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Staff Editorials

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?

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. 

Use GDOT where it’s most wanted - Hwy. 53 in Jasper

    In the past year the Georgia Department of Transportation has held two public hearings for projects in Pickens – a forced U-turn at the Highway 515/Antioch Church Road intersection and a passing lane on Highway 53 East between Four Mile Church Road and Wilkie Road.
    While Talking Rock townspeople near the Antioch Church Road intersection agreed something needs to be done to reduce crashes there, they don’t like the GDOT proposal at all – a median would prohibit vehicles from making left-hand turns or crossing the highway. Talking Rock business owners complained that it would kill their downtown district, and Jasper’s Mayor John Weaver added to the public chorus, speaking against the forced U-turn solution.
     On the east side of the county, residents near a possible passing lane site say they don’t see the need. But Georgia DOT says the current level of service on Highway 53 East along the project corridor is a “B,” and with population growth the level of service would be reduced to a “C” by 2038.
    We’d argue that the level of service at another spot, Highway 53 from where it crosses Highway 515 into downtown Jasper, would rate an “F” right now, not in two decades.
    Instead of funding two projects not many people seem to like, why not put the money into the big project that is very wanted? Although the project in Jasper is much more expensive, some estimates are well beyond $20 million, the other two projects are not cheap either (Antioch/515 project at $1 million and the passing lane at $3 million). The $4 million proposed on unwanted work would be a nice start on the real need.
    Local leaders regularly say this stretch of congested Hwy. 53, the main corridor through Jasper, has and will continue to create traffic issues in town to the point it hampers tourism and commerce.
    Since the 1980s there has been some type of plan on Georgia DOT books to make that section of Highway 53 more functional by widening the road and constructing a split set of one-way roads, among other improvements to help move traffic through downtown.
    For all the plans that are regularly revised, nothing significant ever comes into being and locals know that driving from downtown to Kroger remains a lesson in frustration. Sure, you can pull into the retail strip along that route to get some tacos or have your computer repaired, but try pulling back out. And if you’re unlucky enough to travel that route during Jasper Middle School pick up or drop-off, forget about getting anywhere. 
    In a recent interview, County Commission Chair Rob Jones said that stretch of road is crucial for business, and that something should have been done 15 years ago. Mayor Weaver has worked diligently to get the project traction for years with no results at the state level.
    The state department of transportation is enjoying a monetary windfall with the Georgia Transportation Fund Act of 2015, which will allow them to spend an additional $757 million on projects in FY 2016  and an additional $820 million in 2017. Most of the initial money spent in 2016 and 2017 will fund  much-needed maintenance that has been neglected around the state. We’re happy to see these maintenance measures. According to GDOT’s list of projects, Pickens is slated for some resurfacing and other basic work in the next two years.   
    We encourage the state transportation planners to not spend money on stuff no one wants. Spend it on something everyone wants and something that will help our county immensely.  
    If revenues continue to roll in like they are expected to, and GDOT gets a grip on routine maintenance, this big project could become a reality sooner than later.     

Growth in Pickens County, Revisited

    A month ago we ran what we considered one of the more significant articles of this year, which addressed why it seems Jasper is behind in terms of economic development? We wanted to hear from local leaders about why they thought Jasper has not seen the growth of Canton, Ellijay, Blue Ridge and other surrounding areas.
    The responses from the commission chair, the Jasper mayor, the economic development director and others were varied, ranging from projects here not being finished before the national real estate downturn; to historical facts about the county; to geography - we are simply destined to be “in between” and other areas have more mountains, trails, rivers.
    Readers from all walks of life had plenty of opinions, too. It’s hard to remember a story that has prompted so many comments from so many different people with so many different points of view.
    Growth gets people fired up: How the county is doing? What is the county doing to attract it? What should the county be doing to control it? Why is there no Chick-fil-A here?
    One of the most common sentiments caught us off-guard: the Progress was thanked for pointing out that nearby towns have outpaced the First Mountain City with retail and commercial growth. We had considered the fact that economic development has dragged here to be common knowledge, and the purpose of our article was to look at why. For many readers, however, it was important to see in  black and white a story documenting that there are more stores in other areas with similar populations (Ellijay and Blue Ridge). For some, publicly admitting there is a problem might be an important first step towards addressing it.
    Other comments:
    • We’ve heard this before and simply don’t put credence into it, but there is a widespread belief that certain individuals intentionally hold back growth. Whether they identify the “good ol’ boys,” the “powers that be,” or identify someone like Jasper’s mayor, a good number of people expressed a belief that growth had been run off from our community.
    This doesn’t seem to mesh with facts like the city and county upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth and employing an economic developer to attract companies. You see for sale signs on prime commercial properties. No one is running business off; too few are seeking to come.
    • It’s time for the city and county to look at what they are offering to attract commercial operations and, maybe, put a sweeter deal together. Perhaps it is time for the county to create bolder incentives with tax abatements for new employers. The city has never given businesses breaks to locate here, but it may be the desire of the people for them to do so.
    • Create a commercial zone, where businesses locating along Highway 515 avoid property taxes for a specified length of time, was suggested. An additional advantage of this solution is that it lets the city and county have more input about where industries set up.
    • Another general opinion is what we need are industrial jobs, something that will pay more than the fast-food, entry-level positions. Solid blue-collar manufacturing, warehouse-style work should be sought. This would also let more kids who graduate from PHS stay here instead of moving away to find employment.
    • Another person said we need something big to get the county going  commercially, a major project that would drive even more growth. We haven’t had a big development announcement in years [except for a water park that has never gotten off the ground].
    • More than one person commented that it is good Pickens hasn’t developed like other places. They like the lifestyle here and hope nothing major locates here to disrupt it.
    We appreciate all the feedback, whether the person agreed, disagreed or wanted to offer alternative ideas on growth. Fostering a community dialogue on issues that affect everyone is always one of our aims.
    If you haven’t chimed in yet, but have strong opinions, shoot us a letter to the editor, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or call to discuss that story or any story you see in our pages, 706-253-2457.

A little compassion goes a long way

    What started as a tense moment on Vancouver’s SkyTrain earlier this month ended in a lesson about the benefits of compassion and not judging those around us.
    The story started when a man boarded a train car in Vancouver and began swearing and “acting really aggressively,” according to fellow commuters. Everyone was scared at first, believing that the man was likely suffering from a mental illness or drug abuse. In what has since been described as an ‘incredible display of humanity,’ a 70-year-old woman walked over and reached out her hand to the man, despite his aggressive behavior and profanity. She tightly gripped his hand until he calmed down and sat next to her, with tears in his eyes. For nearly 20 minutes the woman sat with him, her touch and presence calming him, until he got off at his stop, saying only “thanks grandma.”
    The whole time she didn’t let go.
    Afterwards the woman, a mother of two sons of similar age to the enraged man, said, “He just needed someone to touch.”
    A fellow commuter who witnessed the touching display, Ehab Taha, was so moved by the incident he posted the story on Facebook, and called for people to “not fear or judge the stranger on the train: life does not provide equal welfare for all its residents.”
    Indeed, life is not equal and the woman recognized the situation for what it was: A fellow human being in desperate need of compassion. Perhaps as compelling as her kindness was the woman’s ability to recognize how a seemingly small gesture, the touch of another person, could diffuse such a potentially hostile situation. After all, the man had a pen in his hand that could have become a weapon. Without regard for her own safety, she did something that quite possibly saved lives that day – she reached for his hand to comfort him in his time of distress.
    From the time we are small children we recognize that both good and bad things happen in life. While some things can be chalked up to bad luck, others may be brought on by our own willful and ill-advised acts. Regardless of what brought that man to his state of despair that day on the train, a kind, loving gesture pulled him back from the brink.
    It’s reassuring to know that whatever paths our lives happen to be on – whether, as Ignatius J. Reilly believes, our wheel of fortune is on an upswing or a downswing - there are people out there like the 70-year-old woman who instinctively know all we might need is a comforting touch.
    It’s important to go through our daily lives remembering that many people endure hardships the rest of us are completely oblivious to. People struggle.
    Maybe kindness is all we need in this world. And maybe, just maybe, no simple gesture is ever too small.
    So here’s to the unnamed woman who touched one man and wound up touching us all.