Get Adobe Flash player

Staff Editorials

Has happiness left the South?

    If a recent study of geotagged  internet postings (tweets) is true, the Duck Dynasty gang from A&E’s reality television show may be among the few who are happy in their state of Louisiana.
    Despite the Duck Commander patriarch’s book, joyfully named “Happy, Happy, Happy,” Louisiana, along with other deep-Southern states like Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, are apparently home to the unhappiest people in the nation.
    Geographically speaking the happiest folks live in Hawaii, Maine or one of the clusters of cities in sunny California or Colorado, according to a study by researchers at the University of Vermont.
    To find this out, researchers scored more than 10,000 words on a positive-negative scale and measured their frequency in millions of tweets across the country. What emerged showed significant regional variations in happiness.
    The most unhappy places, the ones we Southerners call home, include states that have high levels of poverty and the shortest life expectancies. That we can understand, but if we asked what makes us happy  likely responses would range from a new car, less body fat, a higher-paying job or winning the lottery.
    These things, however, are being shown to have less impact on our happiness than we may think. Researchers are now finding that our happiness depends less on external circumstances – like materialistic things – and more on our perceptions and experiences.
    Sure we need enough money to pay our bills and have a little left for extras, but we adjust our moods to match our life’s circumstances. So a person who makes $50,000 a year may be happier than someone who earns just $10,000, but Americans who earn $5 million per year are not much happier than those who earn $100,000 per year.
    To those of us in the smaller income brackets that may sound as far-fetched as money growing on trees, but the people who study this sort of thing say it’s true across the board.
    The happiest among us hands-down are those who contribute to the common good – and we have lots of people right here in Pickens County who do that every day through their volunteer efforts. Researchers say that happy people live in a great community and we think Pickens County, with its lack of crime and temperant weather, is a place anyone can find happiness.
    Perhaps those of us who find ourselves living in the “sadness belt,” as defined by the Vermont researchers, can change our ranking by “catching” the happy emotions of others. Let’s make a point to take on new challenges and fulfill our sense of purpose so the next time a study comes around trying to figure out who’s happy, we’ll put Pickens County on the same map as Asheville, North Carolina - the only Southern town to garner a  happiness button.
    Doing things for others makes us happy in a robust, satisfying way - more than the happy we feel when we eat that greasy McDonald’s hamburger. Not to say a perfectly-cooked Big Mac isn’t wonderful, but being compassionate to those around us promotes a different type of happiness - one that lasts much longer than a box of chocolates.
    To achieve happiness we don’t have to move to Hawaii or California, but simply focus on those things in life that bring true, long-term happiness, not fleeting moments of joy. Thinking of the past fondly; spending money on life experiences instead of material things, or smiling at someone when you walk by are just a few ways to find truer happiness.
    Putting friends and family first, too, is essential because the nature of our relationships count. Simple companionship like just hanging out or going to the movies together can make us happy.
    Besides, who says us Southerners aren’t happy? When we can grow beards like the guys from the Duck Dynasty clan who wouldn’t be happy?
    Tweet that, researchers.

“Learning” - It’s not just for the schoolhouse

    When we think of education, images of desks, Smartboards, tests, curriculum and teachers come to mind. While teachers and schools are certainly an invaluable part of our education, this school year we want to remind parents (and children) that learning is not relegated to active teaching environments such as the classroom.
    “Learning,” a term that has been all but hijacked by educational institutions, isn’t only about memorizing math problems or being able to recite every element on the periodic table. Learning is a process that happens all the time. It happens at home, on the ball field, it happens while you’re cleaning up a spilt cup of orange juice; Learning is a process by which we observe, absorb, ask critical questions, analyze, process, draw conclusions and apply our findings to other areas of our lives.
     But sadly we tend to compartmentalize --- A child’s education happens over there and the rest of their life happens over here. This attitude is a disservice to our kids and to our collective future. Students spend more time each day out of the classroom than in, and as soon as they leave campus they are berated with information and ideas, from television to music to family members and anything else that is part of their day.
    As parents we need to take advantage of these hours, which represent countless opportunities to educate our children outside of school. We need to actively expose our children to new experiences, new ideas and new people in the world, and we need to do it in a way that nourishes their sense of curiosity and critical thinking.
    Here are some things you can do to encourage your child to think outside of the textbook:
    Talk with them about things that you are interested in.
    Tell your children about things you think about during the day. Tell them about your interactions with people and how they make you feel. Tell them about your thoughts on current events. The simple act of sharing your thoughts will be stimulating for them and will create a bond between parent and child.
    Let them have their own opinion.
    Ask your kids how they feel about things going on in the world and do it so they don’t have fear of judgment or ridicule. This will make them feel like their opinions are valued and will foster more critical thinking and creative thought.
    Pursue your own hobbies
    It’s important to give your children attention, but when they see that you have interests of your own they will be more inclined to pursue their interests.
    Downplay the importance of winning
    Rather than offering continual rewards and making winning top priority, teach your children that there is more value in the thought and effort behind something. Too much emphasis on winning creates a mind that will be fearful of making mistakes and effort will only come when there is promise of a reward at the end.
    Teach your children about basic life skills
    This is a main element of the Montessori Method. Children are taught how to do household duties such as cleaning dishes, baking or cutting vegetables. Beyond children feeling empowered by being trusted to an “adult” task, children can learn valuable lessons from tasks that seem mundane. Cooking, for example, can teach a child measurements and health.
    Enrich with culture
    Take you children to places of cultural importance such as art galleries or museums; take them to see plays or to a busy downtown street or café and talk to them about the difference in lifestyles of people who live in rural areas versus those in the city.
     There are many other ways to make everyday an education in your child’s world. So as students enter public schools, private schools and homes schools for the first time this school year, remember that they are learning all the time; sometime deliberately, sometimes not. It’s our job as parents to make them realize this for themselves and inspire them to want to become active participants in their own education.

A night at the symphony must be benefical

By Dan Pool, editor
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    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.   

Comments from Main Street

        A story two weeks ago on vacant buildings in downtown Jasper prompted a barrage of comments both online and at our Main Street office. There are several points we’d like to address:
Incorrect: Main Street has a lot of vacancies:
    It is not true that Main Street has a lot of vacancies as many commenters assumed. Several people said things about it being mostly empty on some blocks but this is far from accurate.
    Main Street spaces are actually mostly full, what was (and is) empty are three key corner buildings that give an impression of widespread vacancy, plus a few smaller places and the fairly large former Nan’s Hallmark.
    One problem, however, that goes un-noticed is that if you look on the backstreets on either side of Main Street, there is a lot of space sitting idle. The sprawling former Sidebar/Sharp Mountain Grille has been empty for years. The adjacent gas station is also empty, as is the former Flying Sheep. Of additional concern is when the county ends their lease of the Old Federal Building, which served as an annex courthouse, that very large office building will be hard to fill.
    Unlike Ellijay and Blue Ridge, we do not see a thriving business atmosphere on the side streets and back streets. Years ago when the Donut Shop on Stegall Drive dominated morning eats and when a bottling plant sat in the Sidebar site, you could see open doors from the Old Depot on the east running all the way down to Jasper Elementary on the west side of town.
   
Incorrect: All the businesses are moving to the four-lane
    Take a drive over to Highway 515, there is no building boom going on over there (unfortunately). In fact the only construction is at the old KFC building. There hasn’t been a major groundbreaking on the four-lane since Walmart located there and you will notice that none of the out-parcels around it have attracted a business.
    Other than the NAPA business and one insurance office, it’s hard to recall any businesses that moved out of downtown to be nearer the four-lane, since the big car dealers Jasper Jeep, Vernie Jones Ford and then Lawson Chevrolet relocated.
    The idea that businesses in downtown are packing up specifically to go the four-lane is just not accurate.

Incorrect: The “Blue Building” has a large negative impact
    While people routinely cite the “Blue Building” (former NAPA store) as a prime deterrent to commerce on Main Street, there is no proof that it actually affects any sales. When Main Street Clothing went out of business, the owner listed a variety of challenges; no where on the list did the color scheme of nearby buildings come into play, nor are we aware of any downtown merchant who cites the blue building as holding back robust growth.
    Jasper’s downtown is attractive with the trees and lights, monument, wooden bridge and water park. There will always be calls for improvements in town ascetics, but this is not a critical issue.

Incorrect: The government needs to do something for downtown
    When people say government needs to step in or lead the way with revitalizing downtown, it’s often hard for them to nail down exactly what action they want (even when the speaker is a government official).
    Do we really want tax-dollars flowing into private buildings and do the owners want assistance? Two of the empty downtown buildings are owned by the brother of Jasper’s mayor. Imagine the uproar if you see development authorities going out on a limb to help fill those buildings or spruce them up as has been suggested. The “Blue Building” is owned by a bank, do we want government dictating to private property owners on appearance or using tax dollars to paint it (both of which have been suggested)?
    At this point, we’d caution people making calls for use of government authorities or funds in downtown to keep in mind exactly what you are calling for. Grants to help a new business open is one thing, pouring money or forcing changes directly into the buildings is a more worrisome proposition.

    Ultimately, we’d argue the fate of Main Street will hinge on private commerce and entrepreneurial spirit that is assisted by the traffic flow from our new courthouse and the clean, attractive streets.

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.