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Staff Editorials

Drop in teen birth rate a step in right direction

     Most of the time when you hear about social problems you are left with the feeling things never can get better. Last week, however, to minimal fanfare, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the rate of teenagers giving birth has hit the lowest level since 1946, the first year teen births were tracked.

     Expecting the public to scoff at the positive report after hearing mostly dire ones, a researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics assured the New York Times that experts are confident with these findings. Figures are based on actual birth certificates across the nation, not projections.

     From 2009 to 2010, births to teen mothers fell by 9 percent across the United States with a level of 34.3 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2010.

     A graph on the Washington Post website showed a solid improvement in teen birth rates since the 1990s.

     In Georgia, the drop was dramatic with teens giving birth to 20,886 babies in 2009, declining to 14,285 teen births in 2010, according to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. However, with a rate of 41.2 births per 1,000 teens, Georgia is still higher than the national average.

     Improvement in teenager pregnancy rates held true across all racial lines and in all but three states. (Sorry, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.)

Researchers from the CDC, the Healthy Teen Network and the National Center for Health Statistics attributed the improvement to a combination of less risk taking among teens, abstinence programs, better sex education classes and more birth control use.

     "The teen birth rate decline is excellent news, supporting the recent emphasis and federal funding for evidenced-based programs to prevent teen pregnancy," says Dr. Pat Paluzzi, President/CEO of Healthy Teen Network. "These programs are proven to be effective at reducing sexual risk-taking behavior and incorporate contraception."

     This double approach of abstinence and contraception-use is backed by other statistics from the CDC as reported by the New York Times, showing that since 1991 the number of teens who say they have never had sex has increased by 15 percent, while the number of teens using birth control has risen by 32 percent.

     Dr. John Santelli from Columbia University was quoted in the Times as saying that the current generation of youth are “more conscientious and cautious.”

     Is there still work left to do? Definitely. For one thing, a dramatic drop in one year can easily be reversed the next year. Still, gradual improvement since the 1990s is no fluke.

     Second, according to the Washington Post’s coverage, the United States still ranks horribly when the teenage birth rate here is compared to other industrialized nations. American teens are still twice as likely to give birth, compared to teens in most other first world countries. Even as they celebrate last year’s drop, the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention reminds visitors to their website that the costs for pregnant teens and society remain a problem. They noted everything from lower birth weight babies, to high school drop-out mothers to higher incarceration rates for the children of teen mothers.

     The improvement of the past year flies in the face of the overhyped stereotype that today’s kids are all going quickly down the wrong path. Reality television shows and the general prophets of doom across all media have filled the airwaves and Internet with opinions that society is at the worst point ever.

     But for teen pregnancies, the facts are not nearly so dark. In fact, the current crop of teens can rightfully say they are doing better than all those before them in this area.

     And while it is only one factor affecting youth today, the improvement with teenage pregnancy is a big step in the right direction.


As far as we're concerned, it is a miracle

     Last week the Progress featured a story about a two-year-old who emerged from a hospital virtually unscathed after being accidentally run over by his mother.

To get the full impact of what happened, you need to see the photo of the child in his mother’s arms standing with the rest of the family around a sturdy wooden cross they keep permanently in their front yard.

     That they are devout Christians goes without saying. Looking at the boy, he is as small as toddlers are. The mother holds him without effort. In contrast, the vehicle involved was a Chevrolet Suburban – among the most humongous SUV’s on the road.

     Even before we had the story on the page, staff members were speculating on different explanations: maybe the car didn’t go right over the child; maybe a toy wagon that was also crushed bore the brunt of the vehicle; maybe it had something to do with the tires.

     Maybe all those things had some factor, but maybe it was just a miracle. Sherlock Holmes regularly advised Watson that when you rule out all the wrong the answers, the solution is found. In this case, the fact that the boy not only survived but literally toddled away is a miracle. Period.

     The speculation about the tires or the toy wagon  don’t explain to any rational mind why the kid was spared serious injury.

     To be clear, the child was hurt––his hip bone came through the skin, and he was bloody. When he got to the local hospital, they saw fit to transport him by helicopter to Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. This wasn’t a case where the kid was just bumped or the car merely grazed him. You don’t get life-flighted for minor contact.

All experienced parents know children are much tougher than non-parents and grandparents believe. They survive all kinds of mishaps that would cripple a professional  wrestler: bike wrecks, falls down stairs, furniture landing on them when tower building goes wrong.

     But there’s no way even the toughest hellion kid at two years old and less than 50 pounds walks away from an encounter with the underside of a Suburban. Based on an Internet search, a Chevy Suburban’s weight varies depending on exactly which model it is and which year it was built, but the lowest estimated weight was 3,500 pounds with several estimates above 6,000 pounds.

     So, as far as we’re concerned, it’s a miracle. No other explanation comes to mind.

     The marquee on a Cove Road church recently said something to the effect of “Where science ends, God begins.”

     The family involved said they saw visions before the accident, including a “death spirit” underneath the car. They believe their prayers in advance kept the child safe.

     Few attendees at mainstream churches cite visions any longer. Also rare are people who acknowledge miracles on a regular basis.

     Maybe we’re too jaded and sophisticated in this modern day to put stock in visions and prayers.

     But one thing is for sure: that toddler is still walking around, and that is miracle as far as we are concerned.


Eastwood mania hits town

   Related story Jasper to get new dug outs from Eastwood movie

   Related story  Film Production in Pickens County Economic Blockbuster or Flop?


  clinteastwoodOkay, maybe it’s not quite “mania,” but having Clint Eastwood come to Jasper to film Trouble With the Curve has been a sizzling topic of conversation around Jasper. In a place where western films are standard fare for infants and toddlers, and to show we’re not above a little celebrity fawning, we’re saddling up on the Clint bandwagon to have fun with the fact one of Hollywood’s biggest stallions is riding into our little one horse town.

     To celebrate, we suggest that from now until filming is over at the end of next week, you and your friends use as much Eastwood lingo, diction and body language as possible in everyday conversation. Think “International Talk Like a Pirate Day,” only cooler and more sustained. Try injecting a few popular Eastwood quotes into discussions held over dinner or coffee––and keep in mind the quotes you use do not have to fit the conversation perfectly.

     Here are a few examples:

When your young child’s whining has forced you to dole out punishment, which leads to said child crying, tell him or her, “You don't have to worry, Kid. I ain't gonna kill you. You're the only friend I got.” – Unforgiven, 1992.

     If you are eating dinner with your family, and your teenager gets bored and starts lackadaisically digging around in their mashed potatoes, say, “You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966.

     If your waitress tells you they are all out of Splenda and would Sweet n’ Low be okay, you say, “Go ahead, make my day.” Dirty Harry, 1971.

     If you are at a TEA Party meeting, and the topic of gun control comes up, ask for the microphone and say, “I have a very strict gun control policy: if there's a gun around, I want to be in control of it.” – Pink Cadillac, 1989.

     To heighten the Eastwood frenzy a bit more, we would also suggest a “Clint Day,” which would culminate in a Clint Eastwood look-alike parade. Participants would choose their favorite Clint character and dress like him, then mozy on over to the Progress parking lot on one of the days he’s in town.

     We’ll all spend an hour or so talking to each other using our best Eastwood impressions, then line up and march around the parking lot. As a finale, we’ll shoot our guns in the air (because we assume 99 percent of participants will come wearing a poncho, tattered cowboy hat and holstered pistol) and hope that the real Clint hears us from Jasper City Park, where he will be filming. In all seriousness, if you have the gumption to dress up and come by the Progress office next week, we’ll take your photo and print it in the paper.

     Finally, since no good column on a celebrity comes without a little gossip, here are some tidbits we’ve heard from the rumor mill.

     •Eastwood had an entire pallet of Pabst Blue Ribbon delivered to the set in Dawsonville, another Georgia filming location.

     •Eastwood and Justin Timberlake (who also stars) have plans to eat at a local restaurant, but instead of eating with other patrons, they’ll rent the entire place out and eat alone.

     •Eastwood flew to filming locations in Dawsonville by helicopter.

     •Eastwood is making more money for one hour of shooting Trouble with the Curve than we make in two years.

So let’s all put our best boot forward and make the experience here for Eastwood and the rest of the cast and crew a good one, because, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s a whole lot of fun having movie stars come to town.

Simple rules needed for wilderness areas of Georgia

     Recently two Progress staff members, plus a daughter, visited the Dawson Forest for kayaking/canoeing on the Amicalola River. Even though this newspaper had published articles on the Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass, neither of the adults had bought the pass ahead of time.

In fact, we didn’t think about it until we saw the user fee signs at the put-in.            

     The problem was, at that point, there was nowhere to put cash into the big iron tubes used at many outdoor recreation areas. And there wasn’t any signage posting information on how to purchase the pass at the place where we parked. [In fairness, the parking lot at the Amicalola Hwy. 53 access is under construction. Had that parking been open, there would have been a sign.]

     That Friday afternoon, the two of us poached a run without a pass. A daughter under 16 doesn’t need a pass, nor would someone over 64 years old.

Over the same weekend, a friend who mountain bikes was talking about a similar experience at a trail in Gilmer County. The local rider had a pass, but a group from out of town did not have passes and similarly saw no information on where to call once they got to the trail.

     When you consider the number of trailheads and river access points in North Georgia, it would take a lot of signage to cover all those entry points.

For those who haven’t kept up with the GORP - effective January 1, a Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass is required to use 32 properties managed by the Wildlife Resources Division of Georgia DNR.

     A yearly pass is only $19, so it’s a great deal for anyone who ventures outdoors. A three-day pass is $3.50, ridiculously cheap compared to movies, video games or going out to eat. The GORP is required if you want to bike, canoe, hike, photograph wildflowers or just ramble around.

     We support this program, as the money collected fixes up state facilities. Before this, everything was funded through hunting and fishing. It was never fair for the state to maintain wilderness areas off the backs of only hunters and fishermen.

     But, as our mountain biking friend said, the program is managed by a bunch of bureaucrats. No small business would make it this hard to collect money from customers, and the product is so arbitrary: some places you need the pass, some places you don’t.

     For example, one of us thought if you had a hunting license, you didn’t need a GORP. The answer is sometimes. A senior pass, a lifetime or three-day license covers your GORP. A regular yearly license, apparently, does not include the GORP.

     Adding further confusion, the GORP is only required at a third of the 100 state wildlife areas.

     Officials explain this property selection as based on public input. But it is also because some properties are managed by some agencies and some by others, and all have different rules.

     We believe the public appreciates wilderness, not really caring which state agency manages it with unique rules. There are still parking fees entirely separate from the GORP at some areas we assume. For these you need cash, $4 for access points to Carters Lake. And with no change provided, we bet they get a lot of $5’s  and even some $10 bills.

     It’s frustrating. Most outdoorsmen don’t want to feel they are sneaking onto a river or trail without a permit, but they may find themselves stranded without a pass or the correct cash.

     Generally nature lovers take pride in parks and gladly pay to  keep public lands open and facilities in good repair, but the state should not ambush us when we get there.

     To succeed, Georgia’s GORP program needs some simple uniform rules, something like this: A GORP is required for any adult going to any state lands unless you have a hunting or fishing license. Period. Make this applicable to every park in the state and do away with daily user fees or parking fees.


Tourism may help local economy but our plans must be realistic

Tourism in Pickens County has reared its lovely head again, crooning a siren song that this is the key to our economic prosperity. Several events have just arrived together, pushing tourism to forefront attention. Those include the March debut of Gibbs Gardens on Yellow Creek Road (900 visitors in one day its second week); the announcement that BRAG will again bring more than 1,000 bicycling tourists and their families this June; plus a second annual Jasper ArtFest coming this spring.

And we will just have to wait and see what impact the filming of movie scenes at Jasper City Park for a Clint Eastwood film may bring. The director is shooting the movie in bits and pieces all over Georgia.

Based on the writings of local merchant Royce Haley, scribe of “Eclectic Finds” (on page 2A this week and last), even with no organized attraction here, a lot of traveler commerce is landed locally simply by operating an attractive storefront beside Highway 53. As Haley notes, much of his Burnt Mountain Trading Company’s revenue arrives here in the pockets of people just out for a ramble.

There is certainly a lot to be said for tourism as an industry. It is extremely clean. And customers leave at the end of the day, which means they won’t be needing classrooms here for their children or fire protection for their homes.

So we hope tourism does come to play a bigger role in this county’s financial well being. But to create more opportunity here in that line, we still have some work to do. In an emperor-has-no-clothes moment, we point out Pickens still has no bona fide attraction.

There are some nice features here, including the Sharptop Arts Center, the Marble Festival, the Old Jail/Cabin and some fine eateries. But ask yourself, compared with what is out there across the state, how far would you drive for what this county currently offers? Our bet is not that far.

We’re a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to visit as things stand now.

The newly formed Four Corners Consortium aims to link Pickens County and surrounding counties in an effort to create more of an area approach. This is good. For Pickens, being in the middle of some good things, like Gibbs Gardens on one side and the Booth Museum/Indian mounds at Cartersville on the other, should surely increase our tourist traffic.

But for all those tuned up to sing the praises of tourism, here are some questions or points we hope you will consider.

• We are currently a “drive-through” area. People may not come here as a destination, but plenty pass through, even if it is only to reach Blue Ridge. Having attractive roadsides, signage and businesses that might lure someone to stop a while could help us develop those tourist dollars, even if we never add another attraction.

• Sunday is more important for tourist dollars than we previously believed. One thing Mr. Haley’s column reveals is that Sunday is a very strong day for anyone relying on tourist bucks. Event organizers and business owners may want to give more emphasis to Sundays. Throughout spring, Saturdays are booked solid with multiple events going on at the same time on many weekends. How about a few brave souls to try Sunday afternoons this year?

• They may not be tourists in the normal sense, but let’s not forget there are a lot of shoppers and diners out in the Henderson Mountain area and living around Four Mile Church. A tourism plan to target people within 20 miles would find a surprising number who currently venture outside Pickens without giving establishments here a fair chance.

We are optimistic tourism could play a significant role in the future around here, but we’d throw in a dash of realism, saying there are considerable challenges still to overcome with that.