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Staff Editorials

Something must be done to stop constant Cove Road wrecks

    When a fully-loaded lumber truck overturned on Cove Road last week scattering boards all across the asphalt and causing the road to remain closed for most of the day, no one expressed any particular surprise, for a wreck at that spot is nothing unusual.
    The general sentiment was “thank goodness no one got hurt…. This time.”
    Our records don’t show any recent fatalities at the Cove, as it’s commonly known. But we regularly post notices about the road being closed while emergency crews clear wrecks on the S curves.
    The stretch of road causing all the motor vehicle grief is an extremely steep grade with sharp S-curves that, though well-marked, seems to surprise motorists approaching from the east.
    From an aesthetic point of view, it’s quite impressive to see the road snaking through the cliff above the former marble mines after after crossing Longswamp Creek (very often called Cove Creek). 
    But from a traffic, motorist point of view, it’s sheer lunacy that such a steep and narrow road serves as one of two major east-west traffic arteries for Pickens County (Hwy. 53 being the main one). Cove Road is extremely well used with both Bent Tree and Big Canoe gated communities tied to Jasper by this route.
    The road is also the only practical choice for many people as a daily commute. There are few options to detour off the route unless you are really familiar with the backroads of the county and none of those routes are efficient, winding well out of the way.
    The traffic woes of Cove Road escalate by the lack of alternatives and the fact that it is difficult to move cars, patients and, as we saw last week, lumber, out of the way to get traffic flowing again in the S-curves.
    Commissioner Billy Newton, who was lucky enough to serve as sole commissioner when multi-million dollar development deals seemed to fall out of the sky during the early 2000s, had identified doing something to address the S-curves as a top long-term project.
    He had general ideas that a dam could be put across the creek at the bottom and the road straightened by running it along the top of the dam, creating water reserves and fixing the traffic issues at the same time. Nothing came of this and obviously tackling something this large is a multi-year, phenomenally expensive scheme, unlikely to draw support now that the development wave has passed.
    When a rockslide occurred in April of 2011 and closed Cove Road for several days of cleanup, one county employee said the entire cliff was unstable and something major needed to be done. Several low concrete barriers were installed at the base that serve little apparent purpose but nothing substantial was ever planned.
    And again when a single overturned truck was able to shut down a major thoroughfare for a full day, there were calls for action. Several people opined that the road should not be used for larger truck; while others noted that some GPS and online mapping programs direct you down Cove when approaching from Dawsonville. If we could let the Google maps/Garmin folks know that unsuspecting truck drivers such stick to  Highway 53 it would be a start.
    We understand that a total reconfiguration of the S-curves is such a large, expensive and complicated project that the county, city of Jasper or  state can not just take some bulldozers and start grading. We fully realize that due to the very topography that creates hazard, addressing the Cove is a humongous challenge.
    But surely something can be done there to improve the safety -- even if it’s not a total reworking. At the very least we would like to see the need formally acknowledged on city, county and state drawing boards.

Little town, big event

    Thursday night a vivid rainbow hung above JeepFest 2014’s home base in the field behind Ingles, providing a charming backdrop to the beginning of an event that would bring 1,300 officially registered Jeeps roaring into the small town of Jasper and hundreds more Jeepers who were on-hand as spectators.
    The Monday after four days of trail rides, obstacle courses and car crushes, the red dirt started to wear off roads near the field where cleanup was underway.
    Now that the dust has settled we’d like to congratulate the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office on a job well done, and take the opportunity to say we’re proud of the way our little town pulled together to make the event go off without a hitch.
    From the countless number of folks who volunteered to others who rolled out that unmistakable southern-charm to welcome the crowds, Pickens proved that just because the town is small doesn’t mean the thinking is small or that things here can’t be top-notch.  
    Not only did JeepFest 2014 raise thousands of dollars for the Georgia Sheriff’s Youth Homes, The Joy House and the Pickens Sheriff’s Foundation (an organization that was formed after a round of devastating tornadoes here and still offers emergency assistance and scholarships), it brought thousands of tourists into town who ate and slept here, and made being at home feel kind of like traveling.
    Progress staff members who volunteered Friday at the JeepFest t-shirt booth made a point to ask where folks were from. One couple drove from New Orleans. Another was from Asheville. A guy from Ft. Lauderdale said he left Tuesday and took over 1,400 miles to tootle around before he eventually wound up in Jasper. Very few people surveyed were from Pickens, and it’s exciting to think about people from across the country making our town their destination for a weekend. 
    Some locals might argue that events like these can be a nuisance and do little more than tie up resources and create traffic jams, especially for people who aren’t into Jeeps. One NPR report spotlights Traverse City Michigan, a small town with big events many times each year. Residents there complained to commissioners that they were tired of festival-goers hogging their parks and clogging up their roadways, but Pickens - which boasts just a couple big festivals annually - still has the luxury of viewing festivals as novel and fun. 
    In the same NPR article Dan McCole, assistant professor and tourism researcher at Michigan State University, says festivals are actually more in line with the way Americans are traveling and vacationing nowadays - shorter weekend trips. Many Jeepsters were from out of town, but close enough that the drive here was painless (Marietta, Alpharetta, Chattanooga).  
    Our otherwise subdued town came to life and we were given the opportunity to showcase Pickens and see people take pride in our community, like the guys who won the bid to crush the Sheriff’s car. All were from Pickens, and going into the bid one of them said he felt like the car crush needed to be done by locals to keep it in the family. Heck yeah. We agree.
    So, from the folks who organized the event, to the guys guiding trail rides, to law and emergency personnel who worked the streets to keep things safe, to  business owners and everyone else involved, good job on contributing to a great event. For a weekend our little town was on stage, and we think everyone can agree. Pickens nailed it.   

Rush to censorship online not in our best interests

    When social media lit up last week with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) video showing American journalist James Foley being beheaded, there was a quick outcry for the social media giants on which it appeared to take it down. Don’t watch it and definitely don’t share it was the call among Americans. The hashtag #ISISmediablackout went viral with Twitter users urging others not to share the video or any other graphic images released by the militant group.
    Twitter CEO Dick Costolo quickly announced that the company was “actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery.” Similarly, YouTube removed versions of the video posted on its site, saying it violated its policy on “gratuitous violence, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts.”
    Yes, it is horrible. Yes, it makes us sick to see it. But as a Boston Globe columnist pointed out, would Foley himself have wanted the censorship? Would he have asked for a media blackout or would he have wanted “decent people everywhere to know – and, yes, to see – the crimes being committed by the ruthlessly indecent killers calling themselves the Islamic State?” The columnist said Foley went to Syria to document and expose the horrors there and the 4-minute 40-second video of the last moments of his life show just that.
    The First Amendment says the government may not restrict our speech, but it has nothing to do with privately-owned social media companies. Social media networks have the right to permit or restrict content – just as we here at the Progress can refuse to print things we deem inappropriate. But how those companies, us included, manage free speech raises ethical questions. In a democracy, just who does get to decide what is free speech and who gets to censor it in the public domain?
    These media platforms ban beheading videos yet still allow a video showing St. Louis police officers fatally shooting a 25-year-old man outside a convenience store last week to remain on their sites.
    Sites like YouTube and Twitter should not have the power to censor what content we can or cannot see. In America, unlike in China or Russia, the suppression of disturbing or offensive content - as long as it does not incite violence - is a violation of free speech.
    The reason why Twitter is Twitter is because anyone can go on it and pretty much say anything they want. There is no guy in a suit with an editorial board telling him what he can or can’t discuss on-air or in a newspaper. Yes, there are many things on sites like Twitter that are hurtful, vulgar, and noxious. But it can also be persuasive, stirring, heartbreaking, inspiring, compelling and informative.
     And, unlike the Progress or news stations with editorial boards or owners who make decisions about what their readership or viewership wants to see, Twitter and YouTube open up unfettered access to information.        
    The government is not involved and private corporations with their own agendas and shareholders are not involved. It is, at its core, free speech by free people in unedited form.
    We shouldn’t give tech giants the power to control our knowledge and limit what we see, hear and discuss. Social media organizations which increasingly decide what gets shared and by whom complicates free speech in an increasingly digital world.
    There are times when it is necessary to see and hear the evil for then perhaps we will be encouraged to do something about it.    

Be informed to know rhetoric versus reality

By Dan Pool
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    On Sunday we were out of coffee so I made an early morning Starbucks run to our local Kroger. While there I picked up a Sunday edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
    Growing up in the newspaper business, I remain a huge fan of “papers.” Though I read news online, there is no comparison to the accumulated stories packaged together. While it does seem a little strange to buy a Sunday paper produced in another state to get news on Georgia, it works okay – especially since our flagship newspaper the AJC doesn’t offer home delivery in Pickens County and is fairly hard to find.
    One of the big advantages of reading a newspaper versus surfing for news, is with a printed product in your hand, you tend to read (or at least skim over) more stories on subjects you would bypass online. We all miss out by doing this, as studies have shown we naturally seek the news that reinforces what we are already interested in, rather than expand into areas we are unfamiliar with.
    Several articles in the Sunday Chattanooga paper really emphasized how you  need to dig below the rhetoric and venture into new areas.
    First was an article cleverly subtitled, “Surly electorate poised to ‘keep the bums in’” – while Americans constantly grouse about how bad government is, incumbents keep winning re-election. In fact this article by the Associated Press noted that 365 incumbents out of the 435 member House and 18 of 28 senators are poised for another term.
    Second, an article on the Common Core quoting our former Republican Governor Sonny Perdue expressing surprise by how the program has gotten such an unearned rap as being a federal initiative. Part of Perdue’s surprise stems from him being involved with a group of governors who worked on the new testing standards with the idea of keeping the federal government out of state education.
“It’s just a situation that I don’t think should have become political,” the former Georgia governor said.
    Third was a great opinion piece “Friends, donors and countrymen” comparing campaign financing to a period in ancient Rome when those seeking to be emperor got the seat based on who could raise the most money to give to the Praetorian guard. They skipped all the in-between work of politics like websites and the endless piles of junk mail and literally bought the seat.
    Fourth, and I am not sure how this falls in line with the rest of the rhetoric, but everyone has heard that old warning that half of the marriages in America end in divorce. It has actually never been true. A researcher thought that number looked out of line. And if you think about it, are half the people you know divorced? A lot are, and the divorce rate is high, but it is closer to one in four first marriages end in divorce, according to later research. This research found that the earlier 50 percent divorce rate only looked at high risk groups.
    On a normal day reading news online I would probably not have read any of those articles except the one on ancient Rome -- I like history. I would more likely read some news and then check to see how the Braves wild card chances are looking.
    Now am I any better off having learned that a clean sweep of Congress will assuredly fail or that America’s marriages were given an undeserved black eye? Probably not on a daily basis.  But in the long haul, it is important being able to say, “hold on a second I don’t think that’s quite right,” when confronted with punditry and over-hyped commentary.
    With all the yelling and outlandish statements made online and on television these days, it’s important to recognize that much you hear is largely, in the words of Shakespeare, “It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.”

Drivers education, money that would be well spent

    Last week the Progress ran an article, where teens discussed the problem posed by the lack of drivers education in public schools.
    The teens generally said that with the schools not offering drivers education, it leaves a blind spot in learning to operate an automobile.
    To get a license at 16 years old, you need to complete a certified training class. You can wait a year and get the license at 17 without the class.
    After last week’s article one reader called pointing out that driving is a privilege, not a right, and the teens should deal with it. We disagree strongly.
    In debate terms, driving is a privilege, but in practical terms driving is a necessity – and, all the more so if you live in a rural or suburban setting.   
    There are two primary reasons we believe that at the local and state level funds need to be found to teach driving to every teen that can be lured into the classroom.
    First, for the benefit of the teen. To function in this rural setting, you must drive or have someone who has ample spare time to haul you around. Forcing teens to wait a full year to get that license may force them to wait a year until they land part-time work. For some Pickens families, another wage earner can be the difference between relative comfort and just scraping by. And the earlier some teens can drive, the sooner they can start making money for college.
    The lack of transportation surely affects anyone’s chance of landing a job as much as illiteracy or missing a high school diploma. If you can’t get there, no one is going to hire you and you would wait a long time in Pickens County for a bus to come by.
    Getting a vehicle also poses a big hurdle, but industrious teens often find ways to share a parent’s car or can work a deal for something  cheap that will get them to work and back.
    While there are likely readers fuming that they once walked as far as needed to get to work, it’s really not feasible for kids who live in the outlying areas of the county. Even if a kid were a marathon runner, you can’t expect him to get out of school at 3 p.m. on Dragon Drive and run to the Piggly Wiggly, Ingles or Kroger with almost no sidewalks and a lot of traffic, and then walk home to Marble Hill or Ludville, more than 10 miles away in the dark, after they finish their shift.
    The second, and much more significant reason, we believe drivers education should be brought back is for all of us: Consider this when you are cruising down the road: Where did that young person in the next car, learn to drive?
    There are private classes, but parents have to be willing to pay for them. Teens can wait until they are 17, but there is no reason to think they will absorb more road knowledge in that year. And parents could teach them, but just because you are a parent doesn’t mean you are a safe driver.
    The most dangerous thing we do is get on the roads. More so than Islamist terrorists, unsecured borders, climate change or Ebola viruses, car wrecks claim healthy lives in America. Except for the elderly, car crashes rank number one as the leading cause of death in most age groups.
    Anything we can do to lessen this danger on the highways, even if means shifting funds from one of the War on Somethings, would be money well spent.
    We fund and hope our schools develop in students a wide array of skills, from reading to cooking, so the idea that we ask them to teach driving makes a lot of sense.
    Money spent at either the state or local level to promote better drivers is money well spent for the teens and for all of us who venture on to the roads.