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Staff Editorials

Story matters here

     Every four years we get pumped up about the Olympics. Whether your preference is summer’s swimming and gymnastics events or Winter Games bobsled or speed skating, if we think about it, we may recognize that it’s really about more than the sheer athletic competition.

It’s about the story behind it.

      NBC, the network airing the games in primetime, realizes this and gives us what we really want – the athletes’ stories. Intermixed among the events themselves, NBC reporters narrate the lives of select Olympians, giving us a reason to cheer harder when we see them on the starting block ready to anchor their relay team to victory by slimmer margins than the blink of an eye or feel their agony as they are shut out by razor-thin margins, as American gymnast Jordyn Wieber was just days ago in her quest to be named the world’s best all-around gymnast.

     The life experiences that made them the athletes we see on the diving platforms or the sandy beach volleyball courts are more important than just a single performance every four years. We learn to care about the young swimmer whose grandfather was an Olympic level swimmer, who just before he was to compete in his own Olympic trials became sick and was never able to realize his dream. That same swimmer’s father, also a swimmer, e-mailed his son and told him he could fulfill his grandfather’s legacy.

Television drama can’t top these stories.

     Or what about the Olympic gymnast who moved away from home at an early age, so she could be coached by the best in her sport, leaving behind her family, who struggled financially to support her dream?

      Like Olympians, we are more than the jobs we hold and the weather we experience, yet who would deny those are the first two questions we typically ask the people we find ourselves seated beside at a wedding or our kids’ sports functions?

     We all have stories. Like the AMC network, whose slogan “Story Matters Here” encourages us to really understand that a movie is more than what can be blown up in the shortest amount of time, life, like television, movies or the Olympics, is about the person behind it. A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

      To find out a person’s story, you have to find out what they want or have wanted in life, what they endured to get it, what celebrations they have experienced and, sometimes, the deepest despair they have overcome.

     We all have stories. They make us who we are. Change us. Make us better or worse.

     Everyone has a story. And what people really want is to be listened to, respected, and understood.

     So the next time you find yourself asking, “What do you do?” why not instead ask, “What’s the most important thing to you?” or “What have you overcome to get where you are today?”, “What makes you happy?”, or “What do you hope for  - for yourself and your family?”

     The answers to these questions are so much more interesting than, “It sure is hot today isn’t it?”

     You’ll be amazed that most people don’t really care about money or prestige. They care about love, about weddings and funerals, about children, about dignity, and integrity.

     So the next time you are at a wedding or a party, don’t settle for answers like, “I work at Jasper Elementary School or Community Bank.” Everybody has a story. Everybody is a story. Find it.

More Facebook, less Hatebook

     We know you have at least one, a Facebook friend who drowns the Newsfeed with their incessant, hate-filled posts about religion, politics, or whichever issue they have stuck in their craw.

     You know the kind: “God, can you please answer my prayers and rid the world of all the idiots I’m forced to deal with?” [Actual status update].

     If you are one of these fomenting commenters, we would like to tell you your endless comments and weird photos about “Obummer,” “ignorant Christians,” anti-gays, pro-choicers, or anyone who isn’t just like you get old. We also think you are doing yourself a huge disservice in the real world.

     Hatebookers need to think hard about the impact negative posts have on their social lives. People read their unpleasant status updates, make judgments, and then make decisions about interacting with these same people in person. The following are two recent examples from our staff’s experience.

     One of our employees is “friends” with a person who makes several status updates daily about how much he hates President Obama and really just about anything that smells of a Democrat or liberal. One example: “10 out of 10 idiots support Obama.” One day our employee saw this same person in a grocery store but opted not to say hello. He pretended not to see his “friend” and walked the other way. Why? The employee wasn’t offended by this person’s politics but by the sheer volume (quantity and shrillness) of their one-track recording on things political, at least as spouted on Facebook.

     Chances are the public encounter between these friends would have been filled with trite little pleasantries, but why risk it?

     Another staff member was reacquainted with her best friend from elementary school on Facebook but has been hesitant to set up a meeting, because of this person’s outlandish, extreme animal rights posts, i.e., “I love animals, it’s people I hate.” If they met up for dinner, would our employee’s chicken tacos reap a hearty side serving of the stink eye, or worse yet, a lecture?

     Interestingly enough, people who make these type posts are usually cordial and even friendly when you talk to them in person. So, what is it about social media forums that can turn these same folks into raging jerks?

     Studies out of the University of Waterloo have shown that people who continually make negative posts on line may actually have self-esteem issues. One researcher said social media forums seem safer, so people with lower self-esteem feel more comfortable sharing their emotions in these forums than they do in face-to-face social interaction.

     The study examined posts from people who said they have low-self esteem, and found the majority of those posts were negative. The study also showed that not only did the negative posts not succeed in making the person who penned them feel better about him or herself, but their friends found them less likable because of what they had posted.

     “We found that although people with low self-esteem considered Facebook an appealing venue for self-disclosure, the low positivity and high negativity of their disclosures elicited undesirable responses from other people,” ––stated in the abstract of the study, published in Psychological Science.

     We don’t think the average Facebook user wants to spend their time ranting about serious issues. So, Hatebookers, you aren’t doing yourself any good, and it’s not doing the rest of us any good, for you to keep heaping coals onto the world’s aggregate anger. For the next week, why not make only positive posts (or at least cut your stream of negativity in half) just to see how your mood changes and how responses from your friends may change.

     Much like negative attitudes, positive attitudes are contagious. And we’ll take positive over negative any day.

More enforcement of existing laws needed on Georgia lakes

lakelanierforedit

Sunset Cove on Lake Lanier on a Saturday following the fatal boat crash that killed two kids in waters near the famous party spot.

     Lake Lanier has been in the news a good bit lately. Unfortunately, it’s not for people enjoying hot days in cool water.

     The news has been tragic with two brothers killed in a June 18 boat wreck, when the pontoon boat they were on with family members was struck by a fishing boat, driven by a reportedly intoxicated driver.

     This was followed quickly by two other boating incidents where people were less seriously injured.

     And those accidents were followed by yet another incident, when a man on a personal watercraft (jet-ski) hit two children being pulled on an inflatable tube behind a boat. (For dedicated landlubbers, such tubing is a common lake-surface recreation). The children and man were part of the same group out together on the lake. No alcohol was suspected in this accident, but one of the kids was fairly seriously injured.

     What is alarming is that many regular boaters, water skiers and fisherman are not surprised by this wave of crashes. In fact, we know several people whose comments were more to the tune of surprise that boating accidents don’t happen more often on the 37,000-acre reservoir.

     Part of the problem is just the volume of users. The DNR estimates more than 7 million people are on Lake Lanier every year.

But another contributing factor is the wild West attitude of boaters on the lake. Even before state budget cuts, Lanier was dangerously under-patrolled––a regrettable situation in hindsight

     A report in the AJC said rangers who patrol Lanier had only six watercraft when times were good. Now, due to state cutbacks, they are down to four working boats and lack the manpower to operate more than four boats in any event.

     Picture a city with 7 million people visiting each year, spread out over miles of coast, with only four regular patrol units on duty. Counties with coasts on Lanier also supply patrols to supplement state rangers.

     Adding to potential hazards is the fact that rules on the water are not clearly defined. Obviously there are no stop signs or marked lanes or even clear-cut routes. Some people may cross open areas east to west while others fly along with tubers in tow, going north to south in the same vicinity.

      And with boats, there is nothing like the kind of driver’s training you must master with an automobile before legally getting behind the wheel. In fact, about the only limit on who can drive a private boat is that you be an adult and that you not be intoxicated.

     Even if you’ve never even paddled a canoe before, chances are you can rent a remarkably fast motorized boat and drag water skiers around a Georgia lake.

     Of particular concern is the alcohol that seems to go hand-in-hand for many with days spent at the lake. Alcohol is not suspected in the second accident but is suspected to be a factor in the first.

     But the weekend following the deaths of the two brothers found crowds out in force on Lake Lanier and in traditional party spots like Sunset Cove, where beer stands dot the shore. The mood was far from somber.

     A look at DNR statistics shows that boating under the influence (BUI) is not a new problem. In 2011 on Georgia lakes, there were 168 BUIs. Some 109 boating accidents produced 66 injuries and 11 fatalities. Of those accidents, 18 involved alcohol.

     The year 2010 saw139 BUIs, with boating accidents involving 74 injuries and 16 fatalities. No data was recorded on accidents involving alcohol.

     Looking at the statistics, it is shocking to learn how common such boating accidents as the one that claimed the two brothers can be.

     To keep Georgia safe on the water, the legislature needs to see DNR rangers have what they need for putting some controls on those using the lake. Expecting operators of fast boats to be sober and to drive in a manner that keeps others safe isn’t too much to ask. And exacting fines from those who don’t comply should help fund the enforcement manpower needed to make Georgia lakes safe for all.

Two keys to success for anyone in government

     In a recent Sunday New York Times, a columnist discussed the benefits to governments from taking more advice/input from social scientists and behavior researchers when developing policies.

     Columnist Richard H. Thaler described a process in Great Britain where the government used a small office of social scientists to look at ways to get more public participation or to make other policies more effective. The column noted that by crafting better overdue notices on tax bills, the government collected a record amount of unpaid taxes––in fact more than enough to cover the entire budget of the office.

     What the columnist found was that if the government would apply two standards to every program, policy or office, they would increase effectiveness. These two criteria are so startlingly obvious they shouldn’t have to be stated. But they are shockingly missing from government program promotion, ranging from local recycling to the federal healthcare plan.

     The two key ingredients:

• “If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy.”

• “You can’t make evidence-based policy decisions without evidence.”

     Whether promoting recycling or the paying of your taxes, government does a fair job but could go further in making things convenient for users. For example, the new recreation center and old swimming pool at Roper Park aren’t easy to use, because the hours these facilities are open may not jibe with times families are looking for recreation. Nor is there any organized system to highlight programs and amenities the county offers at the park. If it wants more people frequenting Roper Park (and hopefully supporting programs there with user fees) local government needs to re-think its approach from the user’s point of view.

     The state and county have made a big campaign to encourage recycling. But, at least in Pickens, it is not particularly easy for homeowners to participate. There is no government -provided curbside pick-up of recyclables, and you find few recycling bins in public spaces. The county has emphasized the savings available to families through recycling, as the practice reduces the volume of garbage families generate and by that decreases their dumping fees. But maybe the county still needs to look at how recycling could be made easier for the user.

     On the federal level, could our nation have created a more complicated income tax system? In Britain it was found that by making tax forms simple and easy the government gained a higher percentage of people correctly and honestly paying their yearly taxes. It hurts to write that check every April. The least the IRS might do is make the chore a tad more straight-forward. Maybe even here we might see an increase in honest filers with and uptick in revenue to boot.

     As to evidence-based policy, history is filled with examples where some government body went off half-cocked, even half informed, and created a full-scale mess.

     The problem is surely not that the speed of government allows no time for research. With red tape, projects like the Tate Depot and widening of Highway 53 through Jasper have languished a long time already. Moving without thinking stems from misguided approaches where objectives are identified first, and evidence to support the plan is created later. In this line, the invasion of Iraq proceeded while a contradictory assessment concerning the ease of the operation and the support that could be expected from Iraqis was ignored.

     Locally, we have the courthouse renovation. The recommendation that a location besides Main Street be considered was put forward by a courthouse committee but ignored. It may not have been a better choice, but it never appeared to get serious consideration.

     Looking ahead, we urge all elected officials, both new and returning, to keep these two standards (make it easy and don’t proceed until you have considered all the facts) in mind whenever plotting a future direction.

Being spontaneous can save a vacation

By Angela Reinhardt

staff writer

     If last week’s vacation had a theme it would be Roll with the punches.

We’d had it planned for months: Just me and my family goofing off on the beach for an extended weekend in Florida. But what’s that John Lennon quote? Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans?

     A tinge of anxiety welled up in my stomach as the giant, sloppily organized weather system named Debby spooled up in the gulf.  In an effort to look on the bright side, I maintained hope she would pack up and move out quickly. But as the week trudged on, those hopes were dashed like a dinghy on a raging sea.

Debby stalled, and forecasts for our Florida city were grim. Photos of flooded streets and downed trees paraded across news channels. My husband told me he heard a DJ say something to the effect of, “Man, what a bummer for all you folks who had a trip planned in Florida.” Then a state of emergency was declared.

     Damn.

     Granted, thoughts of driving into the eye of a tropical storm were disconcerting, but not as frightening as the thought of being cooped up in a tiny room at the Hawaiian Inn with a four-year-old and a five-year-old for nearly a week.

     Needless to say, our beach trip capsized and drowned in a soggy whirlpool of sand and palm trees. We cancelled our reservations and, after a few hours of mourning the sun and surf, I started to shift mental gears.

     The night before our original departure date, my husband and I sat on the patio, cooked an incredible meal together and brainstormed. We decided to throw away any real attempt at planning and instead opted for complete spontaneity. Before we had children, we thrived on the stuff. It worked then, why couldn’t it work now?

     That first day of our vacation, my husband went into work, since we were in town. So, for a little gas and a $5 entry fee, I took my children to Amicalola Falls. We packed a picnic, checked out the live snakes and stuffed critters on display in the visitor’s center and hiked all 600-plus stairs to the top of the falls and back down.

     The next morning, I spent about 20 minutes packing absolute essentials - A few clothes, swimsuits, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I didn’t even pack a hair dryer or makeup, and for the first time in my life, I opted to take advantage of the complementary soap and shampoo at whatever hotel where we ended up. Then we all took off for North Georgia, with no itinerary, for a driving tour of our own backyard.

     Neither my husband nor I own a Smart Phone, so we went old-school and relied on a real live paper map to get us around. We didn’t even print out directions. We followed Hwy 515 up through Blairsville by Brasstown Bald and over to Helen, where we went tubing, among other things, and spent the night in a slightly odd, but interestingly charismatic motel on the river.

     Then we toured through parts of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is absolutely stunning, and hiked, swam, and paddle boated at Vogel State Park (another whopping five bucks for entry). Later it was over to Dahlonega and finally back home again.

     Every day our children asked excitedly, “What are we doing today?” I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know.

     For very little money, we rediscovered our own homeland and found that not only do we live in a place of incredible beauty, but that being spontaneous on vacation, even with young children and a sweltering heat wave to manage, gave us a unique sense of freedom, excitement and relaxation we had not experienced in years.

     So I highly recommend letting go of your own plans sometime to make memories you didn’t even know you wanted.

     Happy travels!