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October 2019
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Staff Editorials

Spread of child porn must be stopped

While the New York Times often bears the brunt of media criticism, their recent reporting on rampant and mostly uncontrollable child pornography deserves praise for bringing the vile problem into the forefront and the facts they uncovered should force lawmakers and law enforcement at all levels to take note and take action.

The investigative report (The Internet is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse. What Went Wrong?) which appeared on their NYTimes.com website earlier this month will leave you aghast at how big the epidemic of child pornography is. The Times found that last year technology companies reported 45 million photos and videos of child sexual abuse posted online. In 2008, the number was at one million and it was considered a crisis back then.

In 2008, Congress passed legislation that was supposed to bring this horrible situation under more scrutiny.  But it appears that after the legislation was passed, little was done and it got much, much worse. Among the Times’ findings:

• Law enforcement is so understaffed and underfunded that agents in state bureaus and large cities assigned to child sex crimes are forced to prioritize which cases they  handle and ignore others entirely.

One agent interviewed said it made him sick at night to know they were only addressing cases where they thought children might be in imminent danger or for only the very youngest children.

Another agent, in New Jersey, said based on statistics, their small task force could probably arrest 400,000 people if they had the time and resources to act on all the leads - obviously an impossible task.

Congress dedicated $60 million a year to fight child sexual abuse imagery but has never fully-funded that and rarely funds more than half that amount. 

• The images are mostly, but not always made overseas, then passed around globally, including in the U.S. on social media sites. The tech companies are required to report child exploitation photos if their employees see it, but are not required to look for it or take any further action. And in many cases, agents say that tech companies cooperate only to the barest minimum.

Hany Farid, who worked with Microsoft to develop technology in 2019 for detecting child sexual abuse material, said tech companies had not wanted to dig too deeply. “The companies knew the house was full of roaches, and they were scared to turn the lights on. And then when they did turn the lights on, it was worse than they thought.”

Tumblr and Snapchat were cited as the least cooperative with their inability to give timely response to law enforcement requests.

• New encryption software, including Facebook’s plans to encrypt Messenger, greatly allows criminal perverts to send and exchange files. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the threat in encrypting Messenger saying, “Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy but that includes the privacy of people doing bad things.”

• The Justice Department, charged about a decade ago to lead efforts to thwart the spread of sexual images of children, did little. Among their failings that the Times documented was never creating a senior level position to handle child exploitation cases, nor filing required reports on their strategy to address these crimes as congress sought.

Nor did they implement any increase in manpower. One agent interviewed said even if they doubled the agents assigned to child exploitation cases, they “would still be getting crushed.”

The reporting also found that the threat of crimes against children grows more widespread and with more gruesome abuse when perpetrators are able to join online forums such as Love Zone on the dark web. The site, according to the Times  had 30,000 members and encouraged them to become “producers” making images showing abuse.

Psychologists now believe there is a much stronger link than previously thought between viewing abusive images and committing abuse, which should frighten us all - recall it was 45 million images reported last year.

This is intolerable and inexcusable that our lawmakers and federal agencies can’t bring this disgusting crime under control.

A great time to be a sports fan

Some people may think SEC football, baseball playoffs or the surging popularity of the Atlanta United are about sports. They aren’t.

They are about people. Sports are about us coming together in our increasingly isolated, digital world and collectively rooting for one particular team - all of us together. It’s tribal. 

Whether you grew up watching the Braves on the Superstation or trekking over to Athens or even down to Bobby Dodd, sports are about togetherness.

Sporting events for the fans are as much about the social aspect of the game and as the sport itself. When you are tomahawk chopping with 40,000 others at SunTrust Park it’s magic. When it’s with a group gathered around a television it’s still pretty cool, but when you are by yourself on the couch it’s sort of silly - and please let us have plenty to chop about in Game 5.

Research tells us that there are real mental health advantages to claiming a sports team as our own (Go Dawgs). While our blood pressure may rise  when they start slow in Knoxville, the health benefits are far-reaching. Epic fandom is linked to higher levels of well-being and general happiness.

And what a great time to be a sports fan in Georgia. From the Braves post season (even when Acuna prefers to watch the ball instead of run) to what will hopefully be a historic season for the Georgia Bulldogs, sports are exciting. And, right here at home, our Dragons football team is again in the hunt for playoff action. Get down to Pickens High School and support all our high school athletes.

While most of us will never be like super fans Freeman and Betty Reese who missed their daughter’s wedding to see a University of Alabama game (they warned her), we can all cheer on our team win, lose, or draw. 

Bonding over sports - the highs and lows of the game - strengthens ties and gives us a sense of family. When we identify with a team we instantly build connections to those around us - and that hastens our overall wellbeing.

We are happy when our team wins and sad when they lose. Either way, it’s a diversion from regular life. When we are watching a batter or wide receiver, we aren’t thinking about that looming deadline at work.  

As a species,we have a strong need to belong and a need to identify with something greater than ourselves. Sports is a  fun way for people to do that. It doesn’t delve into the deeper meanings of life and that’s the whole point. There are times for deeper thoughts but not while a game is on the line.  The bonding we do with friends and others we meet while sitting in the stands cheering can bring us together and make us more than strangers that happen to live in the same area. 

While some of us may have more interest in the sporting event itself and what is happening between the yard markers, baselines or on the basketball court, a family or group of friends can just as well enjoy the conversation, the laughs, the highs and the lows of the competition.

Research shows us that maintaining a strong social network improves our chance of living longer by 50 percent - and who wouldn’t want that? Sharing good times with friends - like at a sporting event - can even reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease and help us cope with stress. So even if the team we’re pulling for loses, at least we have our friends or neighbors in the stands to cheer us up and help forget about it over some laughs. 

So find a spot for yourself in Dragon Stadium at their next home game and see what a fun and exciting time you can have cheering them on. 

Driving the RV issue

Damon Howell, Staff

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RVs provide all the comforts of home: bathroom, hot water, kitchen, air conditioning, furnace and shelter. They come fully functional and furnished— ready to live in, which is why they appeal to anyone needing immediate shelter. They’re perfect for people looking to downsize— RVs maximize use of low square footage in ways that manufactured homes (MH) don’t, like with cubby storage. Many RVers traded in conventional homes to declutter and adopted minimalism.

Building codes make a big deal out of energy consumption, and in ways RVs are more efficient than MHs: they take a fraction of the energy to heat/cool due to their small footprint; their refrigerators run on either electricity or propane; appliances/electronics are made to run on limited battery power; water faucets are made to rely on limited water supplies. 

Codes are more concerned with safety of occupants, you say? Park Model RVs may be as safe as manufactured homes, provided they’re raised on blocks and anchored to the ground in the same fashion. Fire issues are nearly non-existent, maybe because there's no room inside to retrofit a wood burning stove, as MH occupants so often do.

Small spaces are not for everyone and some people can barely get through a weekend camping trip because of their claustrophobia. But for others it's perfect, especially for a single person with limited money.

I've watched many YouTube’ers sharing their RV experiences. Throughout the years, I’ve heard a common sentiment: they don't want to be tied down to a traditional mortgage at this time in their lives. RVing frees up their money to spend on experiences. The younger generation has seen their parents and grandparents lose their homes far too often and can't justify following the same path to misery and regret. There's older folks too. Their reasons seem to follow the lines of post-divorce and lack of money. They can’t support the ex and kids and pay for a house at the same time. 

What about sewage disposal? The county told me RVs must be hooked up to septic systems, and that was the only requirement. Electricity? Thankfully RVs are made to be off-grid, so solar panels or a generator are the only options. Water supply? A well. 

The county doesn't want to be responsible in case of tragedy, right? Well, living in any structure, approved or not, is at the occupants own risk. Fires break out and trees fall on houses all the time. What if someone lived in an RV, a tree fell on it and killed that person? Would it be less tragic if they were killed in an approved MH? In this case, the county's preference for a code-compliant manufactured home is a moot point, because the approved code failed to meet its own intent to protect its occupant.

It is often said that RVs are not intended to be permanent dwellings. Although this statement is accurate, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not say it can’t be permanent. The National RV Dealers Association website says, "The laws and regulations governing the use of RVs are set at the state and especially at the local municipal and county levels, not by HUD. So the new rule [HUD requiring all RVs to be labeled as such] does not affect full-time recreational RVing in any way. And, "although RVs have always been specifically designed for recreational purposes, some states and localities do nevertheless permit people to live in RVs as a permanent residence." It sounds like it's up to us. I, for one, am for it. 

Lawmakers seem to fear that when they don't regulate something, then said thing will overwhelm their jurisdiction. Example: for decades Pickens didn't want Sunday alcohol sales, in fear that we'd have drunk drivers running over little old ladies at the crosswalk on their way to church. Pickens eventually allowed it and their fear turned out to be unfounded. All they were doing is making people who wanted to drink, drive to Cherokee and Cobb, giving those counties our much-needed tax money and creating long commutes for drunk drivers. Now look at what they have done with all that tax revenue that could have been ours. 

In the same way, if Pickens were to allow full-time RVing, chances are just about zero that our roadsides will become littered with 60-year-old trailers that have blue tarps on the roofs and overgrown grass surrounding them.

 

Newspapers are permanent record of life’s biggest moments

By Dan Pool, Editor

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A caller to our office recently, made the statement, “the first thing EVERYONE does is get up and look at Facebook.”

While Facebook may seem all-consuming, that statement is ridiculously far from true. In fact, according to the Pew Research group earlier this year, 69 percent of Americans had a Facebook account. The survey results, available  online, noted that number was barely up from the 68 percent in 2018 and the percent of Facebook accounts hadn’t increased any noticeable amount since 2016. Bear in mind, this 69 percent includes both the serious, several-times-a-day user and the guy who hasn’t checked his account in weeks.

The ability to post whatever you want, from political rants to goofy pet photos, all for free is clearly part of modern culture and I’ll not be the old curmudgeon print editor who argues otherwise.

There is one place, though, I am consistently amazed people don’t use traditional print newspapers more often and that is with the really important, substantial events of lives -- the births and weddings. We still get plenty of obituaries, but the tradition of putting birth and wedding announcements in the paper has all but vanished.

A journalism professor of mine at the University of Georgia would mention that most people make the paper three times: When you are born, when you get married and when you die.

Now many people will make the paper only once, when they die, if at all, as some families don’t publish obituaries.

I understand that Facebook offers a great spot to put up 47 baby photos welcoming a new child and you have the immediate gratification of watching the “likes” roll in.

Where many people are missing the boat is with the permanent record of something printed in a weekly newspaper. Newspapers have for well over a century maintained a public record that later generations can rely on as a trusted, accurate source of the people in a community. When was this person born? Who was listed as the grandparents? Did the wedding announcement from 50 years ago list the groom’s job? Or what about the names of the bridesmaids?

I realize that Facebook as a whole is not going anywhere, but what guarantee that your account and all your posts and photos are there to stay for the next 100 years? With hacked accounts and privacy issues are you sure the post about your child’s birth will be permanently there? I guarantee you once we print a newspaper with a birth announcement or  wedding photo, it’s there to stay. There are archives of every newspaper at several locations including at our office, the library, state archives, online archives.  And there are plenty of old copies folded up inside family Bibles or scrapbooks. Newspaper clippings someone from years ago wanted saved fill many drawers in grandparents’ houses.

I wonder if later generations will bemoan this time period as the black hole of public records when personal milestones were no longer saved. “We don’t really don’t know the grandparents of your grandmother because they didn’t get tagged in the Facebook post.”

The birth and wedding announcements on our People page (3B) are free. I encourage you to take advantage of them. One day someone may be grateful you kept a permanent record.

Dog-gone good news

Last week a message went out to volunteers with Be Paws We Care, a group that supports the local animal shelter by finding homes for shelter dogs. The message was simple: “There are five adoptable dogs at the shelter.” 

Five Adoptable Dogs! 

A truly amazing feat for a public county shelter that has, at times, been filled to capacity. There were more than five total dogs at the shelter because some were on “stray holds” where they are  held a certain number of days before being placed for adoption in case their owner showed up. Still, that low number is staggering. And, according to an article published recently in The New York Times, our local figures mirror those being seen nationally.

The Times reported that euthanasia rates at animal shelters in the country’s 20 biggest cities have plummeted by 75 percent since 2009. The reasons: spaying and neutering are becoming the norm and rescue adoption is growing in popularity.

In a world where there are so few “good” news stories, this is one to truly rejoice about. The Humane Society of the United States reports an estimated 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters now each year. While still a staggering number, consider that 13 million entered shelters in 1973 and you can see the progress.

Twenty years ago, Pickens Animal Rescue, another local volunteer rescue group that is still active today, spent a large amount of their donated funds on a spay/neuter campaign where they offered $25 spays and neuters to anyone who couldn’t afford the cost of the surgery. The impact of that program can be seen today in the lower number of stray dogs and cats in our county.  

Also, with the help of volunteer organizations like Be Paws We Care, who this year has placed close to 200 shelter dogs in homes or with rescues, more southern shelters like Pickens see their dogs adopted through rescue networks throughout the country, particularly up north. Local folks may be surprised to learn that Pickens dogs are transported through volunteer groups north into states with strict spay/neuter laws where the demand for rescued dogs and cats is greater. The only caveat: the animals must be out of the shelter and in a foster home for two weeks prior to transport. Recently, one local foster mom received numerous texts from a lady in Connecticut who was adopting a Pickens dog. She shared pictures of her soon-to-be-new-dog’s plush bed, fancy bowls, customized name tag and tennis balls for play time.

According to the Times, “while people used to hit pet shops for a pedigree puppy, bonding with a rescue animal has become the more humane and responsible option.” It’s become cool to talk about how you rescued your pup as opposed to buying a purebred dog through a breeder.

When an abandoned pet entered an animal shelter 10 years ago, according to the Times, there was a good chance it would not leave. Now, their chances are astronomically better. In Detroit, according to the Times article, the euthanasia rate dropped from 86% in 2012 to 31% in 2018. Dallas dropped from 65% in 2012 to 19 percent last year. Charlotte, North Carolina’s rate dropped from 59% to 27% and Houston from 57% to 15%.

While we hope for the day when animal shelters are no longer needed, this is one case where we can applaud Pickens County following the national trend.  

To further this great work, please consider supporting the Be Paws We Care fall fundraiser on October 19 at the Elk Overlook, 420 Elk Overlook, Talking Rock. There will be a silent auction and raffle. Tickets are $30 and are available at Sharp Top Catering or online at Eventbrite.com; search for Be-Paws We Care Fall in Love. To donate to the group, visit be-pawswecareinc.com/donate or mail your tax deductible donation to: Be Paws, 361 Oakland Drive, Talking Rock, Ga. 30175.

Update: As of press time there are only three dogs in the local shelter without a rescue group commitment.