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Staff Editorials

Bundle up and go this winter

    Jack Frost has already been nipping at our noses this week but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bite back and get outside for a walk, jog or just poking around in the yard.
    It may be hard to leave the warm comforts of home for a jaunt outside but that’s exactly what we should do for both our mental and physical health.
    Make “bundle up and go” your winter mantra.
    Especially for those who spend most of our time indoors and in offices, getting some outdoor time will do wonders for your mood – not to mention your waistline. [For those of you who work outdoors, be satisfied that this doesn’t apply to you.]
    But for many of us, our time outdoors when winter hits drops to a quick dash from the car to the office and this isn’t good. The benefits to your mood of braving the elements trumps the momentary discomfort and possibility of later sniffles any time.
    When we head outside and breathe in fresh air – regardless of how cold – and on sunny days gather up some vitamin D into our systems - it’s like taking a happy pill. No Zoloft required. We may want to stay buried under those covers or curled up on the couch next to a fire because we think it will make us happy and relaxed but in reality the cold stimulates our parasympathetic system – aka our “relax and renew” system. These endorphins can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that keep us happy and feeling good.
    People who exercise outdoors, especially in cold, brisk weather, have more energy than those who exercise inside on treadmills or ellipticals. Nothing wakes us up like a brisk walk on a cool morning.
    The saying “like a breath of fresh air” to describe something invigorating is both appropriate and literally true.
    Grandma may have said going outside in chilly weather can make us “catch” a cold but, according to doctors, that simply isn’t true. Sorry Grandma, going outside is one of the best things you can do to prevent catching a cold. Viruses or bacteria are more often spread in the winter because of close contact from everyone being indoors.
    One of the great things about living in Georgia is that it’s rarely too hot, cold, windy or rainy to keep you from getting outside. There are exceptions, but bear in mind this Friday and Saturday during our Christmas parades in Jasper and Ball Ground that fans go outside and watch football games in Chicago, Green Bay and Pittsburgh in ridiculous weather. Surely we can handle the 40s and some drizzle.
    It’s all a matter of being prepared for the weather. A good winter coat and hat makes all the difference. Consider it an investment in time – more time outside.
    According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the biggest mistakes you can make while exercising in cold weather is to dress too warmly. In The Christmas Story, the mom bundles Ralphie’s little brother up before sending him off to walk to school. With laborious dedication, he tries to keep up with his older brother but finds himself unable to walk because he’s so bundled up. He ends up lying in the snow as he’s so over-dressed he can’t get up when he falls.
    With the way the season is starting, there will be days that are only fit for sitting indoors, but there won’t be many if you are committed to bundling up and going for at least a few minutes. Foul weather can discourage even the most motivated among us.    
    Don’t let this winter keep you stuck inside.

The ABCs of Thanksgiving

    A is for aunts, lots of them, all telling us how we should have cooked those green beans just a wee bit longer.
    B is for all the bread we’re going to consume on Thanksgiving even though we are constantly told in order to be thin we need to stay away from the stuff. That cornbread dressing is calling our name.
    C is for cars that carry all those relatives to our homes to gather for the holidays. And then, blessedly, carry them back home.
    D is for Dressing. The true centerpiece of a Thanksgiving feast. Turkey? HAH. The bird is just there for looks and leftover sandwiches days later.
    E is for everything, as in “I can’t believe I ate everything on my plate.”
    F is for family because although lots of things change in life, family is forever. We are thankful for those who have leading roles in our lives and would unconditionally do anything for us – because they sort of have to; it’s a requirement.
    G is for grandma’s recipes with lots of butter and fatback and all the stuff we know we shouldn’t eat but can’t help ourselves.
    H is for house, as in the one that we’ll be cleaning on for ages after everyone leaves.
    I is for “I really am thankful.” Think about it: living in this area, this country, we have a lot that we might take for granted. But don’t. Express your gratitude this year.
    J is for jokes, as in the same ones we hear over and over each year at family gatherings. Corny, goofy, embarrassing? Yes, but family gatherings wouldn’t be the same without them.
    K is for kiss that diet good-bye, at least until January 1.
    L is for the Lions and Packers game we’ll be watching. Not quite like watching the Dawgs, but with  Matthew Stafford in Detroit  it’s still pretty good. If you aren’t a UGA fan,  you can cheer against the Cowboys in one of two other games. Gathering around the TV on a Thanksgiving afternoon, munching on leftovers -- as good as it gets.
    M is for memories – as in memories that everyone loves to share as we gather together.
    N is for now – As in sit down and eat now, everyone  at the same time - a rarity in modern America.
    O is for opening the refrigerator door, for the 100th time.
    P is for potatoes, as in mashed, smashed AND sweet, all on the same plate.
    Q is for all those unending questions from that five-year-old nephew who begins every conversation with “Why?”
    R is for running away - which we would like to do by the end of the day- and reading, give thanks for our favorite books.
    S is for stretchy pants.
    T is for Thank You to our Progress readers and advertisers.
    U is for covertly passing  those last couple of pieces of casserole to the dog under the table to make room for more dessert.
    V is for vacuum cleaners that go a long way to clean up all the dressing and green beans that will likely be spilled by the end of the day.
     W is for “Whoa”, the word we wish we’d uttered before the third slice of pie.
    X is for the mark you put through the day on the calendar once Thanksgiving is over.
    Y is for “You’re inviting Who?”
    Z is for ZZZZZ. As in a turkey induced nap.    
    But most of all, we’re just thankful we aren’t a turkey.

Progress readers’ coat donations leave a woman in tears

By Dan Pool, editor
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    The readers of this newspaper who donated to the Holy Spirit Ranch Winter coat drive left a woman in tears Friday – the good kind of tears.
     Virginia Betts of Holy Spirit Ranch literally cried when she saw the overflowing drop-off box of coats, warm clothes and blankets at our Main Street office.
    Virginia and her husband Joe Betts - founder and minister of Holy Spirit Ranch - hugged every member of the staff, thanking us for the coats. Even as they repeatedly hugged our editor, photo editor, office manager, publisher and anyone else who wandered close to the commotion in our front office, we reminded them it wasn’t the Progress that gave the coats, it was the readers of this newspaper.
    All we did was put a decorated cardboard box in our lobby and publicize the need - it was the readers who filled it. While the announced deadline passed Friday, another large pile of coats showed up Monday – bringing the total to more than 70, with substantial piles of blankets and hats and scarves as well. A fair number of the coats were brand new, still bearing tags from stores.
    When Betts told me about the need for warm winter coats for his ministry, which serves local people, homeless people in Atlanta and Native Americans in South Dakota, I was pretty sure the community would open their closets for him.
    I was confident that we could help Betts round up the needed coats as I have worked at this newspaper for a long time and know that when people need things, the people in Pickens County are generous. I hear repeatedly from places like Good Sam, The Thrift Store and CARES (the Food Pantry) that there is an unusually benevolent streak in these Appalachian foothills.
    And, once again, the people of Pickens County delivered. The box didn’t fill up quite as quickly as I had initially predicted. We did increase the size of the coat drive announcement in the paper last week to be sure the box would be overflowing and, in the end, there was a supply we were proud of.
    Mr. Betts exclaimed several times, “Look what the Lord has provided.” Yes, He surely did, and if you are one of the people who gave be proud of your part in it. Mr. Betts is now one more person who will sing the praises of how generous people here are. On Main Street Friday while loading his station wagon, Betts gushed about how he had lived all over this country and there is no better community than right here. A letter from Betts appears on page 14A.
    As cold as this winter is shaping up to be,  the coats will fill an urgent need. “When you give someone a coat and they are cold, it means more than you can imagine,” Betts said.
    If you didn’t get a chance to give during this effort, don’t despair, Thanksgiving and Christmas are both ripe with needs from with many organizations seeking help for good causes.
    You can be sure we’ll keep publicizing needs and we can be sure you’ll keep filling boxes. Thanks for making this such a generous place to live.

    [Editor’s Note: due to several late calls, we’ll keep the Holy Spirit drop off box until November 22.]

Long-term solitary confinement: inhumane and ineffective

    After 41 years living in a 9x6 foot cell (imagine the size of a parking space) for 22-23 hours a day, Herman Wallace was released this past October from a Louisiana prison.
    Three days later Wallace died of liver cancer.
    Wallace was one of three men known as the “Angola 3” who were sentenced to solitary confinement after being convicted of killing a prison guard in 1972. One of the three, Robert King, was exonerated and released in 2001 after spending 29 years in solitary. The third remains in solitary to this day.
    While there are variations by state, solitary confinement is an extreme form of isolation - inmates are cut off from human contact as a punitive measure. Before the 1980s solitary confinement was rarely used in the states but has since become common, justified by an increase in prison gangs and as a way to control violence.
    While in solitary, inmates receive their meals through slots in solid metal doors. There is often little to no daylight. Human contact is limited to prison guards dropping off meals and the sound of inmates in adjoining segregation cells going insane (described by an ABC News investigative reporter who spent “the two worst days of [his] life” in solitary confinement).
    Here’s an account from Thomas Silverstein, a prisoner who has been in solitary since 1983.
    “I was completely isolated from the outside world and had no way to occupy my time. I was not allowed to have any social visits, telephone privileges, or reading materials...I was not allowed to have a television, radio, or tape player. I could speak to no one…
    Due to the unchanging bright artificial lights and not having a wristwatch or clock, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. There was no air conditioning or heating. During the summer, the heat was unbearable…the bright, artificial lights remained on in the cell constantly, increasing my disorientation and making it difficult to sleep…those lights buzzed incessantly. The buzzing noise was maddening.”
    Read any writings from prisoners subjected to long-term solitary and you may have a hard time sleeping as well. The letters describe descents into madness – and after decades of subjection to conditions of extreme isolation many inmates can’t find their way back.
    In the New Yorker piece “Hellhole: Is Solitary Confinement Torture,” Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz who was granted permission to study 100 randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax prison observed that “after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners ‘begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,’ he said.”
     In a statement tied to Angola 3 man Herman Wallace’s death, the United Nations human rights official Juan E. Méndez said “the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law,” – and we agree.
    Our increasing use of indefinite and extreme isolation of prisoners (with 25,000 inmates in the U.S. currently being held in solitary confinement and another estimated 50,000-80,000 in other forms of segregation) is inhumane and is an embarrassment to the American judicial system.
      Study after study shows that solitary confinement doesn’t kill anger and violent tendencies, it enflames them. Solitary also increases the chances that a prisoner will commit another crime when released – and beyond the gross ethical problems we have with the barbaric practice, construction and maintenance of supermax prisons are a siphon on American taxpayers. A prisoner inside a supermax facility costs an average of 50 percent more a day than at a regular prison.
    We aren’t excusing criminals’ actions and we believe there should be appropriate consequences. We also agree that prison officials need a tool to control the inmate population - but long-term mental torture isn’t it. 

Why the Savannah port project is important to North Georgia

    Ninety-nine percent of the time when someone comments on government, it’s negative. So it’s good to take note when something works - and with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project we need to celebrate.
    Two times in recent months we have heard North Georgia government leaders (Rep. David Ralston, Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Gainesville) talk about how this project isn’t just important on our coast, but  crucial to businesses in our mountains.
    At first it may seem a minor project, the harbor is only being dredged down another five feet – from 42 to 47 feet deep. But the impact is massive to economies across the Peach state.    When complete, the extra depth will allow supertankers that use the Panama Canal to be loaded and unloaded in Georgia -- rather than some other port in another area.
    The deepening of the port and all the related shipping that goes with it is being called the largest economic development and job creation initiative in the state and across the southeastern region in recent history.
    Congressman Tom Graves (14th District) said, “This project is vital to our state and the country in many ways, but in simple terms, it means we’ll have new jobs and opportunities for a lot of Georgia families. Those supertankers will arrive at the harbor full of goods, and Georgia businesses will make sure they leave full. I applaud the Georgia delegation for working together to secure this victory for our constituents.”
    The project - with $662 million in federal funds and $231 million in state dollars committed to it - packs a massive wallop. Consider some of the figures put out by local leaders and by the Georgia Ports Authority regarding the project that has lingered for 14 years:
    • It will bring in $174 million in net annal benefits across the nation.
    • It will create 11,554 new jobs.
    • Georgia’s ports already support 352,000 jobs spread across the state - including virtually all companies that ship products.
    • More than 20,000 companies in the country rely on the Georgia ports for shipping.
    • One out of 12 Georgians work at a company that ships something or receives something coming through this port.
    • More than $2.5 billion in state taxes are derived from the port.
    • Every dollar spent on this project returns $5.50 in economic return.

    In addition to those figures, another number to consider is 16. All 14 Georgia lawmakers in the house and both senators voted for the project and praised it– evidence that full cooperation gets things done.
    This is something that was needed and makes sense financially and otherwise. It’s a tangible project everyone can understand: make the port deeper so bigger ships can dock here.
    It’s also important to note that unlike so much that goes wrong in Washington, the deepening project did not end up strangled by our ongoing feuds with neighboring states over drinking water – something that early on appeared to spell trouble.
    In the end Doug Collins (9th District Congressman) celebrated keeping these issues separate. “This legislation gives Northeast Georgia the freedom to plan for the future of our beautiful lakes as we see fit, and it gets Georgia farm produce out into the markets more efficiently,” he said. “ [It’s] a win for Georgia, it’s a win for American competitiveness, and it’s a win for the Constitution.”
    Even though it’s only five feet of muck from the bottom of our port, the impact on the state’s economy is huge and this five feet of muck shows what could happen if government works together and sticks to the issue in front of it.