By Dan Pool
On February 17th, I spied a mother and daughter I know (who shall remain nameless to prevent embarrassment) hanging around one morning during school hours.
I inquired about the student taking a day off and the mother told me there was no school in Pickens that day.
I told her I was pretty sure there was as the middle school and high school my kids attend had seemed pretty busy.
Another person chimed in that they had definitely seen school buses making their rounds.
But the mother was sure there was no school as she had read it on Facebook the night before.
Uh-oh, we have a problem. A quick check revealed that she had in fact seen where schools were cancelled in Pickens County – Pickens, South Carolina. The cancellation announced by a Pickens news source in the Palmetto state had been spread around by several members of this community. The mother later told me she knew at least one other parent who gave their kids a snow day courtesy of the South Carolina report sneaking in to Peach state social media circles.
Not many people bother to include the state when they post news figuring that you are reaching mainly people nearby.
The problem online and especially for social media is what you see quickly becomes divorced from context. When items are shared, particularly when readers are scanning their feed on phones, they see only a few lines of text and a photo.
As the lesson here shows, it pays to trace back links and check the whole story.
Southern winters -- not much snow but a lot of ice
With winter weather in Pickens County and north Georgia we rarely get snow and never those hills like Frosty slides down. Here it’s mostly a nasty mush that turns to solid sheets of ice when the temperature drops at night.
As we quoted a weather professional saying last week, the temperature had hovered right around freezing so that a degree or two flicker made all the difference in whose trees became icicles and whose only got wet.
That ice storm was pretty typical for north Georgia – slick roads, poor sledding and power outages. The character of southern Appalachian winter shows why we have a lot of wrecks and no skiing – we get ice, not snow on most occasions.
One thing peculiar this year is how the state agencies are scrambling to hold briefings and issue alerts every 15 minutes. Some are needed, but we are clearly entering the territory of overreaction -- likely a result of last year’s infamously casual state approach to Atlanta’s Ice Jam.
The endless repetition of winter storm warnings/advisory/cautions/panics tends to make you disregard them – unless your milk and bread supplies are judged too paltry for a protracted siege.
In the face of newscasts that have “severe storm” reports on sunny days, you may be tempted to risk the roads and ignore the umpteenth winter storm advisory on your phone.
But, we’d urge caution. Keep in mind while most of us breezed through last week’s winter weather, folks nearer the Pickens/Dawson line spent several days without power.
And on Friday night, as soon as conditions hit the required precipitation and cold point, wreck calls started filling scanners. It wasn’t another snowjam, but if you were sitting on 5 percent propane or lacking a secondary heat source or were one of those drivers in a ditch, then it was a personal severe weather event.
There are infinite numbers of online resources for preparing for winter storms, www.ready.ga.gov being a good one.
But even in this world of Weatherbug and Dark Sky weather apps, common sense is still a key – don’t drive when your driveway is covered with snow/ice; have some extra food on hand and figure out a backup heat source ahead of time.
And for this winter, let’s hope this paper is the last to feature snow photos in Pickens County -- Georgia.
By Angela Reinhardt
I’m tired. I’m really, really tired.
But as much as I dread dragging through the rest of the day with glassy, burning eyes, staring into space like a porcelain doll, last night was worth it.
Some friends and I bit the bullet and bought tickets for the Wednesday evening production of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre at the Fox (the one on Peachtree in Atlanta). We’d hit a restaurant on Marietta Square
Ask anyone who drives a school bus why they do it and we would bet the majority would say for the benefits. That’s why we don’t see a good outcome if Governor Nathan Deal’s proposed cuts to healthcare for bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other “non-certified” school employees is passed by the legislature.
By Dan Pool , Editor
It was an interesting contrast on CNN the other day with a pediatrician discussing the medical reasons his patients should receive measles vaccinations and a mother discussing why she “believed” the shots posed risks.
The pediatrician cited facts some of which were also included in an article by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the CNN website. In that article, Dr. Gupta, an American neurosurgeon and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine and associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, said he hated to write an opinion piece on measles as what he had to say was fact.
Gupta noted vaccines have prevented 6 million deaths every year worldwide and have fundamentally changed modern medicine “The benefit of vaccines is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.”
Dr. Gupta continued, “That you are 100 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine that protects you against measles is not a matter of opinion.”
The mother for her argument explained that a friend had a child vaccinated and he had acted “funny” ever since -- nothing documented. There was a famous study from 1988 about a link between vaccines and autism, but that was later retracted as the author admitted to outright fabrication of research. He has since been striped of his medical credentials.
Later the same day I noticed on Facebook some comments that measles vaccines have killed more people than the disease over the past several years. Some cited the vaccine kill rate as high as 1,000 over the last three years.
My “BS” detector went on high alert on those claims. How could a vaccine kill more people than the disease itself? Seemed unlikely. Snopes.com (a website to debunk internet myths) was ahead of me in their skepticism. They had called that particular canard as “provably false.”
According to the research from that site, which generally cited either the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO), measles had killed fewer than 10 people since 2010 in the United States. But if you count worldwide deaths, “in 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day,” according to WHO.
UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Lions Club International all consider measles a fairly big threat worldwide. UNICEF predicted that 1.7 million children could die from the disease in the next 3 years without further action – vaccinations.
As to purported vaccine deaths, most cited a website for Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is a research site of sorts. But the website itself notes it relies on “passive reporting,” meaning anyone can send in reports which are not verified. The website does not hide how it operates and notes clearly, “No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report.”
On the other hand, the medical journal Pediatrics did a story where they screened 20,000 scientific titles and 67 papers on vaccine safety and concluded simply enough that vaccines are safe and work.
UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Red Cross, the Lions Club International and the United Nations Foundation are working to spread vaccines around the world. On the Lions Club International website, they cited one of their joint goals is “by the end of 2015 to reduce global measles deaths by at least 95 percent compared with 2000 levels.”
The areas where the groups are having trouble spreading the vaccines are places like Afghanistan -- poor, violent and lacking in educated populace.
Ironically, they may have to add to that list, particularly affluent, educated areas in the United States where parents are refusing to vaccinate their children because they “believe” that vaccines are harmful.
It used to be that a middle class family could pay their mortgage each month, pay the electric and water bills, go out to eat and for some entertainment (you know - before movies cost $45 for a family of four). Maybe even a vacation or two each year.
Those days, however, seem to be gone for many who consider themselves middle class.
The middle class is defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year but those households are shrinking at a quick pace. Recent research showed that 40 percent of American families live off $40,000 or less a year. Comparatively, a U.S. household with four people living off $23,850 or less is considered poor.