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Staff Editorials

What we are thankful for

    Each year on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans gather for a day of feasting, family and football. Today’s Thanksgiving celebrations, while likely unrecognizable to attendees of the original 1621 harvest meal, have stood the test of time and continue to be a day for us to gather around the table and celebrate the things that bring us together - health, love, friendship.
    As we enjoy Thanksgiving 2014 with our loved ones, let’s give thanks for hope for the future and the blessings from our past.
    Here at the Progress we are thankful....

    To citizens of the year like this year’s Jeff Downing who remind us that community service is a noble part of life.

    To Tara Seagraves, a Willow Creek neighborhood mother, who took it upon herself to video cars illegally passing stopped school buses and bring it to the attention of the sheriff. Her efforts may have saved a child’s life.

    To a winning PHS football team. Because it fosters a sense of comradery among students and the community. And it’s just plain fun when our team wins.

    To the sheriff for putting the H.E.A.T on DUIs. The dark blue Dodge Chargers that patrol our roads keep us all a little safer.

    To the county’s fire service protection improvements that dropped our ISO ratings in three of the five districts - which means a drop in insurance premiums.

    To the county’s more than 320 teachers who go to school every day to educate our children and strive for a positive learning environment, despite the constant federal and state push for more and more paperwork.
    To the road department guys who come out in the harshest conditions to do what they can with Mother Nature’s droppings.

    To Tater Patch and North Georgia Acting Company for providing our community with exciting live entertainment throughout the year.

    To Carole Maddux and the countless Good Samaritan Center volunteers who have served approximately 9,000 people who are at poverty level and have no insurance for their healthcare. Thanks to the doctors, dentists, clerks, and pharmacists that all volunteer to make sure nobody goes without medical care in Pickens County.

    To CARES for feeding the needy all year round, not just during the holidays.

    To all the businesses who provide local citizens with good, sustainable jobs.

To the city of Jasper police officers and county sheriff’s deputies who, although Pickens County is a very peaceful place for the most part, put their lives on the line every day just by showing up for work.

    To the Jasper Farmers Market, which  provides us with fresh produce from local farmers. And thanks for booth rental fees that are so low farmers can keep their prices low, too.

     To the employees at the Camp Road recycling center who have always greeted our smelly garbage with a big grin. Their good attitudes are infectious.

    To our loyal subscribers who support us and allow us do our jobs every week - bringing you the news of this community. 

Kill Hitler or change our own mistakes?

    What would we do if we could travel through time? According to a recent Chicago Public Radio broadcast, many of us would go back in time and kill Hitler. But even more of us want to travel back in time and address our own mistakes. 
    The Pew Research Center recently found that one out of 10 Americans said they wanted future technologies to develop some way to travel through time. That’s around 30 million Americans -- showing this fantasy technology is desired by more than the Star Trek fans. The ability to time travel ranked high on a list of technologies people wanted to see invented, even tying finding cures for diseases.
    When the producers from a public radio show took to the streets to find out exactly why people wanted to time travel they found some pretty interesting stuff.
    Most people want to travel to the past rather than the future. We know what we are getting with the past; the future, not so much. Imagine we teleport ourselves to the future and find ourselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse (think The Walking Dead) or, even worse, we’re the only person on the planet and the we find ourselves looking at the only remaining structure - a monument to President Kardashian.
    Going back in time, however, we have the ability to change things, perhaps even in grand ways.
    Lots and lots of people said they would kill Hitler. Specifically they said they would “put a bullet in Hitler’s head when he was still a student” or “kill Hitler when he was a baby” or even “kill Hitler’s mother.”
    But a resounding number of people surveyed said they wanted to travel to the past to erase their own mistakes rather than change history on a large scale.    
    Some said they would have not asked their ex-wife out for the first time or they would have provided some advice to their younger selves in the form of “5 things you need to know that will help you with the rest of your life.” People would tell their younger selves winning lottery numbers or to buy Apple stock in 1980.
    Some felt with the wisdom of later age they could offer words of advice to their younger self, such as to study harder in school or pick a different career path.
    Some people just wanted to go back and re-live a certain time in their life they enjoyed - as in the great cinematic achievement Hot Tub Time Machine.
    Going back in time to fix something personal in our own lives sounds enticing but would erasing our mistakes help us find peace for our current selves?
    Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps our older counterparts know something some of us have yet to realize - even if we fix one thing in our younger lives, something else would probably go haywire to replace it.
       The Pew study found that the majority of people over age 65 had no desire to travel through time. Maybe the older and wiser set realize that changing an event here or there that we regret could have repercussions as it echoes through history.
    Or maybe they have already seen enough -- been there and done that with the past and nothing new ever comes along that is truly grand so what’s the point of seeing the future.
    We would be hard pressed to find a person walking around today that wouldn’t change something they’ve done, but maybe it would ruin things a bit too. Experiences that we might not call experiences - that we call mistakes - can make us sad and regretful but if we go back and change everything we’ve done that we consider mistakes, then we don’t learn from them. And isn’t that part of the grand scheme of life?   
    Mistakes. There’s just no getting around them.
    And we already time travel every single day in the present dimension with no machine. Maybe that’s how we fix the past - by fixing the present.

Americans take too many drugs

Ceremonies and events held in Pickens County in observance of Red Ribbon Week were poignant reminders of how drug abuse and addiction can destroy lives. 

You could hear a pin drop as the mother of a boy who overdosed on prescription painkillers recounted her experience to PHS students –a tragic story being told across the country as painkiller abuse has reached epidemic levels. 

Now reports are emerging about a rise in heroin use as a cheaper alternative to opioid painkillers (synthetic heroin), while the failed four-decade-long “War on Drugs” hasn’t put a dent in illicit drug use. According to a New York Times report from 2012 hard drug use has remained stable over the last 20 years, with “consumption habits moving from one drug to another according to fashion and ease of purchase.”  

The Red Ribbon Campaign focuses on communication between parents and children about drug abuse and encourages citizens to make a pledge to be part of the “creation of a drug-free America” - but with studies showing that retail sales of legal prescription medications has doubled since 2000 we’d like to point out that America is even further away from being “drug-free” than you may have thought. America suffers from an epidemic of overmedication that we’d argue is also seriously harmful to the nation’s health and economy. 

According to a study released by IMS Health in April, total dollars spent on medications in the U.S. reached $329.2 billion in 2013 (that’s just shy of Denmark’s entire GDP for the same year). This staggering figure was up 3.2 percent from 2012 and nearly double from the $172 billion spent in 2001. 

A study released by the Mayo Clinic in June 2013 found that seven out of 10 Americans are on a prescription drug and more than half receive at least two prescriptions. Twenty percent of U.S. patients are on five or more medications.

We blame in part pharmaceutical companies’ increased use of direct-to-consumer advertising (all those commercials that encourage us to “ask our doctor” if certain drugs are “right for us”), which has more than tripled since the 90s, with drug companies now spending far more on marketing and promotion of their drugs than they do research and development. A Pew report found that in 2012, “the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $27 billion on drug promotion— more than $24 billion on marketing to physicians and over $3 billion on advertising to consumers. This approach is designed to promote drug companies' products by influencing doctors' prescribing practices.”

Drug manufacturers - many of which have been put on the’s “Top 100 Corporate Criminals” list for fraud, cover-ups of fatal side effects, doctor kickbacks and other egregious acts - are raking in obscene profits while the health of the American public remains unenviable. In 2013 the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council found that, despite us being the most medicated country in the world, Americans live shorter lives and are in poorer health than other affluent countries. 

Then there are the health problems created from an overabundance of prescription medications - from prescription narcotics abuse, antibiotic-resistant germs and accidental deaths and illness from prescription side effects.

We’re not negating the value of advancements in medicine and we value prescription drugs for their ability to provide better quality of life for serious diseases like cancer, critical care and terminal patients. In an NPR interview Psychiatrist Dr. Sophia Vinogradov pointed out, for example, drugs for schizophrenia were once “draconian” but are now providing relief for that population.        

"Wrapping them in wet towels, locking them in a padded cell, frontal lobotomies if the behavior was really out of control," she says. "So when anti-psychotic medications did evolve and they did reduce psychotic symptoms, it was like the heavens had opened."

We get that. But for the treatment of more common health problems prescription drugs shouldn’t always be the go-to. This approach will require a change in mindset. Doctors and patients must become more knowledgeable  about health options and must place a stronger emphasis on prevention. 

Coat drive donations making a difference

    If anyone wants your shirt give them your coat also, Jesus advises in the New Testament.
    The Rev. Joe Betts doesn’t ask that much for the second annual Holy Spirit Ranch/Pickens Progress winter coat drive, which runs through November 21st.
    All he asks on behalf of the poor are for those coats (heavy, winter materials) that you never wear. Those coats in your closet taking up space that are too tight, out-of-style or you just don’t like.
    Last year, some of our Progress readers gave new winter coats apparently purchased just for the coat drive, which brought Betts’ wife to tears over people showing that kindness.
    But Rev. Betts is only asking for what you don’t use that might keep someone else warm this winter.
    For years, Betts, who works out of the Holy Spirit     Ranch office in the Grandview area, has ministered to the poor and homeless in public parks in the metro area. More than just delivering weekly messages, Betts and his wife, plus the volunteers with Holy Spirit, have worked to help find shelter, food, jobs and a chance to improve the lives of people who end up homeless. They have counseled and been friends to people living on the streets.
    Keeping warm when you stay outside most all day is a challenge. And if you are ever in the city during winter, you know the cold that comes from the asphalt and concrete and steel  goes right through what you are wearing. Imagine, not having anywhere to get out of that?
    Particular to the homeless is having whatever coat you own stolen or lost, or thrown away if you leave it in the wrong place or with the wrong people.
    This winter is shaping up to be cold. This weekend is predicted to be freezing and it’s not even Thanksgiving.
    Thanks to the generosity of Progress readers, a lot of people will be a lot better able to withstand the freezing weather –especially considering they live in substandard housing or on the streets in the metro area. Two loads of coats and blankets from this drive have already been picked up by the Holy Spirit people.
    Pastor Betts said the first load of donated coats came at a good time as he had people lining up at his Sunday services in Piedmont Park wanting the garments, plus blankets.
    So far, the “As Long As It’s Warm” coat drive has produced 56 heavy coats; 23 jackets/hoodies; plus a good number of blankets, scarves, hats and gloves. We could use more before the coat drive ends November 21st.
    Betts said they have checked locally and haven’t found a big need for coats here, but first priority remains Pickens County residents. Betts said he believes from groups like the Thrift Store and area churches most local people are covered. If anyone knows of a local need call Holy Spirit Ranch at 770-826-0203.
    The coats not used in Atlanta are delivered by the Holy Spirit Ranch during mission trips to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where they are trying to plant a church.
    It is unbelievable how much difference the coats people here never wear can make to people in both Atlanta and South Dakota, who will most assuredly put them to immediate use. Check your closets for this drive, it really does help. For more information look for a full-page ad elsewhere in this issue.   

The changing relationship of kids and bikes

    Last week a staff member saw two boys, maybe 11 years old, riding their bikes alone on Refuge Road near Roper Park. Not too long ago it would have seemed ridiculous to ask if allowing this would be considered neglect on the parents’ part because kids rode around by themselves all the time - but in today’s world an unsupervised child on a bicycle is something you rarely see. 
    According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 1969 about half of all students walked or bicycled to school, and 88 percent of students who lived one mile from school walked or biked. Today fewer than 15 percent of school trips are made those ways; one-quarter are made on a school bus and over half in private automobiles. And we’re willing to bet the percentage of kids who bike or walk to school in Pickens is less than 5 percent.
    In his book Manhood For Amateurs Michael Chabon laments the loss of what he calls the “Wilderness of Childhood,” a place where kids rode bikes all the time. He describes his own childhood as a “freedom that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible,” then talks about the irony of teaching his own daughter to ride her bike.
    “Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it,” Chabon writes, “nowhere that I was willing to let her go.”
    He then describes wandering around the neighborhood with his daughter at “that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood,” and not encountering a single other child.    
    “Even if I do send [my kids] out, will there be anyone to play with?” he asks.
    We would argue that today’s 11-year-old is genetically no different from an 11-year-old raised in the 70s, and that today’s kid has the ability to do the same things as the kid raised 30 years ago. So what’s changed?
    David Darlington, author of the Bicycle article “Why Johnny Can’t Ride,” says modern parents are worried about two things: traffic dangers and abductions. He also says broad cultural changes have made an impact.
     “There's a difference today, it seems, between recreation and transportation,” Darlington told an NPR reporter.  “A lot of kids still ride bikes, but they kind of do it with their parents on the weekend for fun. The idea of actually using a bicycle to get somewhere is alien to them.”
    Darlington cites kids spending more time in front of screens over outdoor play as well as suburban sprawl - today’s schools are bigger and are built further from the center of town.
    We’re excited to hear about the Department of Transportation program called Federal Safe Routes to School that encourages communities to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and routine activity again by providing funding for things like safer street crossings.
    But the truth is most of Pickens just isn’t conducive to kids riding bikes to school. The thought of an 11-year-old bicycling on Highway 53 West to get to class is definitely frightening, and much of Pickens’ landscape is so hilly it would be too difficult to ride on (even for most adults).  
    But what about Jasper where the two boys were spotted last week? The addition of a few sidewalks – say a sidewalk from downtown to Ingles and from downtown to Roper Park - would connect the city to other high traffic areas and encourage more walking and biking.
    It’s a crime that a kid living in the city limits doesn’t have a safe sidewalk to the county park.  
    (We realize the city has said it will use SPLOST monies for sidewalk improvements and we hope they come to fruition. We also know about the state’s plan to revamp Highway 53 East from downtown to Highway 515, but the project has been pushed back so many times we’re not counting on it anytime soon.)
    Just like Chabon it makes us sad to think about the freedoms we had that our children don’t - and while not sure if we’d let our own kids do it, knowing those two boys were able to experience it on their bikes one sunny afternoon makes us smile.