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Staff Editorials

Roadside trash for the soul

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    I decided early Sunday was the best time to make my first sweep as an Adopt-A-Road volunteer. Easy like Sunday Morning, to me, meant less traffic and a smaller chance I’d get creamed by oncoming motorists. 
    I’ve rolled around the idea of adopting a road for a few years, then during one of my “I’m-checking-off-my-list” days I had last month, I committed. I went by the Keep Pickens Beautiful headquarters (it’s that teeny tiny, green log building at the corner of Main and Church streets) and asked what I needed to do. I found out the process is simple: pick your road and select a one-mile section you agree to clean up at least four times a year. If the road you want isn’t claimed, it’s all yours. You get a sign with your name printed under the Adopt-A-Road logo and installed by a road crew.  
    My first choice - a one-mile stretch on Jerusalem Church Road - was available. Assuming my husband would want to help me pick up trash, I selected “The Reinhardt Family” for our sign verbage. They gave us two reflective vests, two of those long-handled claw things to ease trash pickup, a t-shirt and other free KPB swag. All we had to do was report the number of trash bags we gather to KPB.
    “Be careful,” one volunteer told us. “People don’t slow down on that road.”
    My drives to and from home were different after that.
    I came to realize people really don’t slow down on that road, and our stretch now seemed extremely long – much longer than I had remembered because I was imagining it in steps, not miles. I recalled a lady who spun off and crashed into a tree a few months ago inside our mile, and I noticed a patch of tire marks in the grass just off the edge of the pavement in one spot.
    But when my sign was installed two weeks ago - and the road was obnoxiously trashed - I decided this past Sunday was it, my maiden voyage into garbage collection.
    These were the highlights:
    •Trash collecting became an anthropology experiment. “If humans were judged on the trash on our roadsides,” I asked, “what would the conclusion be?”    
    •Last week our Shooting the Breeze column was with two guys from Nepal who bought a convenience store just north of town. They lived in poor conditions and were asked what stood out about America. The men were shocked by the amount of beverages we drink. Case in point, 90 percent of what I picked up were drink containers. Of those, more than half were energy drinks or beer cans and broken beer bottles. Bud Light is clearly the choice drink of litter tossers in my area.
    •Beyond drink containers, losing lottery tickets ranked second. They were all high dollar tickets, $20 and up, and every single one of the 15 or so I picked up were coiled, like someone got upset, wrung its neck and threw it out the window.
    •My anthropological conclusion? My mile of road was littered with vices: beer, energy drinks, chip bags and lottery tickets. If we were judged on our trash, the prognosis would be poor.
    •The most unusual items I found: a flat-screen television, slightly bent and filmed with dirt; a soiled diaper and three unopened beers - Bud Light, of course, which I opened and poured out to get rid of weight, spilling a good portion of one on my gloves in the process. 
    •A glass Coke bottle had taken up in an embankment. It was lying sideways, just a small portion showing itself through the dirt and moss. Plants had taken residence inside. I left it because it looked like a terrarium.
    •I had a fleeting, really embarrassing thought that a passerby might yell, “Thank you, Angela! Thank you for picking up our road!” This didn’t happen.
    •I realized there’s no easy way to do this. There’s no machine that’s going to dig out an old, torn tin can buried in the grass or pry out a napkin that’s partially dissolved and adhered to a log or a pile of sticks. It takes time.
    • I spent an hour-and-a-half picking up a half-mile of the street, just one side. In that half-mile, I collected two giant bags of garbage and a television set. 
    Picking up trash is like waiting tables; it’s something I think everyone should do to keep from being too self-important. I left sweaty, smelling of hot beer and trash juice, but I was fulfilled and gained a fresh, albeit odoriferous, perspective. I’m just one of dozens of people who have adopted their road in Pickens, and for the Great Clean Up Month this April I encourage you to do the same.    

Privacy matters even if we’re doing nothing wrong

    Last week the United States Justice Department dropped a high-profile showdown with Apple where they had sought to hack into  an iPhone 5C owned by one of the San Bernardino terror shooters.
    The government dropped it after they hacked the phone without help.
    In a world where we willingly share tons of details about ourselves, why should the privacy of things we have on our phones matter?
    Many people might say there is no really harm from the government tracking us with their mass surveillance. (If you drive your car around the United States, the government could know if you’ve been to a therapist or an Overeater’s Anonymous meeting thanks to Automatic License Plate Readers that capture images of every passing.)
    Sounds like a good technique for catching terrorists or general thugs huh? Some believe there is no harm from this large-scale invasion of privacy - only people involved in bad acts have a reason to hide right?
    We good people who use our cars or the internet to go to work, come home, raise our children, plan outings, or just buy junk from Amazon have no reason to fear the government, right? We don’t use the internet to plot attacks, we’re just using it to post pictures of our kid’s latest dance recital.
    But  even if we are not doing anything wrong, privacy matters. The ability to have private thoughts is essential to our psyche. There’s a reason we still take steps to safeguard our privacy, putting passwords on our social media accounts and locks on our doors. Even if he’s a friendly neighbor, we still don’t want him to stand outside and look through the windows. Nor do we want co-workers reading our personal e-mails. No matter how mundane or boring, you don’t want anyone snooping in your life.
    In his TED Talk, Glenn Greenwald, one of the first reporters to see the Edward Snowden files with their revelations about the United States’ extensive surveillance of citizens, said humans may be social animals with a need for others to know what we’re doing (that’s why there’s 300 million photos posted daily on Facebook), it is equally essential for us to have a place that we can be free of judgmental eyes.
    “There’s a reason why we seek that out, and our reason is that all of us - not just terrorists and criminals - have things to hide. There are all sorts of things that we do and think that we’re willing to tell our physician or our lawyer or our psychologist or our spouse or our best friend that we would be mortified for the rest of the world to learn,” Greenwald said.
    He points out there are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant.
    Privacy is important to limit government power and the power of private sector companies. The more they know about us, the more power they can have over us. Privacy is about respecting individuals and our freedom of thought. A watchful eye over everything we read or watch can stop us from exploring ideas outside the mainstream.
    Knowing you’re being watched changes everything you do. Mass surveillance takes away our inherent freedoms and breeds conformity. It’s not about “the good people vs. the bad people,” it’s about what privacy means as a whole.
    If we allow constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.
    So when the government wants to hack into one person’s iPhone they are really seeking to hack into everyone’s.

Sure you can believe it, if you read it on the internet

    When the internet first came around, it seemed the ultimate resource for research was available to anyone. All the facts you could ever want at your fingertips, and with the next step it all went portable on everyone’s phone – never will you be somewhere that you can’t quickly doublecheck the capital of Mongolia. Trivia contests in bars make rules policing cell phone use. Otherwise, the players in mere seconds could find every answer - from who pitched the final inning of the 1978 World Series to who was the vice president in Teddy Roosevelt’s first term.
    But, hold on a second, the promise of unfettered information has and is being sidetracked by delusional, criminal and misguided people who either knowingly, sarcastically or for malicious intent put out content that is blatantly false.
    As evidence of how for every informative source there is an anti-fact posted, consider the following information that can all be verified on the internet:
    • On 9/11 – there are no shortage of websites and discussion that will tell you the United States government was actively involved in the planes (though some say there weren’t even planes but bombs) that crashed into New York and Washington. Note, this is not some indirect link they claim or oversight in security, but that American government agencies actually carried out the attack.
    • The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was either carried out by Israeli death squads who were angered by something the government did or by gun control proponents wanting a horrific incident to build support for more federal regulations.
    • A poor kid in the future researching a term paper would find numerous sites that claim the president was born in Kenya, not America.
    • You can find where a high school student made $72 million in the stock market and was named to Business Insider’s 20 under 20 – except it actually didn’t happen. The kid did well in a simulated game of stock trading, but not the real thing. The teen became a social media darling until it was revealed he didn’t really make the money.
    • A black supporter of Donald Trump was killed at a rally in Chicago by protesters last week. Didn’t happen.
    • Alien Abductions – there are websites that note they only include “true”accounts of alien abductions.
    • You can also find the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, which has “investigators.” On this site, you can read about a Bigfoot encounter that occurred between Nelson and Tate in 2008 when two motorists saw a Bigfoot cross the road. We never heard a local account.
    • And (the most entertaining recent internet claim) Stevie Wonder is not really blind. The 65-year-old singer has been faking it all these years.
    The idea of conspiracy theories and alternative explanations for events is entertaining and in most cases harmless, it is certainly nothing new – pre-internet people were already questioning whether Hollywood had produced a fake moon landing for NASA.
    Does it really matter if people believe man has still not really walked on the moon? Probably not.
    But when it is with criminal-intent is where it’s not so funny. We still regularly report cases where elderly Pickens residents are swindled by something that arrived in an e-mail or something they saw on Facebook or a website.        
    Ask yourself if none of the above are true, why would that offer to get rich quick or taking off the pounds or about rolling back your biological clock be any more valid?

The secret life of pollen

    While many folks may love the spring blooms of loropetalum, cherry trees and other plants budding out following a cold, bleak winter, those blooms can also bring a bevy of  itchy noses, scratchy throats and watery eyes to us poor, pitiful souls that have spring allergies. Not to mention what that yellow pine pollen does to our cars, decks and most any exposed surface.
    But a little yellow tint is the least of worries for allergy sufferers this time of year. For those who battle against the stuff that sends us to the drugstore for nose drops, eye drops, and antihistamines by the bagful (none of which really abate the suffering) the end is  nowhere in sight. Georgia’s pollen season peaks in early to mid-April, recedes in May and resurfaces in mid-August.
    Runny noses, sore throats, coughing, headaches, and lots and lots of mucus are what we have to look forward to. Those symptoms provoke allergy sufferers to berate anyone who would dare open a window for “fresh” air.
    We’re the ones you see in the grocery stores wearing a surgical mask over our mouth and nose (nope we’re not doctors). Sure it may look funny but so do our red eyes and runny noses.
    For those of us who suffer from the florescent byproduct of pollen, this time of year we feel as bad as James Caan in the 1990 movie aptly-named Misery. In the flick, Caan, a novelist, is rescued from a car accident by his ‘number one fan’ who at first renders him aid. When she discovers he has killed off her favorite character, she “hobbles” him, breaking his ankles with a sledgehammer, in an attempt to get him to write the book the way she wants it. This is more-or-less what pollen does to a sufferer’s nose -- except the fine particles have no demands or conditions and accept no surrender.
    If you are one of the relatively few folks who get by the spring allergy season unscathed, enjoy it and when you meet the rest of us poor souls out there with red, watery eyes, don’t run away from us because we look like one of the zombies from The Walking Dead. Just take pity and count your blessings you aren’t one of us.
    We’re pretty sure that the pollen is so bad now that somewhere  a junkie is converting his meth back into Sudafed.
    Hayfever is such a cruel ailment. There should be nothing more joyous that spending time outdoors after being stuck inside all winter. Enjoying a picnic in the grass, eating spring delicacies and sleeping away the afternoon, reading a good book, or playing in a pickup game of basketball or baseball. But for those of us who can’t take being outside inhaling all those fluorescent particles, it’s miserable. Sure we’d rather be out enjoying a relaxing day in the sun - but that just turns into a tortuous experience, seen only through teary eyes and a perpetually runny nose.
    Noses, by the end of April, will look like the falls at Amicalola. Just not as pretty.
    We’re also the poor souls who run when we hear a neighbor firing up their lawnmower, sending us running around our house making sure all the windows and sealed.
    The worst, perhaps, is when our dogs start staring at us, pleading  for a walk outside. They aren’t allergy sufferers. Bless their heart, we know they won’t get walked again for weeks. Poor pooch.
    The pollencasters may be our only remaining friends at the end of this season - no one will talk to us because our eyes are streaming and our nostrils red from nose-blowing - even though we buy the Puffs Plus with Lotion. To our fellow sufferers, take heart and just remember - only a few more weeks of misery.

In defense of the bologna sandwich

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    There’s almost nothing better than a plain bologna sandwich. White bread. Mayo. Thick-slicked bologna. No cheese.
    I was reminded of just how delicious they are when I went home for lunch last week to pick up a dog cage. I only had a few minutes after I made the drive, loaded the cage and fed our chicken, so I made one quickly and ate it standing by the counter. No plate, just a napkin and my unembellished, no-frills sandwich. It was the best lunch I’d had in ages.      
    On the drive back to the office I thought about my experience and scolded myself for my frivolous eating habits.  
    “Apparently,” I thought sarcastically, “I have so much spare cash to blow that eating out every day for lunch is a reasonable option. And apparently my lunch needs to be an event, and every meal needs to be different and exciting.”
    I know what you’re thinking. How can I in good conscience write an editorial about bologna with such pressing issues at hand? Mass shootings. Racial tension. War. THE DONALD. But to me, bologna represents several very important issues – personal and household finance, healthy eating habits, excess and waste – and reminds me that the simple things really are most satisfying and, in the end, better for you physically and spiritually. But here we are, eating out, gaining weight, spending our hard-earned cash and throwing away plates full of decent leftovers. A SunTrust study actually found that participants were living paycheck to paycheck because they were spending too much on lifestyle expenses like dining out.
    In April of 2015, revenue from restaurants overtook grocery sales in America for the first time in history. That means we spent more eating out than eating in. The Commerce Department data identified Millennials, the category I fall into, as being much more likely to eat out than other demographics. Now we’re the largest sector of the population, having overtaken Baby Boomers last year, and the market is shifting to accommodate. “Rise of the Foodie Nation: Cook it and they Will Come,” a retail trend study published by Jones Lang LaSalle, shows that food-related retail represents four of the five top expanding retail categories. Chipotle Mexican Grill is one of the top 10 most expensive stocks in the world.
    Speaking of grills, you may have noticed that rest stops usually contain several, but unlike the ones at Chipotle they’re never used. Ever. Still, there they stand, rusty relics from a time when restaurants were uncommon and families actually packed lunches for a long road trip. It’s romantic and hopeful to me that they’re left, despite being rendered obsolete by the dizzying amount of dining choices just off the interstate.
    I realize things are different now. We’re all busy. Modern families include working moms, like me, and cooking at home isn’t always appealing for either spouse, but meals don’t have to be entertaining or complex to do the job. If the word didn’t irritate me so much I’d probably label myself a “foodie” because I love cooking and trying new and exotic foods, but my bologna sandwich was delicious and cost less than a buck. I also love eating out, but not at the expense of financial stability or health (this not to mention the implications of a society of people who don’t cook anymore; people who prefer being served, are disconcerting).
    So, after going home for lunch that day, my new plan is to reel in the excess and my delusional expectations of what a meal should be and be more like bologna. Simple, but satisfying as hell.