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Staff Editorials

Does Pickens want art?

    At the most recent Sharptop Arts Association meeting members and leaders tossed around the idea of developing an arts district in the county. Why? Because for years, arts and culture organizers in Pickens have said garnering public support is like living the life of Sisyphus – an eternity spent pushing a boulder up a hill.
    Art galleries open, flounder, and then close. Attendance at art-related events is often low and typically it’s the same handful of folks who show up. Remember ArtFest? Organizers shut down after the third year because they said they had a lack of community support in terms of volunteers and patrons. Some arts leaders and advocates think an art district here - or some other kind of unification of the arts - would bolster support in our rural county. The idea of a shared space scenario would reduce maintenance, utilities and upkeep for struggling arts groups. An art district would also serve as a kind of cross-pollination device. Attendees at one show would be exposed to info about upcoming events at a neighboring organization.    
    To us, art is kind of like hammocks or rainbows. It would be a challenge to find someone who doesn’t like or find value in it in some form - be it visual art, poetry, music or dance. Still, art is notoriously the first head on the chopping block for school curriculum, and is a difficult cause to get the public behind because it’s not considered “essential.”
    But there is one area the arts get big support for here – children. Theatre camps at the Tater Patch Players theatre and arts camps at VanGoghs have been very well attended (unfortunately VanGoghs closed last year); the Youth Art Month at Sharptop Arts Association draws more traffic than any other time of the year; and moms and dads come out in droves to band concerts and dance recitals.
    Parents encourage children in art because they see value in it. They know studies have found that children with a background in the arts develop strong, imaginative brains, and because of this development they perform better in school.
    It’s unfortunate that we encourage our children to create art, but when it comes to supporting art created by adults we don’t get behind it. The Progress has a working relationship with many boards and committees in the county, and we personally know of more than a few arts and cultural organizations that are considering cutting programs because of a lack of attendance and interest.  
     This raises the question, is the problem that the community is not doing its part to support these programs, or is the problem that organizations aren’t giving the community what they want?
    One woman who has been involved in the arts here for over a decade recently made a sad statement. Maybe, she said, Pickens just doesn’t want a big art scene. Maybe Pickens is more interested in sports and humanitarian endeavors. This woman wasn’t passing judgment, just posing a hard question. Does Pickens want art?  
    In our opinion every community should have a defined arts and cultural element. Without one, we might as well crawl into a dark hole. Who wants to live in a cultural vacuum? People will drive to Canton, Marietta and Atlanta to do “artsy” things. Why not stay here and do the same?
    Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as an “art lover,” we argue that there are reasons for you to support the arts.
    • Art makes merchants happy. If a couple or family goes to a play or show, they usually go to dinner or may do some shopping while they’re out.
    •Art brings in tourists. If people come in from out of town they spend their money here and support our economy.
    •Art creates stronger communities. Studies show that more art means more civic engagement and a stronger sense of community. Having a strong art scene also makes our community more attractive to others.
    •Arts inspire us. Art is an expression of our humanity. Because of that, art builds cultural bridges and helps us to understand one another. 
     While art may not be a basic necessity of life, we certainly don’t want to live without it.

Students need make-up days

    Last week the Pickens County School board decided students will not be required to make up seven of the nine school days missed this year because of wintry weather, with March 21 and March 24 having been approved as the only two make-up days for both students and staff.
     Not only do we think seven missed days of school will negatively impact students education, the BOE’s decision adds insult to injury when you take into account that the state is requiring teachers make up all nine days. 
    The state school board granted each district the option of whether or not they would require students to make up those days and we respect their decision to give local boards freedom of choice. We only wish our school board had put top priority on academics and cut some holiday time, or added days to the end of the calendar.
    After Pickens began to run up a high snow day count, it seemed like board chair Wendy Lowe agreed that more class time was called for. Lowe said she thought the breaks should be downsized for the sake of academics. 
    We understand make-up days are a tough decision for the board, which has to juggle the remaining months in the school calendar and the possibility of cutting into family vacation plans. We believe a better approach would have been requiring students make up at least five days of missed days. They could have forgiven the other four days which the state allows as a standard weather policy, assuming no state of emergency situations. 
    Many of us at the Progress have school-aged children and we know how long it takes for them to “get back in the swing of things” when their regular schedule is interrupted.         With four days missed in two separate weeks because of the snow, we might as well count those single days of attendance lost causes. If we look at education globally, U.S. students should probably be in school more than they already are – we don’t need to hack off more days from the calendar because it’s inconvenient to make them up.
    In her blog, AJC writer Maureen Downey points to a study that found poorer performance among students during years with a high number of snow days.
    “In a study that spoke directly to time lost to snow days,” Downey writes, “researchers by Dave E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen examined how Maryland and Colorado schools fared on state assessments in years when there were frequent snow days compared to years where there were fewer. The study found the percentage of students passing math assessments falls by about one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day school is closed.”
    Teachers are already slammed with material they have to get through, and a week-and-a-half out of school is a lot of curriculum to make up. We’re thankful dates for the CRCT were ratcheted back for more consistent blocks in the classroom, but we worry there’s going to be even more “teaching to the test” to make up for the lost time. 
     We were disappointed to see local and state education leaders jump at the chance to avoid the hassle of figuring out how to get in a few more days, which brings us back to the question of the teacher make-up days. If kids aren’t there, what will teachers be doing for those seven days? The Pickens school board has already tacked on two extra “post-planning” days to the calendar, and we wonder how much additional post-planning is needed beyond the original schedule? Isn’t that similar to a baker delivering a wedding cake, then spending the next two days in the kitchen thinking about the cake but not baking anything new? To us this sounds like a waste of taxpayer-funded time.
    Beyond the necessary planning days, if we’re paying teachers to be at school our children should be there too.    

Winter Olympics We may not understand them, but we can enjoy the ride

    Sports fans barely have time to digest the beer and chicken wings from Super Bowl Sunday before this Friday, the day the world launches into the two full weeks of snow-dusted Alpine competition we call the Winter Olympics.
    But for all of the non-Nordic earth folk (a.k.a. most people on the planet), the Summer Olympics are a lot easier to relate to than their winter counterpart. Why? Because for summer sports you don’t need perpetually snowy mountains, frozen bodies of water and outrageously expensive equipment to give them a try. All you need to run is a pair of shoes. All you need to swim is a bathing suit and a lake or pool.     
    Winter games are exotic and interesting - kind of like white Bengal tigers - but just like those albino rarities people seem to be more curious about the Winter Olympics than they are loyal fans of its events - which may be why the ratings are so much lower than the summer games. Summer games, on the other hand, are like dogs. They’re easily accessible and almost everyone can say they’ve experienced some of the sports first hand.   
    To be fair both have their offbeat events (who could forget the long-lost warm-weather sports Live Pigeon Shooting and Solo Synchronized Swimming?) but the Winter Olympics take quirky to a whole new level. Seriously, who can say they unwind on the weekends with a nice game of curling? Or who’s been in - or even seen for that matter - a bobsled? Or been luging? Outside of the Alps where would one even practice for such events?
    "I assume the only reason we have them is so that white people feel relevant in sports," Daniel Tosh said on Comedy Central. "Because other than that, the only thing the winter Olympics show me is which country has more rich white kids. What's it cost to go skiing — $900 a day?”      
    Yeah, we’ll admit it; the Winter Olympics may be a little more elitist than summer games – but we still enjoy the hell out of watching them.
    Here are some other things we like (and a few things we don’t) about the Winter Olympics, the eccentric stepchild of the summer games.  
    LIKE – Figure skating! If you’ve ever been ice-skating you know how much practice it would take to pull off graceful triple-axels and toe-loops - or any jump for that matter. Plus we like the music and the costumes are fun to look at (especially the men’s costumes, which we would argue were swiped from Liberace’s closet.)
     DISLIKE – Winter games don’t seem to embrace the spirit of the Olympics like summer games do. No matter how rich or poor you are, you can run, swim, and lift weights (or other heavy objects you pretend are real weighs). That’s why the summer games boast over twice the participating countries, and why since the Winter Olympics’ inception in 1924, competitors from only six countries have won nearly two-thirds of all the medals.
    LIKE – The danger. Winter Olympics sports are way more dangerous, which makes watching them more exciting.
    DISLIKE – We think the winter games should have never been moved. Before the early 90s the winter and summer games happened on the same year, which made the Olympics more of a monumental experience. Now the impact is diffused with the staggered system.  
    DISLIKE – We don’t have a frame of reference for what we’re seeing with winter sports. Sure, we know that if a figure skater or snowboarder falls it’s “bad” and they’ll lose points - but for elements of style and technicality we wait glassy-eyed for commentators to tell us what happened.
    DISLIKE – Fewer events. Winter Olympics has less than half the events of the summer games.
    LIKE – We would have never had such cinematic gems as Cool Runnings without the Winter Olympics. (And in fact, the Jamaican bobsled team is competing this year for the first time since 2002, which makes the games that much more intriguing.)     
    So brush off those tater skin crumbs and get ready to couch surf your way into the 2014 Winter Olympics, being broadcast this year from Sochi, Russia. We may not totally understand them, but we can certainly enjoy the ride.

Snowpocalypse jam on the roads shows need for transportation alternatives

    The late novelist David Foster Wallace told a story during a speech once about two fish swimming along when an older fish made a comment about the water that day. The younger fish scoffed, what’s he talking about?
    The point being the most common things are the ones you rarely notice. Take for example the automobile. You certainly notice when a ridiculously expensive foreign sports car goes by at 100 mph, but as a whole, cars have become to north Georgia like water to the fish. The use of automobiles for transportation is so ingrained that 99 percent of the time you never think about them and you certainly don’t consider alternatives.
    That is until something like an ice event barrels through the area mid-morning with some (but not a lot of) warning. In that case, if you were trying to get home from anywhere further south than Tate, you had plenty of time to consider the automobile both as a form of transportation and a punishment from the seventh level of Hell.
    The case can be made on both the recent snow/ice events that what shut us down so completely was partly the roads and weather, but part of the blame also goes to cars.
    In the late January snowpocalypse: no one could get anywhere in their car because there were too many other people who also couldn’t go anywhere in their cars. In fact at its simplest, the problem resulted from too many cars on roads that were no longer functioning and no other means to get anywhere.
    We blamed the ice and snow for leaving us stuck at home, but it was really the fact that in Georgia we haven’t created any options other than driving.
    The lack of any alternatives for getting out of the Atlanta area stuck out clearly in our snow event, especially when compared to other eastern cities. It’s not that everyone in Chicago, Boston and New York knows how to drive in the snow or that their cities have some magic concoction to dump on the roads, in those places not everyone has to get from point A to point B by car. When roads are less than ideal, you have choices.
    In Atlanta, the ninth largest metropolitan area in America, we continue to rely almost exclusively only on one form of transportation to serve an area of  5,457,831, particularly as this relates from getting from northern suburbs to the area inside the perimeter.
    What is scary to ponder is if you look how a relatively benign occurrence, like snow and ice, jammed all the roads, imagine the chaos that would happen if a real emergency (big fire, terrorist threat/attack, tornadoes) struck the metro area and damaged key roads. Based on what we saw with the snow and ice, try to imagine if a portion of I-75 north between the I-285 and I-575 junctions was suddenly left impassable. People might not get home for a week.
    Even though buses may not go much better than cars in the snow, they are infinitely better at moving a lot of people without jamming up roads. And subways and trains run well in all weather.
    Rather than jumping on the governor, mayor and state leaders for not keeping a better eye on the weather, Georgians should be taking them to task for continuing our thorough dependence on the auto in this state.   

Have politics really gone this low

    On Friday, the Jack Kingston For Senate campaign held a meet and greet at Rocco’s pub. And like most political events in Pickens County, it was almost exclusively attended by campaign staff, other politicians and a handful of loyal party members - except there was this one creepy looking guy who hovered around with a video camera.
    As the Progress attendees were chatting with Kingston on compelling topics of national significance such as where he had lunch that day, the video guy moved in closer to catch every word of this. When asked who he was, Kingston, an affable congressman from the Savannah area, answered for him.
    The guy was a “tracker,” someone who is paid by political rivals to follow him around and record every thing he says in hopes that he shoots himself in the foot, figuratively.
    The congressman and the tracker then had a quick exchange that revealed the tracker is paid by a liberal PAC (political action committee). The tracker replied that Kingston should know all about trackers because the PACs that support him also use them.
    Kingston then challenged the tracker over how much he is paid, to which the tracker said the people paying him didn’t want him to give out that information.
    To which the Progress editor said that must be the most boring job in the world.
It really must be a horrible way to earn a living, recording nothing but small talk all day in hopes that some candidate will lose focus and say something like he enjoyed the barbecue in Ellijay.
    The comment would then re-surface later that day on partisan websites stating that Kingston no longer supports south Georgia barbecue.
    According to a column on trackers in the New York Times, Kingston may be annoyed by someone constantly sticking a camera in his face, but he should also be flattered: someone out there views him worthy to watch. The NY Times columnist Gail Collins joked, “I’ll bet there are borderline candidates out there who hire someone to pose as a tracker just so people will think they’re being taken seriously.”
    Collins also noted that in the old days, politicians refused to give stump speeches if they thought any reporters were on-hand as it was unseemly to have someone write down what you said in impromptu meetings.
    This recording of every comment isn’t really fair, nor is it a good way to judge a person’s character or intelligence. Think how many times during a day you say something that doesn’t come out right or, frankly, did come out as you were thinking it, but wished you hadn’t verbalized it?
    President Obama is known among Washington press corps for being particularly guarded, pausing before saying anything and speaking in full paragraphs so his comments are hard to pull out of context.
    Having an ample supply of witty retorts that don’t offend any group is a great skill, but it has more to do with stand-up routines than balancing a budget or passing legislation. President Lyndon Johnson was known to let fly a blue streak in front of the press on many subjects, but his foul language was never reported. And listeners were shocked to hear the cussing in the Oval Office when Nixon decided to have a recording system installed.
    But were voters (and the country as a whole) any worse off not knowing that four-letter words abounded in government conversations?
    On the other hand, reporters in the press pool intentionally ignored JFK’s womanizing. Today, the thought that such behavior went un-reported is also unsettling.
    Something is clearly wrong with the way candidates campaign and voters respond. This is the one time that voters have all the access they want to government. Rarely, however, do we see political events attended by any members of the public at large. We noted at several campaign events in the last cycle that not a single person not affiliated with a campaign, the local party, or local officials were present.
    So the idea that the public is out there chomping at the bit for unfiltered information from/on candidates is regrettably, not accurate.
    There needs to be  a change in both how campaigns operate and how voters find out who to vote for, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t start with a guy with a video camera.