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Staff Editorials

A night at the symphony must be benefical

By Dan Pool, editor
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    The comedian Victor Borge once joked that he knew only two pieces of classical music – “one is Clair de Lune and the other one isn't."
    That pretty well sums up my knowledge of symphony as well. My own musical tastes tend to run the gamut – of rock that is. With playlists ranging from Yonder Mountain to the Talking Heads with some Waylon Jennings thrown in for variety, I rarely venture into performances where the musicians wear tuxedos.
    Seeking dry, indoor entertainment over the Independence Day holiday, however, my family went to the Falany Performing Arts Center at Reinhardt College to see The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Luckily we had bought tickets ahead of time as it was a sell out.
    I am sure that it’s healthy for everyone, particularly kids, to be exposed to the fine arts, so the night at the symphony was as much parenting as pure entertainment.
    If challenged I can’t elaborate on why I’m convinced it’s beneficial in the greater scheme of things to listen to a stage full of violins, oboes, cellos and other instruments whose names I’m pretty vague on.
    Perhaps the reason I have limited appreciation for classical music is growing up in Pickens County in the 1970s, there were scant opportunities to attend symphony performances without a long drive.
    The opportunity for live performances of music other than rock and country is now afforded this community with the Falany Center hosting a regular calendar of not only classical, but jazz, and unusual music from around the world. Sharptop Arts Center in downtown Jasper and the Casual Classics series also give some chances to hear highbrow music.
    I must confess that my night at the symphony was surprisingly very enjoyable. There was a certain novelty of watching the orchestra in a small venue. And the music itself was engaging, even to someone with a limited background in woodwinds and strings.
    One person leaving the concert remarked that the Atlanta Symphony selection was perfect for all. Two of the works (Brahms’ Variations of a Theme by Haydn and On the Beautiful Blue Danube) should have been familiar to everyone while the final part of the concert (Symphony Number 2 by Jean Sibelius) is a rare selection that fans of symphony should appreciate hearing live.
    I actually didn’t know the Brahms, but would bet that most everyone would immediately recognize Strauss’ Blue Danube. It was nice to know one of the works being played, though the snippets of this song used in commercials and movies don’t do the whole work justice.
    There are a bandwidth clogging number of websites which extol the benefits of classical music. From a firsthand point of view, I’d encourage you to go and take your kids to some of the programs at the Falany, Sharptop or other local venues.        
    Even if you don’t see an immediate benefit, somewhere down the road in their life, maybe in college, maybe on a job site, your kids might get to say “classical music? Yeah, I’ve been to the symphony before.”
    Exposing kids to fine arts or anything they wouldn’t normally get to see/hear/do opens all kinds of doors. And for a small north Georgia town, we are lucky to have access to a world-class performance center, the Falany, in Waleska.
    It should be noted that tickets to the Falany Center shows are very reasonable, especially when you factor in saving a sizeable amount on gas and with free parking you wouldn’t get in Atlanta.
    Look for regular news of upcoming performances at the Falany Center or in other venues nearby on our community calendar or in our pages each week. It may surprise you how much you like something new.   

Golfing while Egypt revolts may be best policy for Mid-East

    While decried by some as inattentive, there was actually something very comforting knowing that our nation’s president was playing golf and the Secretary of State was boating while coup was underway in Egypt.
    Our leaders may or may not  have been getting regular briefs of the downfall of  Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (of Islamic Brotherhood background) but any way you look at it, America wasn’t working for a regime change overtly nor does it appear we are even  playing the role of an active booster there.
    It was nice to see America to sit back and essentially say, “we don’t have a dog in this fight.”
    At this point most Americans have had our fill of  being drawn into or pushing into middle eastern conflicts. With Iraq, Afghanistan where we have been directly involved for years and in situations involving Iran and Israel where we are always front row in any situation involving our nemesis and long time ally, respectively, it’s a relief to be sitting this one out.
    By all accounts Egypt’s first democratically elected president needed the boot. He had, according to news reports, done a horrible job running the land of King Tut, with western critics opining that his first duty was always advancing the Islamic Brotherhood grip on the country and only secondly, actually trying to operate one of the oldest nations on the planet.
    This is a great opportunity for America to advance our western beliefs in a large country in the region simply by maintaining the position of “Good luck over there. If you need anything give us a call, but only after you get everything sorted out.”
    We are not so fortunate with Syria. Unfortunately there President Barack Obama has shown all the steadfast leadership of a five-year-old on a new playground, “Let’s go here, let’s go there. No, let’s go back over there.”
    After the constant reports of middle eastern uprisings of the past decade, even regular news junkies get glazed looks when another regime change or revolt makes headlines.
    But Syria lies like a looming iceberg – and it’s more troubling due to the mixed signals from Washington regarding the revolution to topple an Islamic tyrant.
    With a body count nearing 100,000 the ongoing conflict to depose Bashar al-Assad shows no sign of resolving itself either way.
    For the U.S. policy, first we steered clear, then we agreed to provide some non-combat support and sort-of promise that we would definitely do something if the Syrian strongman resorted to chemical weapons, which he did. Then Washington said it’s not fully clear that they really used chemical weapons on their on people, then it was proven very clearly that the Syrians had used chemical attacks against the rebels. The military forces also bombed and shot numerous civilians who happened to be close to rebel areas.
    So then we stepped it up with some military supplies, but definitely not a no-fly zone or troops on the ground. And in fact, the military supplies were limited over concerns that the weapons might one day be used against U.S. interests by the less than reliable rebel groups – as happened in Afghanistan. The short-term plan is to force the Syrian leader to the negotiating table with the rebels bolstered by the additional firepower.
    Of course, to further complicate matters, terrorist group Hezebollah and Iran are both backing the Assad forces trying to hang on to control and Russia and China both indicated they had no beef with the rulers and didn’t support any change.
    Looking at these two scenarios, let’s hope Syria winds up more like that in Egypt – where the issues can be resolved without the need for the U.S. to enter into a protracted, complicated and increasingly deadly Mid East war.

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.

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.

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.