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Staff Editorials

Support your community: Enjoy weekend events

One of our Progress editorial board really wanted to try the peanut brittle at Sweetie Pies Bakery on East Church Street but didn’t get to. She missed out, and really, it’s her own fault.

She admired the pink and white striped sign for months and kept saying she’d go next week or the week after, but never did. When she finally decided to check them out, the store wasn’t operating anymore.

You know that when you don’t support a business, there is a chance it will have to shut its doors. With a weekend coming up chock full of events, there is a need to remember the same logic applies with once-in-a-while happenings also.

Jasper ArtFest, Dog Days in the Park, Tate Depot Days the Jasper Farmer’s Market, the Optimist Club 5K Flapjack Fun Run and the Sharptop Arts Association birdhouse auction are all going on at some point between Friday, April 15 and Sunday, April 17. By attending one or more of these events, you can increase the chances they will return.

We continually hear people (including us) complain that Jasper needs more things to do, especially after regular 9-to-5 business hours. We need to remember that planning an art festival, opening a business or preparing for a concert or play takes months, sometimes years of work. All this work is more than worth it to organizers if patrons come out and enjoy themselves. But when thinking of repeating an event, organizers ask, “Are there enough seats being filled, enough tickets being sold to continue next year?”

All events this weekend look fun, too fun to allow a regular weekend routine to get in the way of joining the experience. Don’t just think about attending one of these events. Get out there amongst them. Such happenings make the fabric of a town deeper and richer  and create more of a draw here for visitors. If we continue to support such events (never forgetting our local businesses) we will attract even more (with the commerce they bring), adding other unique and creative recreational opportunities here on a regular basis.

Here are some brief details of what’s going on this weekend. You can find out more in articles scattered throughout this week’s paper. And the best part? Many of these events require no admission fee. You will likely spend more time than money keeping these events and your community alive and well.

Jasper ArtFest: Saturday, April 16 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Main Street. Admission is free. This first annual event will feature dozens of fine artisans from around the region as well as demonstrations, food and kids activities.

Dog Days in the Park: Saturday, April 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bring your favorite canine out to Lee Newton Park for a day of fun activities and prizes. Proceeds go to support substance abuse prevention programs in Pickens County.

Sharptop Arts Feathered Event: Friday, April 15 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Burnt Mountain Trading Company. Tickets are $10. Birdhouses will be auctioned to support the Sharptop Arts Association.

Tate Depot Days: Saturday, April 16 and Sunday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For the first time in over 60 years the historic Tate Depot will be opened to the public. Attendees will hear the history of the depot and learn what’s in store for the building in the near future.  Admission is free.

Optimist Club 5K Flap Jack Run: Saturday, April 16 at 9 a.m. Pancake breakfast to follow at 61 Main. Proceeds go to support the Optimist Club of Jasper. Registration is $25.

Jasper Farmers Market: Every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Lee Newton Park. You can’t get more local than buying veggies, plants, crafts and other items from your neighbors.


Keep nuclear power threats & benefits both in perspective


The nuclear problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, where four of six reactors are in some state of meltdown, exploding, releasing radiation, couldn’t have come at a worse time for Georgia Power, now working to get the green light to add two new nuclear reactors to Plant Vogtle in Burke County.

In an unbelievable case of understatement, one Georgia Power official said events in Japan put the firm in an “uncomfortable spotlight.” It probably is difficult to get much support for adding nuclear capacity here as Japanese officials report radiation levels 4,000 times the legal limit in water around nuclear power plants there, following the tsunami and earthquake.

Still, it remains important for the public to stay informed and keep an open mind concerning nuclear power’s potential and threats as Southern Company, who owns Georgia Power, tries to gain final approval for a nuclear upgrade here.

Currently the United States has 104 nuclear reactors operating at 65 power plants. During 2008, nuclear reactors produced 19.6 percent of American energy consumed. Reactors continue to be considered a viable source for electric power into the future, especially by those opposed to further coal burning.

The country has not broken ground on any operating nuclear reactors since 1974, so the two in the works for Georgia are something to take notice of.

Public perception remains that nuclear power plants are incredibly dangerous due to radiation involved. And, truth be told, we wouldn’t want one in Jasper, though a military research reactor in the Dawson Forest many years ago apparently caused no ill effect.

The most famous nuclear plant in America, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, remains famous for the worst nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history. In 1979, an accident at the plant produced something like the ongoing situation in Japan, where a reactor overheated and could not be cooled.

Three Mile Island’s Reactor Number 2 was destroyed, but no death or injury to any plant worker or anyone in the nearby community was reported.

The most famous nuclear power plant in the world, of course, is Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Like Three Mile Island, it is only famous for the disaster that happened there. In 1986 it experienced a full meltdown and explosion,  sending radioactive material into the atmosphere. At Chernobyl, 31 deaths were attributed directly to the radiation release, and 237 people were treated for acute radiation sickness.

More than 20 years later, the number of cancers and deaths, birth defects or lesser health effects caused by the escaped radiation is hard to define. Numerous studies have been conducted on the people who live there. Results have been inconclusive on whether any negative health impacts occurred after the initial accident.

The Japanese nuclear disaster is still unfolding. In the wake of the tsunami and earthquake which destroyed much of the surrounding countryside, it will be hard to differentiate between solely nuclear problems and those related to the natural disaster. But it’s pretty clear the natural disaster has killed, injured and destroyed on a scale the radiation threat is not likely to match.

As Georgia Power moves forward with its plans, let’s keep in mind that the history of deaths, cancers and accidents relating to nuclear power is far from the disaster-waiting-to-happen scenario commonly portrayed. That most Americans don’t even know where our 104 nuclear reactors are located is a testament to their benign history.

In the past 20 years, nuclear plant technology has assumedly progressed. New plants should be more safe and efficient. Georgia Power has a responsibility to see plants here designed incorporating lessons learned in Japan. But there is no reason to go overboard, given a tsunami should never reach Plant Vogtle, nor seismic activity match that in the Pacific.

Sensible precautions from the long history of safe nuclear power plant operation in the United States as well as new safeguards deemed necessary after Japan should both be considered in regard to proposed reactors for Georgia.


NPR better off without federal funding

If you are on Congressman Tom Graves’ mailing list, you may have recently received a four-page letter from his office asking you for financial support. Graves’ mission? To “end the liberals’ quest to keep the government gravy train pulling into the NPR station.”

“I never listen to NPR,” Graves continues in his shamelessly pandering correspondence. “As I travel across Georgia, I tune in to hear Glenn Beck or Rush, Hannity or catch the news or just relax to good ole country music. NPR is too snooty for me.”

Well, Congressman Graves, we’ll admit it: We enjoy listening to “snooty” NPR, just as we imagine many on your mailing list do also. We enjoy tuning to our local NPR affiliates WABE-Atlanta or WNGU-Dahlonega for shows like Morning Edition, A Prairie Home Companion and our favorite, Car Talk.

Graves is now supporting a bill that would prohibit federal funding for NPR and purchase of radio content: H.R. 1076, introduced on March 15 by Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican.

Congressman Graves (apparently “snooty” enough to conduct some campaign events at country clubs) is not solo in his push to stop government funding of NPR. Just before the release of an embarrassing undercover tape of NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller blasting the TEA Party, and the subsequent resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation), U.S. Senators Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced a bill touted as the “defund NPR” bill.

If either of these bills passes, lawmakers who support the legislation not only gain bragging rights for cuts to wasteful government spending, they also get to stick it to all of those insufferable “liberal” elitists who tune in.

Thus, NPR polluting its own mission in an ugly incident caught on a secret taping device also highlights the largest single problem with public broadcasting: as long as it is funded by taxpayer money, it remains beholden to politicians like Graves––politicians who smack it for a political hockey puck whenever it’s convenient for their platform. This is why we think H.R. 1076 could actually benefit NPR.

We don’t like the bill introduced by DeMint and Coburn because it doesn’t exactly “defund NPR,” it defunds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That entity awards grants to local television and radio stations who then use some of the money to purchase programming from NPR, PBS and other public broadcasting organizations.

Of the $430 million the federal government gave CPB last year, 75 percent must be spent on public television. The other $90 million goes to radio.

According to NPR’s website, in fiscal year 2008 their member radio stations received on average just 10 percent of working revenue from these CPB grants. Another 5.8 percent came from different federal, state and local government sources.

But According to NPR’s former CEO Schiller, public radio stations in more rural areas often receive much more in CPB funding––up to 60 percent of their operating money. So smaller public radio stations would unfortunately take the biggest hit if a defunding bill passes, while NPR is left barely touched.

In the damning undercover video, fundraising executive Schiller says NPR gets about 10 percent of its total revenues from the federal government. Schiller then goes on to say that in the long run NPR would be better off without federal funding. Without it, private donors who enjoy NPR would likely increase their donations, he says.

We agree. Cutting NPR’s subsidies would no doubt make their week-long fundraising drives that much more infuriating, but people who want the latest installment from Guy Noir, John Hockenberry or Kai Ryssdal would likely open their wallets and make up the shortfall.

We hate to agree with H.R. 1076 when career politicians like Graves support it. And though we don’t support it from the same agenda, we agree taxpayers should not have to pay for programming they don’t agree with or enjoy, even if subsidies for it are a fraction of a fraction of the massive federal budget.


Pig out of town and trees officially ugly

Pity poor Jasper: our trees proclaimed ugly and our town’s only wild boar packed up and gone in a quest for a more tranquil kudzu patch.

For those who haven’t been following the news, the past year has been something of a “Wild Kingdom comes to Jasper,” beginning with buzzards that roosted in a residential area and fouled cars and roofs (maybe even a few unwary pedestrians). Finally the feathered fun-seekers were chased away by police officers, the animal control officer and the mayor, all shooting “bird bangers” – loud cap guns.

As quickly as those un-wanted guests skedaddled, a groundhog ran  among traffic on Highway 515. Instead of becoming roadkill, the rodent gained fame, shutting down part of a major highway when a driver’s rescue effort went unappreciated by the critter. The little beast revived all beastly inside the rescuer’s car after being scooped off the pavement in tender interplay of motorist and mother Earth. Never encountered an enraged woodchuck on your front seat? Lucky you. As Animal Control Officer Lonnie Waters said, those little suckers pack a nasty bite.

Eventually tugged from under the dashboard of its rescuer’s vehicle, the groundhog gained release into a friendly kudzu patch, leaving Jasper Mayor John Weaver speculating what this groundhog told others after rejoining the tribe.

The next episode of “When Animals Attack in Jasper” involved a raccoon that inexplicably latched onto a jogger in City Park. The jogger and a friend dispatched the varmint with little effort using a broken umbrella from a nearby trash can. The attack and the relative ease by which the perpetrating ring-tail received dispatch to raccoon heaven (a place where trash can lids are never shut tight) left city officials scratching their heads. The state proved no help when it wouldn’t  test the carcass for rabies, given the jogger won a decisive victory in the death match, taking no scratches.

At some point this spring, the buzzards returned briefly. This time the unwanted met a city force firing more than bird bangers. A pair of buzzard bodies, killed and hung up in trees, convinced the rest of the flock Jasper means business whenever it says, “Move along, you tree-treadin’ troublemakers.” Buzzards lit out for other parts.

All this leads up to the latest installment of animal oddity: a wild pig of unknown origin, live on the town. Boss Hog decided to call a wooded area back of Jasper First Baptist his home kingdom.

The pig gained notoriety when it failed to differentiate between overgrown areas and manicured lawns along South Main, thus building public sentiment against his personal pig relocation program. People often described the scene left by the  rooting hog as the look of a garden tiller gone wild.

To rid our town of the porcine pest, trappers came, hunters came, animal control officers came. In fact, Animal Control Officer Lonnie Waters said he had no shortage of offers from other ardent citizens eager to bag the trophy beast and haul him straight to the bacon factory. City fathers wisely decided South Main isn’t the Serengeti and just said no.

Fame, Waters said, may have proved too much for the pig. Apparently the herd of people hunting a glimpse of the pig’s new digs wore on the animal’s nerves, prompting Herr Porkster to  ramble on elsewhere.

As if trouble with fauna here weren’t trouble enough, in the midst of all this, the tree board proclaimed the flora (trees) downtown as officially ugly. Some are pretty spindly, but  with beauty in the eye of the beholder, who are we to compare maples to locusts?

Our final thought on all the flora and fauna news: If trees could talk, what would they say about the people on Main Street?

Sober drivers, not Luck of the Irish needed when you’re celebrating

Thursday is Saint Patrick’s Day and despite its roots in Christianity it is now widely considered a secular holiday ranked as one of the highest alcohol consumption days in the United States and one of the busiest times of year for bars and restaurants.

The holiday is named for Saint Patrick, of course, the most commonly recognized of Ireland’s patron saints, who, according to Irish folklore, used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Originating as a pre-17th century Catholic holiday, St. Patrick’s Day has gradually become more of a secular celebration of Irish culture. And we Americans love a celebration. From green beer and shamrocks to green rivers and fountains in some larger cities throughout the United States, Americans with or without Irish blood enjoy celebrating March 17.

While days like St. Patrick’s are a great time to gather with friends and celebrate life, keep safety for yourself and others in mind as you head out during the holiday which typically extends to parties on the weekend.

The “Luck of the Irish” is no plan for getting home after a 12-pack of beer. Although the United States ranks 13th behind countries like the Czech Republic, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Australia and Britain in annual per capita beer consumption, drunk driving is more of a problem here. Our higher drunk driving numbers probably have more to do with a lack of public transportation and walkability than with greater national risk-tolerance.

But for whatever reason people get behind the wheel, drunk driving might rightly be considered the number one threat to your and your family’s lives.

Drunk driving causes around one-third of all traffic fatalities in the United States, and during 2007 alcohol-impaired driving was involved in the deaths of nearly 13,000 Americans, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On average, someone in the United States is killed by a drunk driver every 40 minutes, and roughly three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related collision at some point in their life.

According to the law in all 50 U.S. states, a driver is considered legally drunk when his or her blood alcohol content level is at or above .08 grams per deciliter. To reach that level, a man weighing approximately 170 pounds would need to consume four standard drinks in one hour on an empty stomach. A woman weighing about 140 pounds would need to consume three drinks in an hour.

So essentially, it doesn’t take much to reach the legal limit, and with the novelty of green beer on tap, it’s easy to lose track of how many you’ve downed until it’s too late.

By all means celebrate. Celebrate being Irish or being Irish at heart. Celebrate the traditional Christian holiday, or celebrate because it’s a good excuse to wear green. But if you celebrate with alcohol, do celebrate responsibly.

And remember: when you visit one of our local restaurants in Jasper, for sure wear your green or risk being pinched.