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Staff Editorials

Freedom and pickup trucks

By Angela Reinhardt
staff writer

    Last week I saw a young boy, maybe 13, riding in the bed of an old pickup truck. The sun was on his face, the wind was tousling his hair, and an ear-to-ear grin revealed the sheer gloriousness of his adventure.
    Seeing this boy made me think of my own childhood. Dad would throw an air mattress in the bed of his camper-topped Ford F-150 and let my sister and I ride in the back from Atlanta down to Florida where we vacationed in the summer.
    I imagine our smiles looked like the boy’s.
    Even though at the time I didn’t think about why I enjoyed it, I understand now what made those trips so ecstatic --- my sister and I felt liberated. Whether it was true or not, for eight hours we were masters of our own universe in the bed of that candy-apple-red Ford. We were autonomous rulers of our 8’x6’ kingdom, beholden to no ones’ laws but our own, our feelings amplified by the rush of traveling on the freeway without a seatbelt. The world outside became new and exciting as it zipped by the window.    
    Peoples’ desire for this feeling of freedom lies at the heart of America’s Independence Day. We all innately want, I’d even argue need, those self-evident truths our country’s founders spoke of --- the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    As cynical as I can be about our country and its leadership I was brought to tears watching an episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, which is for all practical purposes a travel, food and culture program. In this episode Bourdain and his crew went to post-war Libya where rebel forces had recently overthrown and assassinated the tyrant Moammar Gadhafi. I walked away from the program with a renewed appreciation for home.   
    In between seeing Bourdain sample some culinary staples of the country, I listened to Libyans and ex-Freedom Fighters describe crippling oppression under Gadhafi’s regime and I saw images of the war-ravaged town of Misrata.  I had a difficult time imagining what life would be like under those conditions. I then watched as Libyans celebrated in the streets after Gadhafi’s fall and, while the country itself is still very much in a state of uncertainly about the future, the hope in their voices and the light in their eyes were palpable. 
    In an essay about his experiences Bourdain describes some post-Gadhafi scenes --- Children shooting off fireworks; parents buying cotton candy for kids at an amusement park; sandwiches and coffee arriving on time in a hotel lobby; city fountains that work.
    “This is Tripoli, after 42 years of nightmare,” Bourdain writes. “The city and its people are just now waking up, trying to figure out what to do -- and how to do it. After 42 years… absolute control and centralized power vaporized almost overnight.”
    Because our independence from England happened so long ago, and because wars have not been fought on our soil for generations, it is difficult for many Americans to appreciate the freedoms we have that so many others don’t. I know I am guilty of taking them for granted.
    The point is that freedom is woven into the fabric of who we, the people of the world, are. When we don’t have it we will go to outrageous lengths to get it, and when we do have it life blossoms with potential. It blossoms just like it did for American settlers; it blossoms just like it did for the Libyans; it blossoms like it did for the boy in the truck and my sister and me.
    Now I watch my own children unbuckle and climb between the two front seats to stick their heads out the sunroof when we hit our dirt road. They find freedom in being unrestrained, and in the sensations of wind and sun against faces with closed eyes and bodies with outstretched arms.
    Here’s wishing that you spend some time this week reflecting on the freedoms in your own life, and hoping that you are able to open your heart up enough to appreciate them.
    Happy Fourth.

Paula Deen’s southern fried mess

    Readers expecting us to be a good ol’ small town southern institution that will come to the defense of the queen of fried vittles in the face of racism charges will likely be disappointed.
    Similarly, readers who suspect us as being part of the liberal media will be disappointed if they thought we would join the campaign to have Paula Deen skewered (lightly breaded with a heavy dose of butter) for her comments.
    In the ongoing story of how the Savannah restaurant owner and celebrity chef ran afoul of the cultural taboos on racism, there are far more than 50 shades of grey.
    In our opinion, the woman’s comments from years past don’t deserve all the attention they have received, particularly considering that certain racial terms now bring a firestorm of negative attention when the same phrases were regularly used in decades past with no consequences, and apparently allegations against Deen are related to old usage of the words.
    But one can’t help but be troubled by the allegations that the atmosphere at Deen’s restaurant tolerated all kinds of nasty behavior.
    The story started without much attention when a former manager of Deen’s restaurant in Savannah sued her for somewhere over $1 million. Included in the suit were the allegations that the atmosphere in the workplace included porn on the computers, constant jokes in poor taste, physical abuse, and the accusation that Deen herself used the “N-word.”   
    The media fallout focused almost exclusively on the “N-word” usage by Deen, with physical abuse and porn in the workplace glossed over as though not worthy of much discussion.
    Deen is also being criticized for plans to use black waiters (dressed in tuxedoes but portraying slaves) at a Civil War themed wedding she was orchestrating.
    The southern chef’s inept response was the catalyst that turned a small incident into the drama, bringing the internet abuzz and fans parading outside her restaurant.
    The self-described queen of southern cooking admitted in court documents that she was aware of the bad jokes and the porn on the computers at her workplace. Her excuses for the jokes is an example of how she should speak more about frying stuff and less about cultural issues. She indicated in court records that she really couldn’t judge what might offend others, and besides aren’t most jokes either racist or sexual?
    She might have a point on the second part. But the idea that a woman who started serving bag lunches to support herself and is now worth $17 million and has a magazine with a million subscribers didn’t realize that racial slurs and porn would offend is hard to swallow.
    Then in a video apology, Deen goes too far in begging forgiveness, as though she had personally led a genocide, not just uttering a word years ago that carries a whole locomotive of cultural baggage.
    “The pain has been tremendous that I’ve caused to myself and others,” she said.
    The pain to her has likely been tremendous as The Food Network dropped her show. But the idea that she has single-handedly created anguish for others is a drastic over-reaction. A simple, “I really shouldn’t have said that,”would have sufficed.
    Many people have come to her defense by noting that Deen was born in 1947 in south Georgia and during her years growing up use of the N-word was not uncommon, nor did its usage create much commotion. For those of us who grew up in the South, this fact is as undeniable as the fact that many people still have a nostalgic fondness for antebellum themes.
    It’s not appropriate to celebrate the gallant South without acknowledging the slavery behind it. But on the flip side, neither does it automatically mean you are racist to admit you enjoy Gone with the Wind romance.

Views on healthcare costs while wearing an $800 knee brace

By Dan Pool, editor
    Sitting here with an $800 brace on my leg following knee surgery two months ago, I can offer firsthand perspective to a recent piece in the New York Times detailing the high cost of medical treatment in America.   
    The article, which mainly focused on colonoscopies, pointed out standard medical procedure in America is to go with the best option first and almost exclusively. When it comes to medical care a good-enough approach is rarely mentioned.
    But, as America grapples with how intertwined health spending is with the overall economic output, valid questions arise of whether cheaper alternatives might suffice in routine procedures.
    Consider some of the findings in the Times’ The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill - Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures:

    • International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurers, found that the United States came out the most costly in all  categories they monitor— and often by a huge margin.
    • Healthcare is a $2.7 trillion annual industry in this country.
    • A hospital stay in this country is roughly three-times as expensive as those in other developed nations (for the same length of time/same general services)
    • Americans spend an amount equal to 18 percent of our gross domestic product on healthcare.
    On a personal level, many of the factors cited in The Times described well my experience. For my knee injury, no consideration of price was ever given by the patient (me). As The Times found, with insurance, patients assume the costs will be covered by someone else so there is rarely any discussion of price or cheaper options.
    Healthcare is the only industry where customers don’t universally consider cost at the time of purchase. In fact they don’t even see the bills directly if they have insurance, so they are in limbo as a disinterested third party while the insurer and the medical providers hash out the payments.
    This was absolutely true in my case. In the first round, it’s up to the Progress insurance plan and Piedmont to sort through the numerous bills.
    A point often raised in the healthcare debate is if patients were informed that their insurance may not cover some of their treatment or they were told cheaper alternatives were possible,would it affect their choices?
         In my case, probably not. The orthopedic surgeon was confident in his diagnosis with the basic emergency room x-ray and didn’t order any additional tests/scans. However, had he felt an MRI was needed, as a patient, it would be hard to question a guy about to slice your leg open.
    There didn’t appear any extra perks during the surgery day. Piedmont Mountainside seemed to process me through and get me out as efficiently as possible. Maybe a real miser might have cut out some of the precautionary work but for me there was no overnight stay, nor barrage of tests (other than a chest x-ray which was said to be standard for anyone having surgery).
    Without lengthy discussion and education there was nothing I (as a basic patient) would ever think to question on price or options?
    So we’re back to my $800 brace. The price of this was never discussed or mentioned until the bill arrived. I can think of no other incident in my life where I walked (hobbled) out of a place with an $800 product without knowing the price. Nor are there any other industries that will let a guy leave with $800 in merchandise without a serious payment discussion.
    The brace might have been the one place, where I could say, “isn’t there something more economical?” If I were really hard up, I could have foregone the brace entirely in favor of two yardsticks and some duct tape I suppose.
    For myself (and most people I suspect) even if the cheaper/lesser option is available, you really don’t want to scrimp on what will lessen your pain and support your healing most effectively.
    There is no doubt a nationwide economic problem with healthcare costs exists, but from a patient’s perspective, cost cutting at the doctor may be as needed as a knee surgery but it’s likely to be just as uncomfortable.

Use 2014 SPLOST to spruce up Highway 515 intersections

    Example of a typical conversation when a Pickens resident travels outside of this area.
    Other person: “So, where do you live?”
    You: “I live in Jasper, Ga.”
    Other person: “Jasper, huh? Where is that?”
    You: “It’s just south of Ellijay, where they have the apples, and just north of Canton.”
    Other person: “Oh, right. I remember passing through there.”
    For travelers, this county’s pretty trees and hills seem to  get admired only from the car window as motorists zip past on the way to somewhere else.
    Despite Jasper being dubbed the “First Mountain City” we’re not quite mountain, not quite suburbs, and are left with somewhat of an identity crisis when it comes to tourism. Unlike Gilmer to the north we have practically no public access areas for outdoor activities like hiking and fishing, and we lack the retail/commercial appeal of Cherokee to the south.
    In the fall of last year, after rivers of cars funneled through Pickens to the Apple Festival in Ellijay, we ran an editorial about our lack of curb appeal along the Hwy 515 corridor. Why would travelers stop at a spot on the fourlane when they don’t know there’s a neat town to come to?
    The retail businesses along the freeway provide some indication of life, but as we have said before, they offer absolutely no clue of the charming and historic places Jasper has to offer within a few minutes of the traffic signals   on Highway 515 – places like the Old Jail, the historic wooden bridge, the Talking Rock schoolhouse, the Tate House, or the retail shops on Main Street. Chain businesses such as Captain D’s or Waffle House, while nice to have, are never going to entice people to slow down and make a detour.
    Time and again our editorial board has called attention to the need for economic development here that makes sense and that will be effective but that also maintains the charming, rural feel of Pickens. At a recent SPLOST planning meeting, the Pickens County Board of Commissioners and the mayors of Jasper, Nelson and Talking Rock began hammering out details about capital projects that will be included on the 2014 SPLOST, a referendum that will appear on the March ballot. While leaders are in agreement that road projects are the main concern with impending state cutbacks from GDOT, Jasper Mayor John Weaver suggested a gateway beautification project along Hwy 515 as part of the SPLOST projects and we couldn’t agree more.
    The beautification project, which would include landscaping, signage, and other improvements on the Hwy 515 corridor, would go a long way towards encouraging travelers to explore our county and would also, we believe, encourage more growth in Jasper’s downtown area.
    Weaver went on to point out that when traveling north on Highway 75 from Miami to Highway 575 and eventually to Highway 515, Pickens has the unique feature of being the first county where traffic signals are located on the interstate. This feature could be used to create separate gateway areas for travelers to enjoy, and to encourage them to slow down and make that turn to explore Jasper, Tate or Nelson.
    We agree that roads are a main priority for our elected officials, and that the increased fire protection and library expansion are also important, but with a projected $24 to $27 million expected to be collected for the next SPLOST, if it passes, some of that funding would wisely be allocated for a more exciting, (and much less costly) project that would boost our economic development and help support and grow local business.
    It’s time to put some curb appeal out on the fourlane to draw visitors into the charming spots found in Pickens County.

Teens always moving ahead with social media

    Remember decades ago when teenagers used to sit on home telephones for hours each night talking to their friends? Then along came the internet and with it an explosion of ways to share your life without actually speaking to anyone.
    First it was MySpace, then came Facebook and now there are scores of life-sharing apps available to our teenagers, who have become the most electronically connected generation of all time.
   Today, Facetime, texting, and online photos are the way teens prefer to keep in touch. And there are some seriously cool tools to help them. A recent study found that 13 to 17-year-old boys and girls in the United States spend an average of two hours and 20 minutes a day online and 80 percent of that time is spent on social networking sites. According to the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of 15 to 17-year-old girls; 69 percent of 15 to 17-year-old boys and 38 percent of 12 to 14-year-olds have some type of online social media profile.
    Regardless of whether we, as parents, like our kids being on sites like Facebook and YouTube as much as they are, it seems the trend is here to stay,  replacing trips to the mall to hang out in person. There are advantages to online friends because teens can build social relationships and connect with people of shared interests, regardless of their geography.
   Facebook has been the big dog on the street for years but for teens there’s a new crop of free social networking applications that can foster their creativity - whether showing off their newest   “selfie,” musical or artistic projects, or their most recent vacation shots to friends.
   With over 100 million users, Instagram is the most predominant teen app out there now. It touts itself as a fun, free, and simple way to make and share photos. Instagram, which launched in 2010, touts their app with its filtered effects and cropping tools as a way to “transform everyday moments into works of art.” 
    Like its owner, Facebook, Instagram’s live updates keep teens in the know on what their buddies are doing. However, unlike Facebook or Twitter, Instagram  is a photo-only app that banks on creativity.
   For teens who want to send  their friends gifts, GifBoom is a moving version of Instagram that makes it easy to create animated photographs. Although some users say this app isn’t very user-friendly at first, moving Instagram-esque photos is pretty cool and worth figuring  out.
   For teens or adults who enjoy Facebook’s timeline, Path allows you to share almost anything - from your location to what you’re watching or listening to at any given moment. Path users can private message and chat instantly. Friends and family can “comment, smile, laugh, gasp, frown, or love your photos, videos, places, music, movies, books, workouts and more.”
   Path, with its live updating, offers users a minute-by-minute timeline of someone’s day (for those who might be interested). The cool thing about Path is you only have 150 friends, creating a more close-knit feeling for many users.
   Want to send a selfie that doesn’t stay in the cyber-world forever? Check out Snapchat with its real-time picture chatting whose messages disappear in 1-10 seconds after being opened.
    Snapchat lets you take a photo or short video, add text or a doodle and send it to your friends to view for a set amount of time (1-10 seconds, your choice).
   Once someone opens the pic, they have to press down on their phone screen to view the photo. After the timer is up, the photo or video disappears forever.
   Snapchat creators say all the messages are deleted from their servers and the only way they can be captured is if the recipient takes a screenshot or uses an image capture device.
   Regardless of which apps teens choose to communicate and keep in touch, there are lots of options out there.            
    There are good and bad effects for teens from social media but many psychologists who study these effects believe the positive benefits outweigh the negative ones, but parents should make an effort to ensure that the positives win out by monitoring your teens and their online activity.
    Happy chatting.