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Staff Editorials

Too much too soon: Teens, sex and cyber bullying

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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     While I was home sick one day last week I got around to watching a documentary I’ve had in my queue since it was released in September - “Audrie & Daisy,” a Netflix original about teen sex abuse, social media and cyber bullying. As the opening credits rolled I realized this wasn’t the best film to perk up my spirits, but I kept watching anyway.
    The documentary follows the two stories of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, teen girls from different parts of the country who were sexually assaulted and harassed online and in person by classmates. Explicit photos of the girls taken while they were drunk to the point of unconsciousness circulated in their respective schools. Nasty comments were posted on social media, especially for Daisy after charges were filed against her assaulters. This public shaming - which is done just as much by girls as boys – led Audrie, 15, to take her life and sent Daisy, 14 at the time, into a spiral of depressive, self-destructive behavior. She tried to kill herself several times.
    The sheriff of Daisy’s small town in Missouri made the situation worse; he defended the guys who abused her –– older teens, one of which was a star football player and the grandson of a former state representative. Like a lot of victim-shamers he talks about women as attention seekers; how these boys, the “alleged” rapists, were trying to move on with their lives, implying Daisy wasn’t by dragging out a court case. The charges were dropped, but after public outcry that included the group Anonymous, the case was reopened and the main suspect sentenced to two years probation - a slap on the wrist.
     The film makes it all too clear that this kind of sexual abuse and bullying doesn’t only happen in college, but to kids in high school and even middle school, and can be tragically exacerbated by social media. A friend of Audrie, the girl who killed herself, talks about boys asking the most “developed” girls to text them naked pics in middle school.
    I understand that sexuality starts to blossom during teen years, which is natural, but our girls are way too sexualized way too soon. They’re almost groomed for it. After I finished “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary about the legal teen amateur porn industry popped up as a suggestion and I watched it, too. Apparently there’s an overwhelming demand; the word “teen” is the most popular word search on porn sites.
    Nancy Jo Sales points out in a Time article Social Media and the Secret Life of Teens: “Accompanying the boom in selfie culture is a rise in competitive spirit, as well as a disturbing trend of sexualization. Likes, hearts, swipes — validation is only a tap away. And one of the easiest ways to get that validation is by looking hot. Sex sells, whether you’re 13 or 35.”
    In a different article she says she spoke to girls who said, “’Social media is destroying our lives, but we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.’”
     We’ve all got friends who say things on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that they’d never say to anyone’s face, which makes those forums frightening when it comes to our hormone-driven teens. Bullies are emboldened because they can hide behind their computer; they can be anonymous; explicit images can go viral; and there can be serious legal consequences if things go wrong.
     By the end of the afternoon I was left speechless, with a punched-in-the-gut feeling thinking about my kids – an eight-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy – and the challenges ahead. I have a newfound resolve to talk to my daughter about how to respect herself, and just as important a resolve to talk to my son about how to be a respectable man. Just like Daisy’s brother had written above his workout station, “Monsters aren’t born, they’re made.” 
    Social media isn’t going away, and as “Audrie & Daisy” shows it can be a vehicle for positive change, connection and healing – but in the words of musician Tori Amos who wrote a song for the documentary, we need to teach our kids emotional intelligence along with tech skills so they can “protect themselves and not hurt each other, and to realize how they’re hurting each other.”

Road rage incidents increasing and deadly

    On December 17, an enraged driver fired into a car occupied by a set of Pickens grandparents who had a grandchild in the back. Apparently they had pulled out in front of the other vehicle.
    On that same day a Little Rock, Ark. man shot at a vehicle, killing a 3-year-old in the backseat. The child bled to death in the car driven by his grandmother.
    A few days later, Google shows that two Orlando men were wounded when some driving infraction led another motorist to follow them and open fire.
    The incident with the Pickens couple is not the first here. On December 28, 2015, a wanted felon shot out the back window of a car driven by a Jasper woman with a pellet-pistol as she was driving too slowly for him during a torrential downpour.
    In July of 2015 a wild scene unfolded at our RaceTrac when a driver circled the pumps shooting at another car which had a infant inside, because he didn’t like the way they were driving. At least two other basic road rage stories were found in our files.
    Nationally, statistics show road rage cases are increasing, though few sources differentiate between those with shots fired and others such as ramming a vehicle or a simple fist-fight. In an article copyrighted 2016, SafeMotorist.com found that over a seven-year period, 218 murders and 12,610 injuries were attributed to road rage.
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded fewer than 50 road rage cases in 2004. That number grew to almost 250 cases in 2014.
    Experts say it’s hard to know exactly what goes on in the mind of someone so angry they try to harm another motorist.
    Local counselor Robin Dunn said those who commit road rage are often either not emotionally mature or are actually sociopathic. He said the emotionally immature may feel they have been disrespected and need to “teach you a lesson,” which can range from basic obscene gestures to violence.
    The road rage cases by drivers with antisocial or sociopathic tendencies are much more dangerous as they intend to injure the person who angered them.
    Dunn said especially for the sociopathic road rage cases, fear of punishment or concerns of injuring innocent bystanders wouldn’t be a factor in their thinking, and thus not a deterrent.
    If you are on the receiving end of an irate driver, let them go on down the road if possible. But if you do end up in an encounter, particularly with someone who is clearly irrational, trying to talk to them won’t work, Dunn cautioned.  Don’t roll down your window or get out of your vehicle. Do call 911. “You never know what frame of mind the other driver is in and whether they might have a weapon. Trying to protect your ego if someone is disrespecting you could result in serious injury or death and is in no way worth the risk,” Dunn wrote in an e-mail.
    Dunn said people who commit road rage would not likely acknowledge they have an emotional problem so there is little they could do to address their own issue.
    Dunn offered a couple of suggestions for anyone who regularly gets near the road rage point: Leave early to not feel stressed; Get plenty of sleep as research has shown a connection between lack of sleep and road rage and to pull over if you know your blood is boiling before you do something you will regret.
    Carlton Wilson, a long time local NRA instructor, said shooting from a car at another car is “hugely, hugely” dangerous. He said that should be recognizable by all responsible gunowners. Futhermore, Wilson pointed out that when a bullet hits a car, even if the shooter didn’t mean to kill anyone, fragments of the bullet, metal and glass go flying inside, any of which could be deadly.
    Anyone who has ever gone ballistic on the road might want to think about the words of the person who called 911 in Arkansas last month, “This little kid’s been shot.”
    Getting even with that guy who cut you off isn’t worth the consequences.

The civil war of the mind

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    I know what it’s like to feel depressed. I know what it’s like to feel insecure and anxious. They’re unwanted, nasty characters that show up sometimes, like I imagine they do for most people. When I feel blue, I remind myself I’m caught up in irrational emotions that always pass – and they always do.
    But last week it became clear that my own experiences with depression are mere slivers of a dark and expansive world for others. When it comes down to it, what I’m feeling is basic human turmoil that can be treated with meditation and prayer, exercise, and sunshine. But for people like my sister’s friend who took her own life last Monday, the depression, despondency and feelings of worthlessness go so much deeper than I’ve known. For some people, these feelings are always there, informing every moment.
    I guess like a lot of things in this life we don’t empathize until something hits close to home. I’ve never even met my sister’s friend, but I saw my sister grieve for the first time and saw her feel confused and guilty. I was haunted by the circumstances that led to this tragic outcome. I never get personal on Facebook, but after I realized how desensitized to suicide I had become, I wrote a post to encourage myself and other people to pay more attention and to reach out, even though I realize we might not be able to change the outcome.
    Over the next day or so I received messages from a heartbreaking number of people who had a child, a parent or a friend take their life. I got messages from people who know a person struggling with this “civil war” of the mind, as one eulogist calls it, and messages from others struggling on their own. Before last week I had no idea how pervasive suicide is – right now it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 15-35, the same age group as my sister’s friend.  The suicide rate has risen by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, when 42,773 people decided life wasn’t worth living anymore. That number doesn’t even include the 469,096 who were treated for self-inflicted injuries in the same year.
    While I hadn’t consciously considered it, I think I reserved suicide for celebrities, junkies and a handful of rare, exceptionally depressed people. How did I not realize this is a borderline epidemic? I didn’t know because I wasn’t paying attention, and because suicide is stigmatized, just like the mental health illnesses that often lead to it, so the problem is shoved in a dark corner, hidden.
    Years ago I was covering a story on a fire station’s new heat vision goggles. Through the goggles my handprint lingered on things I touched because I could see the heat of my hand, which was naked to the human eye. Mental illness is like heat and other invisible energies -  it’s there influencing all kinds of things, but most of the time we don’t see it.
    It’s unfortunate that because of stigma and views on ethics of death, people who need help don’t seek it, and those who follow through are too often called selfish or weak or sinners, judged for taking the easy way out or for playing God. In reality, most people are scared of dying and go to great lengths to avoid it. We can see that in medicine as life extension. Stints.  Chemo. Why do we judge so hard?
    I know this isn’t the most cheery of topics for the holidays, but suicide is an issue all year long (actually, November and December have the lowest rate of suicide, contrary to the widespread myth). What do we do? No one has a true answer, but I think if we can be more sensitive and extend some sympathy, then we can help.
    In honor of all the suffering, in honor of those who couldn’t take it a second longer, and in honor of their families, let’s please let them know they’re supported and loved. Life can be hard, but we can help each other.

What we’d like to see happen in 2017

Give us a sign – For several years we have editorialized about (and business leaders have asked for) some type of attractive intersection at Highway 515 and Highway 53. Maybe an improved median with plants, trees, an arrow pointing to downtown and other features to let people know they’re in Jasper when they hit that spot on the fourlane. Both Ellijay and Blue Ridge have these types of medians and they do well for tourism.

Don’t Facebook, Be Happy – Several studies have shown that people who are heavy social media users are less likely to report being happy. One recent study from the Happiness Research Institute found that Facebook users may be up to 39 percent less happy than non- FB’ers. Apparently the never-ending cascade of photos of other people enjoying themselves make people feel their lives don’t measure up, according to a Psychology Today study. Of course, the cause and effect could be backwards - people who are already unhappy tend to use FB more. Either way, this year try more face-to-face time or read a book.

Cut it out -– Commissioner Rob Jones and Pickens County government, we are saying it loud and clear and early - we don’t want another massive tax hike this year. In fact, we want cuts. Every year at budget setting time the county trots out some lame excuse as to why they sure would like to cut spending, but just can’t – much like the captain of the Titanic with that iceberg. Start early this year and make cuts.

Fewer legend deaths – We’re not celebrity crazy, but 2016 took the lives of some of the most iconic, influential performers of our generation - Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Glen Frey, Greg Lake AND Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and many others - we’d like 2017 to be kinder to our living legends.

Fill the buildings - According to some regional real estate professionals, Pickens is not only falling behind Cherokee and Forsyth attracting new growth, but Dawson is quickly advancing while we spin our wheels. We need a renewed focus on economic development, particularly looking at what the other counties offer in terms of incentives, tax abatements and perks. What we are currently doing in Jasper and Pickens County is not working - too many empty spaces sitting around Jasper’s main street.

Rain – While things have been damp lately, we are still in the midst of a serious drought and only regular rainy days will do the trick - and we’re talking several days of deep, drenching rain. According to the United States Drought Monitor, we remain in an “exceptional drought” and the La Nina weather pattern we are experiencing this year doesn’t look good for bringing us rain, but we can always hope.

Marble Fest revamp – After he was hired as the  Chamber of Commerce Executive Director this year, Gerry Nechvatal said the Georgia Marble Festival is stale and he wants to see changes made to the annual event. We couldn’t agree more and can’t wait to see what Nechvatal and other organizers do to make the Marble Festival more exciting and a draw for people who don’t live in the county. We know all the changes might not happen in one year but we applaud them for getting the ball rolling.

Trump to succeed - Not everyone supports President-elect Donald Trump, but everyone should want him and his team to do well next year for the good of the country. We are all counting on it, quite literally.

    We’d also like 2017 to be a year of more kindness; and for us to have more concern for the work we need to do close to home to make our world a better place.

Amount of wasted food in America is disgraceful

    If you are like the average American and have had your office/group Christmas party already, then you probably threw away enough green bean casserole, store-bought sugar cookies and potato salad to fill a trash can.   
    Most modern American families tossed enough Thanksgiving leftovers to make the bellies of a third-world family bulge for a week.
    About the only concern we have for the broccoli and ham leftovers is hoping the neighbor’s dogs don’t get into the garbage.
    While it is most evident during the holidays, the problem of food waste is a whole lot bigger than what to do with week-old turkey.
    According to a statement by the EPA and Department of Agriculture, “Food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers and has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change.”
    The federal agencies called for a 50-percent reduction in wasted food by 2030. A sizeable portion of the waste are crops that go directly from field to dump, which brings up a tangled mess of issues like farm subsidies, trade and, oddly enough, what happens to ugly apples.    
    The USDA believes one driving force in the waste has been the stream of images of beautiful fruit/veggies dating back to the earliest days of color advertising that has left Americans squeamish of perfectly healthy potatoes or squash that don’t mature in the ideal shape/color. Most grocery distributors don’t even bring ugly fruit to market. Other than lightening up some on how we select produce, there isn’t much an average American can do to tackle the big picture of industrial produce waste.
    On the consumer side, however, cutting down on food waste increases your bank account. The USDA estimates the average family trashes $1,500 to $1,600 in groceries every year.
    In a simpler global market, one could pontificate about how all the wasted lettuce and tomatoes might feed the hungry. But the real obstacle isn’t cleaning our plates because there are kids starving in Korea - It’s the logistics of getting surplus food to hungry people that creates the challenge. You can’t easily bring ears of unsold corn from Kansas to downtown Atlanta.
    It is a shame that so much food goes to waste while people go hungry and it’s encouraging to see the USDA recognizing the problem, even if the next steps aren’t obvious. They have calculated just 15 percent of the current waste would feed 25 million Americans - about 42 million Americans are judged “food insecure.”
    A secondary effect of the wasted grub is landfill space. Food takes up more space in American landfills than any other items, according to the EPA.
    It is disgraceful when you think of all the labor, time and resources that went into producing food and then think of all the additional, and thoroughly wasted effort, in hauling it to stores, only to have it then reloaded and hauled to a dump.
    On a personal level, calculate your loss of time/money going to the store, buying something, letting it crowd the fridge for a while, then putting it in a garbage bag and hauling it to the curb or dump and paying to dispose of it.
    To cut down on waste at home, the USDA offers some obvious suggestions involving lists and honest assessments of your family’s meal habits. Plenty of advice can be found online, but nothing you wouldn’t come up with on your own if you spot a problem in your cupboard and fridge.
    Just think what the forefathers in these Appalachian foothills would think if they knew their descendants were filling trash cans with food they paid for but never got around to eating before it went bad?