is a great place to live for a whole bunch of reasons: A small town where you can walk alone after dark and generally drive without congestion. It’s the type of town where if you stick around long enough you will learn the names of people in the stores, restaurants and out in the community. It’s a friendly town and rarely crowded.

That description in no way sounds like Blue Ridge or the former farming area along Highway 20 in Cherokee County, any longer. 

Rather than chasing a likely unobtainable goal of heavy tourism growth, it would be better to look at what makes Jasper such a great place to live and protect that.

Next time a disgruntled soul rambles on about how we aren’t busting at the seams with new businesses, the best answer might be “thank goodness.”

Famous wall failures in history

The political fight to build a wall across America’s southern border ignores one historical fact:  Walls don’t work. History is filled with examples of failed efforts to secure countries from barbarians, Mongols, Germans and Amorites with stone, rock, concrete and barbed wire. None were successful.

Here is a partial list:

• The Amorite Wall – (From History.com) -- During the 21st century B.C., the ancient Sumerians constructed what is known as the “Amorite Wall” (to keep out the Amorites) which stretched for over a hundred miles between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It failed when it was either over-ran or hostile nomads simply went around it.

• Hadrian’s Wall – Around 122 B.C. Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall to keep barbarians out of Roman controlled Britain. This wall stretched for 73 miles and may have served a purpose for many years, but eventually time and looting it for personal building materials led to its destruction in many areas.

• Great Wall of China – Made of different materials and in different styles it stretches for thousands of miles across China’s north. It was built over several hundreds of years (starting in the 3rd century and still under construction in the 1600s) with portions up to 25 feet tall and complete with watchtowers. Despite hundreds of years of construction, costing an untold number of lives (forced labor), the wall was ineffective as the Mongols bypassed it (some say from un-manned gates) and sacked Beijing in 1550. It was again busted through in 1644 by the Manchus ending the Ming Dynasty.

• The Maginot Line - A series of concrete fortifications built by France following World War I to deter invasion. It was declared a “work of genius” in the 1930s as the French felt they would be safe from all future German aggression. But it was based on their experience with trench warfare, and obviously served as little deterrent when World War II occurred as the Germans had also re-thought their tactics (From Wikipedia).

• The Berlin Wall – Built in 1961, History.com described it as “the Soviet-aligned East German government built a series of concrete partitions separating East and West Berlin. While Communist leaders claimed the barriers were designed to keep out fascists and other enemies of the state, their real function was to prevent East Germans from defecting to the West.” Many were killed trying to scale it, but thousands did succeed. It stood for 28 years before it was demolished to great excitement around the world.

 

There are several clear warnings from history of why walls fail. Even the Great Wall, so massive it can still be seen from the moon, and with China’s massive population and an emperor who could command and punish by lopping off heads, failed as they couldn’t keep it manned.

Other walls failed due to technology. The French felt they were so smart with their defense line to stop WWI-style invasions but found out that walls are static while tactics to go around them are fluid. In building a wall to secure a border, we are simply challenging those who want to come illegally to find another route – by sea, tunnels, falsified documents and tricks at airports. In fact, one common way that illegal workers end up illegal is by coming on visas through normal channels and then not leaving – something a wall wouldn’t deter. And the illegal drugs already arrive by cars on roads, evading detection at recognized checkpoints - something else a wall won’t deter.

At least one wall failed due to politics or became obsolete as people on both sides no longer wanted the Berlin Wall, a political lesson we might want to consider. It is sheer arrogance to believe that our American wall, proposed to cover 1,000 miles of the 2,000 mile border in some discussions, will buck the trend of history.

Regardless of your political views, the saying that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it is a hard fact to argue with. 

There’s a reason everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions to eat better: After December it’s needed

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

It started on Thanksgiving Day with turkey and dressing, pecan pie, pineapple casserole, sausage balls, homemade fudge and stuff that I have forgotten that I ate. It continued with the SEC Championship game which, of course, called for party food like wings, buffalo chicken dip, and bear chili. And then it went downhill (and I’m not just talking about the game itself!)

Late November and December are a minefield  for anyone prone to gluttony. Even non-overeater’s are seriously tested to forsake yogurt and salad for visions of sugar plums dancing in your head. 

What’s a person to do with the likes of white chocolate peanut butter Ritz cracker cookies,  M&M Christmas cookie bars, perfectly frosted sugar cookies, peanut brittle, and Christmas Oreo Pops making their way around the office? Every day leading up to Christmas, someone would graciously stop by our office with a sweet and sugary treat. It was wonderful, yet tragic for those of us - me - with zero willpower when it comes to sweets. 

According to WebMd, Americans average about 20 teaspoons of added sugars per day (surely it’s higher in the month of December). The recommended amount is just six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men.

Sugar tastes so good but negatively affects our bodies. WebMd says we get slammed with a huge surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine when we munch on sugar-laden treats.  It’s easy to get addicted to that feeling of having extra dopamine swirling around in our brains, especially around two in the afternoon.

Candy and cookies give us a quick burst of energy by raising our blood sugar levels fast. But when our levels drop, according to WebMd, as our cells absorb the sugar we can feel jittery and anxious - a.k.a. the dreaded “sugar crash.”

Along with giving us cavities, eating lots of sweets has been shown to worsen joint pain because of the inflammation they cause. Studies show that sugar consumption can increase our risk of rheumatoid arthritis.  

WebMd also says it makes our skin age faster. 

Teeth, joints, and skin. The list goes on and on. From liver damage to heart damage, pancreas and kidney damage, sugar’s effects are not sweet. 

The one negative we mostly notice, however, is weight. After the Thanksgiving through December onslaught of awesome -yet-horrible-for-us treats, lots of us promise to eat better and stay away from the bad stuff our body doesn’t like (even if our taste buds do). 

Unfortunately, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Whether we are trying to lose weight, quit smoking or promise ourselves to go for a  jog every day, only eight percent of us actually will, according to Forbes. Each new year, most of us, according to Patch.com, say we want to: stay fit and healthy (37 percent), lose weight (32 percent), enjoy life to the fullest (28 percent), spend less and save more (25 percent) and spend more time with family and friends (19 percent). 

So, while the likelihood of us doing any of those things long term is small, we should try. We need to pay the piper - at least for a little while - for our wretched December habits.

Toxic, misinformation, justice and nomophobia - words that define us

Sometimes it’s better to just not look in the mirror. Let the ugly truth exist without comment and hope it gets better.

That is the feeling we had reading the Words of The Year, chosen by the largest dictionary publishers for 2018. The words that represent 2018 were picked for their widespread use, sudden ubiquity or because the word wranglers felt they captured the mood of the planet. The choices are pessimistic but not inappropriate.

Oxford Dictionaries selected toxic as their word of the year; Dictionary.com chose misinformation; Merriam Webster went with justice and Cambridge Dictionary got all obscure by picking nomophobia. 

Each of the dictionaries offered reasons for their selection. Here is the gist of their comments:

 

Toxic – As most people know this is a word meaning poisonous. In explaining their selection the Oxford Dictionary folks said toxic is now being used to describe an array of events, emotions and situations. And their explanation noted it “reflect [s] the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

Their website (oxforddictionaries.com) saw a 45 percent increase in searches for  toxic over the past year and the metaphorical use of the word has become standard in phrases like toxic relationships or toxic environment.

 

Misinformation – Appropriately for the online dictionary.com, they chose this word for the rampant spread of misinformation and the new challenges it poses. As one speaker on a video about their selection states, “we have gone past the age of information and are now stalled in the age of misinformation.”

Dictionary.com defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” 

 

Justice – 74 percent more searches for  justice than in 2017 led Merriam Webster to select this word. They explained that searches spiked following media reports where the word and concept were at the center of debates and was used in conjunctions with “economic justice, racial justice, social justice and criminal justice.”  

Justice also popped up a lot as an abbreviation for the  Department of Justice, including several Tweets by the president, which saw dictionary searches follow.

The dictionary spokesman noted that justice might seem like a common word but familiar words for abstract concepts are among the most looked up words. Merriam Webster defines justice as  - “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”

 

Nomophobia – The British dictionary went 180 degrees opposite Merriam Webster by choosing a very unfamiliar word that describes a very common condition. Nomophobia means - “fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it.”

Nomophobia was chosen through a poll conducted by the dictionary. In announcing the top choice, the Cambridge editors stated, “Your choice, nomophobia, tells us that people around the world probably experience this type of anxiety enough that you recognized it needed a name!”

They also explained that the unease of being without a cell phone isn’t technically a phobia as it lacks the extreme fear of a true phobia.

According to their announcement, the word is a “blend” created by combining No Mo[bile] phobia. While it may seem new, their research found nomophobia used in records as early as 2008 and was added to the Cambridge online dictionary earlier this year.

Toxic, justice, misinformation and a  phobia that most of us have regarding our cell - not a cheery reflection of the past year. 

Here’s hoping that 2019 choices will be words like happy, healthy and wisdom.

 

What we need around here

We have no crystal ball and even if we did, we wouldn’t count on many of the following. But, what the heck, this is a time of wonder and magic and maybe a couple of our desires for the county in 2019 might come true. An editor can dream.

 

• Parks, parks, parks – For years we have begged for more recreational opportunities. The county’s own master plan for recreation from 2005 plainly calls for a whole new park.  The community center in Roper Park is the only significant advance in parks and rec. this county has made in 25 years and it opened in 2011 at a cost of $3 million; that’s not very recent and well shy of what the people of this county deserve. Our county ranks horribly among other counties (both smaller and larger) in park facilities. Maybe 2019 will see a change, but we won’t hold our breath.

 

• Incentives to attract desirable businesses – Any salesman will say you must have an incentive -- something to sweeten the pot so to speak. Neither Jasper nor Pickens County have any enticements – no tax abatements or special perks with fees or permits that might help solidify a deal with a new company. If someone shows up interested in bringing a new manufacturing operation to town or will fill a recognized need (a microbrewery/steakhouse in the old NAPA building) at the very least, we need something to offer.

•Someone to negotiate with the above enticements -  Our city/county operated without an economic developer for most of 2018, so it’s hard to guess exactly who would conduct negotiations on the public’s behalf with a potential new company. Maybe we didn’t miss any opportunities during the past year. We certainly aren’t advocating hiring an economic developer just to say we have one. This county needs a plan first or at least some discussion on economic development efforts. If there are no incentives or plans, then filling the position is of no significant benefit.

 

• A city manager to bring order to the Force – By the time you read this, the city of Jasper may have filled their first openly-advertised city manager job position. Working with paid consultants to find the right person, they attracted 39 applicants. Let’s hope whoever is hired can restore order to the Force, as they say in Star Wars, at least the Force that is city hall. If he/she is indeed a professional and experienced civic manager, we ask that the mayor and city council give their top person some breathing room. No reason to hire someone if the person is micro-managed and caught in a crossfire from day one.

 

• Separate the cows, chickens, rock concerts and wedding chapels  – It’s time for the county to re-think their land use codes, particularly the practice of using agricultural zonings as a catch-all category for everything from concert venues to wedding facilities. Common sense dictates that ag should be the most restrictive of zonings – quiet farm life. In the past year, we have seen planned public venues directed to the ag zoning and had a former planning director interpret the provisions so that shops of most any nature are legitimate in property identified as farm land. Neither dance floors nor tree house hotels come to mind when you think farms. It’s time to take a serious look at what constitutes agriculture or agro-tourism and where venues for wedding or concerts really belong.

 

• Let’s roll out a replacement for the Marble Festival – Not as a complaint about the Marble Festivals past, but looking to the future, let’s try something new. Shake things up, roll out new ideas/themes. For reasons no one can ever put their finger on, the county’s largest festival has never really grown, especially  compared to festivals in other north Georgia towns. Instead of further gradual tinkering, it’s time to shake those stones.