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Staff Editorials

Believe or not? UFO spottings intrigue us

   Follow the link for this week's account of an August UFO sighting in the Ivy Ridge subdivision.

     Whether you’ve giggled at our front page stories the past few weeks regarding UFO sightings, or have been excited by the possibility that something unexplained happened here, we’ll bet you’ve at least been curious.
    Based on numerous calls and e-mails, we can safely say members of this community have strong opinions on whether strange lights in night skies are just military aircraft or something more “far out,” even alien in nature.
    Since the first story ran about the strange sky sightings back in November,  we’ve had a steady stream of phone calls, visits and emails from readers willing to share their thoughts with us,  and some who only wanted to tell us privately about the time they saw that strange thing in the sky. Several wanted to let us know that aliens simply don’t exist and there was no way a flying saucer crossed our sky.
    Our conversations, either face-to-face or by e-mail, have ranged from someone with a professional science background who has personal evidence that UFOs of the alien type do exist, to a person who said the whole idea of life elsewhere is absurd because of religious reasons.
    Whatever the reason the UFO stories have struck such a nerve, we have enjoyed the discussions and interactions with readers.
    We enjoy input from readers on the serious subjects like taxes and government spending, and we certainly appreciate that people take the time to comment on weighty subjects (as they have this week on the letters page regarding our campus security editorial last week).
    But this UFO subject is different because it’s fun -- so far no one claims to have been abducted and probed. One couple told us at the chamber meeting  this Tuesday that they certainly don’t believe in aliens, but have enjoyed the stories as a chance to lighten up during the cold winter weather.
    And we agree. Whether you believe in ET or War of the Worlds scenarios or whether you think those ideas are better left to crazed retirees travelling the country in RVs, it’s entertaining to talk about aliens.
    These type of “sightings” are nothing new, however.
    Back in 1947, an amateur pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported a “flying saucer” near Mount Rainier in Washington. Arnold reported seeing a chain of nine objects shoot across the sky, glinting in the sun as they traveled. Arnold told reporters at the time that he gauged the objects to be about 45 to 50 feet wide and flew between two mountains spaced 50 miles apart in just 1 minute, 42 seconds. If Arnold was right the objects reached a speed of 1,700 miles per hour, or three times faster than any manned aircraft of the era.
    The folks who saw the sky light up in Pickens County back in November may not have seen alleged spacecrafts breaking new sound barriers or shooting aliens out of pods to invade, but the question remains, “What did they see?”
    The nation’s opinion of “flying saucers,” a term coined in 1947 by Arnold, may not be what you expect. Last year’s survey of Americans  found 80 million of us, or 36 percent of the population, believe UFOs are real.  A full one in 10 of us say we’ve personally witnessed an alien spaceship, according to a survey commissioned by the National Geographic Channel.
    UFOs, like Bigfoot, ghosts, psychics and urban legends, are often viewed with complete skepticism, yet dedicated viewers tune in to reality shows on these subjects every week to scoff at the people on camera.
    OK, maybe studies have established that the majority of UFO observations are misidentified conventional objects or natural phenomena like aircraft, balloons, clouds, meteors or just bright planets, or even well-planned hoaxes. But what if some aren’t? Most investigators acknowledge that between five and 20 percent of  reported sightings remain unexplained, and therefore can be classified as unidentified in the strictest sense.
    When astronauts like Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell return from the moon willing to say he believes in aliens, why can’t we explore the possibilities?


Let’s react wisely to school shooting

    National suggestions for improving school security following the horrific December 14th shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. reached a downright ludicrous range during the holidays.
    Among the more farfetched, knee-jerk reactions was a rush on bulletproof backpacks for young students and an idea proposed by the NRA and others of having at least one armed guard on every school campus in America along with the idea of arming teachers.
    No one is opposed to the broad idea of keeping kids safe. Yes, all that rhetoric about the youth being our greatest treasure is true (even if that extends to some teenagers who might better be described as treasures in the rough).
    But throwing budgets and common sense to the wind and creating a police state on every campus in America with metal detectors and armed guards doesn’t guarantee the students safety and will almost certainly hamper any school activities that rely on community support.
    The attack by a 20-year-old psychopath on an elementary school leaving 20 children and six adults dead has left a shocked public demanding answers and action.
    And understandably so.
    While we want our schools to be as safe as possible, the public has to recognize that only so much can be done.
    Consider the armed guards that have been widely proposed: Campuses are big and sprawling. You’d need half-dozen people to keep constant surveillance on a campus like Pickens Middle and it’s relatively self contained. You might need more than ten people to keep the entrances to all the buildings at Jasper Elementary covered. And based on what happened in Newtown, just one person at an entrance might not be enough. Quickly you end with more law enforcement officers on campus than on the road.
    As a practical point, consider there was an armed school resource officer at Columbine High School when that shooting occurred in 1999. The SRO did exchange gunfire with the student killers but ultimately didn’t stop the massacre.
    The idea of armed teachers is similarly unfeasible. Let’s face it, few teachers have the training nor should they be asked to take the responsibility of acting as the armed security force on a campus. The idea of securing the firearms while they try to instruct is laughable. Some people go into teaching and some into law enforcement but few do both.
    At Newtown, the gunman shot the first person he encountered and if this person had been an armed teacher, chances are they would have never got their gun out as they would be expecting to offer lessons on math, not repel a homicidal  madman.
    The idea “good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns” put forward by some is a noble idea and theoretically possible, but outside of westerns, very rarely happens.
    In fact, it’s unclear whether a citizen has ever pulled out their own gun to stop any mass shooting. In Arizona at a shooting during a congressional visit, the gunman was subdued by unarmed citizens when he had to reload.
    In New York, police officers did shoot a shooter in August, but they also hit nine bystanders. So the idea that having more guns on a campus will make a safer school is not likely.
    Similarly, the idea that bans on certain types of weapons will make us safer is shortsighted. There is no reason to believe that those intent on mass shootings won’t find other firearms that will get the job done as well as the assault rifles -- albeit with more reloading and less speed.
    In evaluating the risk, it’s important to balance the horrible images of what happened in Newtown, with the fact that in Pickens County (and as far as we know across north Georgia), there’s never been a school killing of students of any age or under any circumstances – and that’s never - not once. While horrific, shocking and any other word you want to use, these are exceedingly rare occurrences.
    What we want to see is a reasoned and feasible plan to secure our campuses without jumping on a bunch of poorly thought-out reactive measures or turning elementary schools into something resembling a middle eastern road checkpoint.
    One reason we have concerns about drafting a bunch of new measures is the massive over-reaction to courthouse security all because of one incident in one courthouse in Atlanta.
    It was tragic; innocent people lost their lives, but resulting security measures have gone too far compared to the risk that is out there in places like Pickens County. Is it really necessary that average people have to have every bag screened and remove their belts before going through a metal detector on a normal day at a courthouse in Jasper? Now try to imagine a similar scenario with entering a school campus for a PTO function?
    Let’s think about campus security, listen to those in law enforcement and come to a suitable and workable decision.

2012 “doomsday” Mayan prophecy


  According to what many call the doomsday prophecy of 2012, the world will come to a screeching halt at midnight on December 21 of this year.
    The “prophecy” comes from the fact that the ancient Mayan calendar, dating back more than 5,000 years, displays its last day on December 21, which corresponds with the winter solstice, or shortest day of the year.
    What may cause some anxiety is that some interpret this as “the end of days,” as if the sun isn’t going to come up the next morning. But what isn’t common knowledge is the Mayan view time as cyclical and repeating, not linear with a beginning and end, as Westerners do. To the Mayan people, it will be a time of great celebration. Just as we celebrate the New Year every year, they hold celebrations at the end of each Baktun. A Baktun is 144,000 days. What separates this day from the last 1,871,999 is that there isn’t a fourteenth Baktun. The whole cycle starts over on what would be December 22, 2012 on the Gregorian calender.
    Cataclysms are something we are fascinated by. We seem to love the idea that there will be an end and it will be tumultuous and only the good will prevail. It makes life more interesting. Religious people may think of this as a sort of spiritual cleansing, where all the sinners will be left here for trials and tribulations and the righteous will be called to Heaven.
    Doomsayers believe there could be a plethora of disastrous scenarios that range from power outages to a world-wide flood akin to the story of Noah. “Preppers,” who are readying for the end-of-days are stocking up on guns and ammo and building nuclear fallout shelters 20 feet under the ground with a hidden entrance.
    Some may try to tie the prophecy to what happened in Y2K. Or, actually, what did not happen. But there’s a big difference between these two events.
    There actually was something to Y2K. In theory, all computers were going to reset to the year zero and since the memory is tied to the date of the files, all progress of the last century would virtually have been deleted. But thankfully, the reason we didn't have a massive computer meltdown – if not a genuine world meltdown - is that some genius thought about it in time to keep it from happening. So the "Y2K'ers" had actual tangible fears because imagine what would have happened if every computer inside every device in the world suddenly ceased to function.
    Since computers are man-made, Y2K was preventable. But there is nothing we can do if something comes hurling through space and crashes into Earth, whether that be a meteor or a sun flare, or an army of invading alien space craft.
    We are living on a very old planet. Geologists can’t agree on the age, but it’s around four billion, some say. Archeologists unearth fragments of the past every day which fracture the view we hold of ourselves and history as people. One only has to stay up-to-date to be humbled by these findings.
    The idea of the Mayan doomsday prophecy actually has serious historical misinterpretations.  It comes from a piece of art that was found a long time ago that was in one of the four surviving Mayan codices. The art shows what appears to be water coming from a reptilian creature’s mouth while two gods stand by. The person who saw it didn’t know anything about Mayan beliefs and thought since the two gods were black they must have been evil. Thing is, the gods are associated with creation, not destruction.
    Other than that one painting, there is only one other mention of this time that comes up in all of the Mayan’s writings. A sculpture that mentions the end of the 13th Baktun, and goes on to say what will happen, but the corner had been broken off so our fate will forever be a mystery. Well, at least until Dec. 22.

History isn’t being erased, it’s just not being printed

By Damon Howell
Progress Photo Editor

    For years now, the Progress has been wrongly neglecting the printed photo, as, like most everyone, we are caught up in the digital age that scoffs at older technology -- such as plain old pictures printed on glossy paper kept in a cardboard folder.
    We can use a computer search find a trove of digital images, but frankly, it’s hard to recall the last time we dealt with a printed photo.
    A couple weeks ago was a fall clean-up around the Progress. We do it every few years and always marvel at how fast useless junk accumulates.
    Of the things headed for the landfill was a 4GB server we purchased for $5,000 a few years ago -- now you can’t find any computer with only 4 GB of memory. Other items headed to our dumpster (or recycling) included burned out computer monitors, keyboards, mice, and empty boxes; several copies of QuarkXPress (our main layout software) on floppy disks and ridiculously expensive when purchased also went into the trash. Few modern computers even have a spot to insert a floppy-disk.    
    Ironically, we kept shelf after shelf of lead lino-type, a printing technology used before almost all of our current staff started working here and many of us were even born. We kept it for nostalgic purposes; several boxes of hard-copy photos dating back to 2008 were kept. We also have many boxes in another room dating further back.
    I am having a very hard time parting with these boxes of photos even though the consensus is “everything is digital now and no one looks through hard-copy photos anymore.” I beg to differ.
    I’m guess I’m old-fashioned, because earlier I was thinking of printing all the photos our staff takes from now on. Why? Our staff takes hundreds of photos each week of different Pickens County happenings. Instead of  printing every photo on the “roll” we choose one or two and dump the rest into a digital folder, often times those alternative shots are never seen again. Will they be seen in twenty years?
    One day we will be sorry we don’t have different angles of long-standing Roper Hospital or the courthouse being demolished; or photos of the way Pickens looked before it was developed. You know how many photos The Progress has of the brick courthouse that stood where the current one is? One. I guess no one at the time thought the photos were worth keeping because everyone knew what it looked like then. No one does anymore.
    A case for prints: Advancing technology replaces digital file formats and one day your archive of secure photos will be unreadable by new technology. Hard copy photo prints can be “read” by the eye immediately without a computer. The popular photo file, JPEG, may be replaced in ten years and be like those floppy disks of QuarkXPress that were once regarded by as cutting edge.
    We use digital cameras now, and although the convenience of taking 3,000 pictures of your kid’s birthday party may produce a few undesirable pics, think about how grateful they will be when they’re sitting on the couch with their kids, flipping through the family album, not sharing on their iPhones. I know people who have years of photos backed up on their camera cards and have been promising to get prints one day. The scary thing is a digital file can get deleted or corrupted. And if that happens you lose that moment in time forever.    The cost of digital vs. film was a factor in the switch at The Progress because of the sheer volume of images produced.
    Being that the newspaper takes many pictures at an event but only uses one or two, going digital cut down tremendously on our photography budget. But the consequence of that is images of today’s Pickens County are not piling up and being preserved for future hands like our old boxes of photos.
    I am of youthful age so when I got into photography, dark room knowledge was a plus but technology was dating it with “Photoshop”. Fifteen years ago,  The Progress had just purchased its first digital camera. And in the next few years, film enthusiasts found they could no longer fight the shift. The trade was a dinosaur.
    The medium has changed many times since the first camera. In 1839, experiments were made with a glass plate caked with a light sensitive chemical. Now it’s all 0’s and 1’s. How much will it change in the next 173 years, and will we have the historic documents in a readable format to show the advancements?
    So, in the new year, resolve to remember all those things in your past that have been worthy of a picture. If you have photos digitally, get prints made. Prints will allow future generations to revel in those joys as well.

Pickens Arts Community: Washing the dust off our daily lives

    Dale Carnegie once said, “The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.”
    Following his show on Saturday, “Home for the Holidays” artistic director Ross Galbreath said he hoped the show had inspired heartfelt emotions among audience members. Galbreath’s show, filled with very talented local actors, singers, and dancers, brought tears of happiness to at least one audience member in attendance that day and we’re willing to bet many more.
    We at the Progress want to thank the myriad of talented artists - whether in the performing, visual or written arts - for filling our community with wonderful productions that enrich our lives throughout the year.
    Whether you see the latest Tater Patch production, a North Georgia Acting Company play, a dance by Get to the Pointe ballerinas or jazz dancers, a high school or middle school band or choral show, everyone should take advantage of the great community of artists willing to share their talents with us. Local churches, too, provide us with artistic outlets as evidenced by the number of great Christmas and spring musicals performed every year.        
    A large part of any successful community is the arts and, thankfully, Pickens County is more than blessed to have numerous groups whose goals are to provide quality entertainment in many forms. Consider for a moment how fortunate this county is to have regular classical music presented here courtesy of the  Casual Classics concert series not to mention regular opportunities to learn and perform through the Creative and Performing Arts Academy.
    These groups, and many others, have a proud history of excellent productions and ambitious goals for future shows. And we are excited to be a part of a community that supports such talent. We believe arts and culture are critically relevant to everyone’s lives; it enriches who we are as people; it improves economic development; it draws people together. Perhaps most importantly, it lifts the soul and inspires.
    From this weekend’s “Home for the Holidays”, the Tater Patch Players’ “The Miracle Worker” or the hospital’s Love Light Tree lighting, our community’s dedication to arts bring us together.
    We may not be cognitively aware of it but when groups like the Sharptop Arts Association host “Open Mic” nights, allowing local artists to display their talents and us to be exposed to that talent, they are ensuring a better quality of life for us. This group along with Van Goghs Hideaway on South Main, provide unique shows of artwork open for the public year-round, ensuring that we never have to look too far to find genuine artistic works for viewing.
    Plus, courtesy of the Burnt Mountain Trading Company, Jasper often showcases the entries of art contests in public places such as the recent gingerbread house contest and scarecrow contest -- both serve to show visitors that the people who live here have pride in their community.
    And while only once a year, the Artfest celebration in the spring packs downtown with a street-full of high quality displays.
    While not seen, readers may be aware that creative writing is fostered at the youngest ages through the Sassafras Literary society.
    Studies have long found strong relationships between the presence of cultural resources in neighborhoods with much lower levels of social stress in children and adults. Arts and culture, it’s clear, plays an important role in improving the lives of ordinary people by providing us a resource to help us make sense of the world and imagine the future while remembering the past.
    We appreciate the efforts of everyone this year who has led or participated in arts projects in our community and engaged in artistic endeavors of all kinds.
    Communities benefit in multiple ways when there is a vibrant arts and cultural base and the people who develop and deliver high-quality, engaging and imaginative arts projects do a service to us all. From theatre and music to comedy and literature promoted by local volunteers, the arts represent an important dimension of social inclusion.
    This Sunday the Tater Patch Players, a community theater group formed way back in 1977, will host an open house at their theater to thank their volunteers while also seeking new ones. We would encourage everyone to join  them - or the Sharptop Arts Association or North Georgia Acting Company - and remember when deciding whether to take that step and become involved in Pickens County’s arts scene, that an artist cannot fail. It is a success just to be one.

    Editor’s Standard Disclaimer: Right now someone is fuming and saying to themselves -- how could they have left my group out - we do so much to foster the arts here? You are right and we apologize. It was an oversight, not a slight. With all that’s going on  in the local arts scene, it is truly hard to acknowledge all who deserve it.
    We apologize to whomever was left out in advance.