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Staff Editorials

Random holiday ramblings

    • It seems that after the lights were re-arranged on the downtown trees, and perchance people got more in the Christmas mood, opinions on the new streetscape have greatly improved. Judging by online comments, the arborvitae trees and a handful of hollies now lining our Main Street have been judged to look a little better than the initial reaction indicated – at least at night.
    What has been good to see is that even if the trees still are not meeting some expectations, the hard work of the city crews has been recognized. Good job to those who have gotten the trees and lights ready for the holiday season.
    If you are still unsure, come see for yourself at the annual Christmas celebration this Saturday evening.
    • Speaking of coming to town, it’s time for us to urge you to support our local businesses and Progress advertisers. As we point out every year, the people stocking shelves, and running the cash registers are the same ones who live next door, attend your church and whom you mingle with at parents’ night at the schools. Let’s see that our Christmas spending stays here, rather than filtering back to some giant online corporation that surely isn’t going to write a check when you are asking for donations for your kids’ sport uniforms.
    • Speaking of sports uniforms, the reaction to the University of Georgia’s separation with Bulldog coach Mark Richt has been interesting. Many of the Dawg faithful were mightily disappointed with another good but not good enough year, yet when the coach stepped down, apparently with some encouragement, you’d have thought the Bulldog Nation was shocked to hear there were problems.
    Much of the wailing and moaning over his departure was how could they do it to such an upstanding Christian role-model? And it’s true that Richt, by all accounts, is someone you want influencing young people. But, in this situation, he wasn’t at a community center program and, Georgia fans aren’t going to be satisfied until we compete with our neighboring SEC schools, especially one to the immediate west. Year after year, other SEC schools are in the hunt for a national championship, while the Dawgs are resigned to some consolation bowl.
    No hard feelings against Richt, but some times you have to shake things up.
    • And speaking of football, it stinks to high heaven of hypocrisy for any state that has a legal lottery to target fantasy football sites, like FanDuel and DraftKings, over any moral objection to gambling.
    Georgia and any other state that tolerates, endorses and abides convenience store gambling has surrendered the high ground to criticize other types of gambling. No one should offer any criticism of online gambling if they are connected to a state government that sells scratch off tickets to those who can least afford them and to many who lack the financial understanding to realize spending hard-earned money on instant “games” is not considered good resource allocation. Studies show that convenience stores in the poorest areas see the most lottery/scratch off ticket business.
    If they want to stop online gambling, states need to shut down their lotteries at the same time.
    •And finally, speaking of crime. We encourage you to take a realistic view of dangers in the holiday season. You should be relieved to know that the chance of someone mugging you or an armed residential robbery in Pickens County are mighty slim. But, at the same time, there are always homes burglarized during the holidays, typically during daylight hours when no one is home.
    One of the best ways to protect yourself and your neighbors is y being observant and making a 911 call if something, like a car parked somewhere odd, seems suspicious. Law enforcement officials regularly stress they had rather people call and it turn out to be nothing than to see someone’s Christmas gifts cleaned out because no one reported that strange person at their neighbor’s door.   

Why we love Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-at-hill-city-elementary-2015 4045

        Hill City Elementary students grab an apple before sitting down for Thanksgiving lunch at their school last week. Parents and grandparents were invited to dine with their favorite pilgrims and turkeys at elementary schools across the county on November 19.

     Thanksgiving has always been a little different, and we’d go so far as to argue that it’s the best major holiday of the year. But how could Thanksgiving - which is basically a no-frills day off, a lot of food and a few football games - top our list?

Trees that provoke rage like these

I think that I shall never see
Trees provoke rage such as these

Trees planted with good intentions
By city crews with inmate assistance

Trees whose green boughs interfere
In Jasper’s downtown business air

A tree that may year-round wear
A nest of Christmas lights in her hair

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only the mayor loves these trees

    With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, who penned the poem Trees much differently in 1913.
By Dan Pool

    It seems those green trees recently relocated to our main drag are universally unpopular. It’s like the city had installed a Democratic presidential candidate on every corner with a microphone – that’s how poorly received the trees have been.
    For each good comment on the arborvitae, there are at least 10 to the negative. (Though I will concede that I am in that minority who think they look pretty good.)
    An initial poor acceptance is nothing new with work on Jasper’s streetscape. When Mayor John Weaver and council redid all the old cracked and crumbling sidewalks and replaced overhead utility poles with underground lines back in the 1990s, some merchants wailed that they had killed Jasper.
    The furor at the time was that the brick accent pavers on sidewalks, not to mention some concessions for handicapped pedestrians, weren’t worth sacrificing the parking spots that were eliminated. People also feared that the wider sidewalks to accommodate foot traffic and trees, would interfere with traffic down the street.
    The sentiment then being expressed was that Main Street was for driving, not for big brick sidewalks for trees.
    The trees that have been installed since that time have never garnered widespread approval either. The choice of a locust species planted in a few of the spots drew particular criticism.
    Grousing about Main Street’s appearance has ingrained itself as a tradition: we have Christmas Night of Lights,  the Marble Festival parade and Tree Grumbling season here in Jasper.
    Our new evergreen Emerald varieties of arborvitae are clearly one step up the leafy scale over the trees that were removed.
    Like aging fashion models the last batch had outlived their beauty. They were misshapen, crooked, droopy and mostly leafless.
    When the city crews first started cutting some of the trees this summer, I mentioned to the mayor the one in front of the Progress looked so bad even Charlie Brown would reject it, the mayor replied that one was slated to be left; it was the best they had.
    There were a precious few that still resembled healthy trees, which, sad to say, is par for the course when it comes to street trees. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that trees have a tough time growing in a hole in the road, surrounded by asphalt. These new ones may not last long either, but consider that the city got them as a part of a large purchase from a defunct tree farm. Jasper spent about $3,500 on a field full of trees instead of the several hundred a piece street trees can bring. And the city has magnolias and hollies which may be used in other areas of the city.
    Even if these trees fall to stress and difficulty in irrigation, the city isn’t out much. And the town could switch direction in the appearance.
    Moving to the all-evergreen look caught people by surprise and it may grow on them or it may not. But it certainly gives a unique and distinctive look on Main Street.
    And for people who really don’t like them, just wait around and we can all complain again when new ones are planted.
    In the meantime, there’s no denying they will look Christmasy.

After Paris, what now?

    Last month, the Islamic State, monstrous psychopaths that they are, proudly claimed they brought down a Russian plane over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. And, they took responsibility for a bombing in Beirut, all before their followers killed 129 people and left 352 wounded in Paris on Friday.
    They wanted to kill more last week and, no doubt, they intend to keep on killing in the future. Their followers refer to the deaths as “miracles.”
    In Paris they went after what analysts call “soft targets,” areas that are undefended. We see these “targets” as people - people enjoying a pleasant evening with friends, having meals at cafes, listening to live music and watching a soccer match.
    Following the horror in Paris, French President Hollande said his nation is “at war” with ISIS. And our own president has said we are “united against this threat.”
    But what exactly does that mean?
    The French are dropping bombs on ISIS targets in their Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. We’ve pledged more airstrikes. This is a good start; we’ve wondered why there haven’t been more intense attacks against the terrorists all along.   
    Whatever our overall strategy becomes, it should be focused on specific military targets, coordinated with other countries in the region. And where is NATO in all this? France has been attacked by an outside power. NATO members must do as Falcons fans are encouraged to do each Sunday and “Rise Up.” This is a Western fight because ISIS has made it a Western fight.
    In the wake of Friday night’s attacks in Paris, the French have said they “will lead the fight and will be ruthless.” In the aftermath of such horror, words like these are what many, like us, want to hear. We want our leaders to say they will retaliate for atrocities like these that left a pregnant woman hanging out of a window above a Parisian street clinging for her life while trying to escape madmen.
    But strongly worded statements of solidarity and pledges to defeat ISIS from Western leaders are simply sound bites unless they are converted into a tangible strategy. With each attack comes a lot of talk. From politicians and journalists to eyewitnesses and those of us watching as it unfolds on television, we all express our shock and outrage at what happened. The real test of our resolve comes six months or a year later when our military is still fighting the beast.
    Up until the Paris attacks, ISIS had successfully called the West’s bluff. They were convinced we wouldn’t send  ground troops to the areas of Iraq and Syria. And so far they’ve been right. Our strategy has depended virtually on the air war and training Iraqi troops and secular Syrian rebels.
    But ISIS has grown too strong to be taken down by such a piecemeal effort.
    We hope the Paris attacks will act as a political tipping point, bringing more Europeans – and Russia - closer to our policy to destroy ISIS. They are weakening but they won’t be defeated unless the powers act together.
     Just bombing them won’t work. 
    ISIS has gotten what they want so far and we need to take it back with a united military front, much like the World Wars, where you round up your allies and take care of business.

Vote yes on school SPLOST

    To face facts, we must replace the Jasper Middle School buildings. The sprawling campus was mostly built in 1958 and while the exterior is neatly maintained, problems abound with something used that many years, first as a high school and later as a middle school.
    Students and parents report that at times whole bathrooms are not functional. The director of operations has said that many of the problems with infrastructure would require digging up floors to remedy.
    And the building design limits the technology that students can access in their classroom – something that is becoming increasingly crucial in teaching.
    But the number one reason that the school needs to be replaced is that it’s not equal to its counterpart, Pickens Middle. You can’t have this. The superintendent told the board at a recent meeting that studies show students at better campuses do better academically. This is not a case of educators whining.
    The inequality between the two middle schools must be equalized. Half the county shouldn’t be assigned to the outdated campus.
    As to a design or even a location for the proposed new middle school, absolutely no plans exist at this point.    There is a lot of talk about whether (and how) the board can rebuild at the same East Church Street site or if they are going to look for new property. But it’s not decided.
    We called board chair Mike Cowart on Monday to doublecheck on any decisions, and he was clear, “We don’t have the cart before the horse.”
    First, they need to fund a new school and that means we need to vote yes for the SPLOST next Tuesday. New schools are best paid for one cent at the time, rather than through property taxes.
    We believe in this case, the project is not just a good one, but more-or-less mandatory. The kids in the half the county shouldn’t be held back so we save a penny at the cash register on every dollar we spend.
    The board, however, is disingenuous in their repeated claims that this is not a new tax. While the voters here have approved similar sales tax resolutions in 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2011, it is a new tax every go round. Each SPLOST comes with its own goals and represents updated priorities. Saying it is only “continuation” makes as much sense as saying the shoes I bought Saturday aren’t new, they just continue the old shoes I threw away.
    If down the road the school board trots out a SPLOST with poorly defined goals, you might seriously consider a no-vote. But this is not the case this time.
    When people want anything school-related, they usually use the argument, “it’s all about the kids.” In this case, it’s not only the kids, it’s also about the county seat and building something we can be proud of. Consider the location of JMS on Church Street, right  in the middle of the main avenue across this county, traveling east to west.
    It’s important that the school board handles construction well at such a prominent site. We urge them to consider the profile of that location and rebuild something there that makes the county proud. The current campus has served this county for half-a-century, let’s not see it become an abandoned site or be replaced with an eyesore.
    To do this, the school board needs the available funds. And we trust them to be good stewards of it. The school board has a solid track record of managing their building projects dating back to the current PHS campus (which was a lesson in mis-management but one from two decades ago). Since this they have relied on professionals and brought their projects in with nice results and on budget, even as the board’s makeup has changed regularly.
    They have earned our trust with the SPLOST and we hope with JMS they build something we can be proud of.