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Staff Editorials

Even online, Think before you share

    When news broke last week of a possible sexual assault against a student at Pickens County Middle School, it spread through our community like wildfire. Facebook posts from people claiming knowledge of the event – and its horrible impact on the student – were everywhere.
    Social media like Facebook can be helpful in getting information out quickly to a large audience and it can be a place of support for friends and family, but it also has the potential to do far more harm than good. Social media can be extremely hurtful when used without ample consideration of the consequences of what is posted.
    And it also provides the fastest way to spread inaccurate information to the greatest number of people with the least restraint.
    In many situations, online posts - even well-intentioned ones - can create distractions to people already dealing with a tragedy.
    Last week just moments after we posted Superintendent Perry’s letter about a possible assault at the school, there were comments – which we deleted – that gave specific information about the sex of the victim and the physical injuries. These comments came too close for comfort in identifying the child and presented very personal aspects of  the assault. No one has the right to post to thousands of followers on a Facebook page what the child went through as a result of the assault and the ensuing medical trauma.
    Remember, we live in a small town and even narrowing down the victim’s gender and age goes a long way towards letting people know who was hurt by this outrageous act.         Authorities were extremely careful not to release the fact that the student was a special education student at PCMS because there is such a small pool of students, compared to the larger school population, who would fit that description. Ultimately the victim’s father provided that information in a television interview with the Atlanta media. Parents may have that right to divulge such information to the world about their child, but no one else does.
    True community journalists, the school system and the authorities working this case are held to higher standards regarding what statements are issued. Anyone with a keyboard, unfortunately, can say whatever they think without facing any scrutiny in the real world.
    Anyone with an internet connection can spout off any thing, any time, but keep in mind, “with much power comes great responsibility.”
    Law enforcement and school officials went to great lengths to prevent the identity of the victim from becoming public, not only to adhere to the law but also because they were trying to do the right thing in this small community.
    False rumors can spread quickly and complicate an investigation, requiring police to take extra time to set the record straight. Their jobs are further complicated when interviewing potential witnesses and they have to decipher whether the witness knows something firsthand or only because they read it at Facebook.
    In addition to disseminating unintentional information about victims of crime, Facebook postings can also lead to straight up false information. While not just online, the Saturday rumor that an arrest had been made had no basis and was not accurate at all.
    Remember, just because you think you “know” something to be a fact, doesn’t mean it really is. And if you do know a bona fide fact, please think before you share it.

“I Forgot My Phone” - Our cultural addiction to smartphones

    A parody of life was recently posted on YouTube showing just how much technology has changed how we socialize.
    And it’s not a pretty picture.
    The video, I Forgot My Phone written by and starring Charlene deGuzman, shows in a very in-your-face kind of way something most of us already know – that there has been a complete takeover of our hands by smartphones. We are nothing short of obsessed. (Look for this editorial at pickensprogress.com for link to video.)
    Apparently we can’t live without cell phones, and iPhones in particular. The most recent release, the iPhone 5S, sold 9 million  devices within the first few days of its launch.
    91 percent of American adults own a cell phone and many use it for much more than phone calls.
    According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project: 81 percent of us use our phones for texting, 60 percent of us access the internet on our phones, 52 percent send or receive emails on our phones, 50 percent download apps and 49 percent get directions, recommendations for restaurants or other location-based information, while another 48 percent of us listen to music on our phones.
    And apparently we do these things all the time - even in inappropriate places and times. What’s worse? We don’t realize how “bad” it’s gotten.
    We take pictures and videos, chat, text and search the web even in the middle of living our lives. Charlene deGuzman’s video laments what has happened to our social lives, thanks to phones. The videographer shows us, through a two-minute video, just how often we use technology at the expense of forging real, human connections. In the video, she shows two friends celebrating over glasses of champagne, the toast interrupted for the inevitable photo op. At a birthday celebration, while friends sing happy birthday, everyone, including the birthday boy, have phones in hand videoing the moment instead of enjoying it.
    In the short flick, deGuzman goes bowling with a bevy of friends only to realize they are too busy on cell phones to notice her rolling a strike. And cuddling with her boyfriend? You guessed it, he’s got cell phone in hand checking out the latest game score or celebrity tweets.
    The video, apart from its straight-up humor, is also flat-out depressing.
    Have we really become a culture of people alone with our smartphones, even when we’re surrounded by living, breathing humans?
    Our phones have become an essential utility that we frequently check – while out to dinner with friends or in a movie theatre - much to the displeasure of those around us. [Note: one editor here said exceptions must be made when you are so, so close to finishing the next level on Candy Crush Saga.]
    We keep our phones close at all times and many of us would have trouble functioning without them.
    A staggering 67 percent of cell owners, according to Pew research, find ourselves checking our phones for messages, alerts, or calls – even when we don’t notice our phones ringing or vibrating.
    A smaller, yet significant, number of us, approximately 44 percent, sleep with our cell phones next to our beds because we don’t want to miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.
    We want to be connected. We want to feel indispensable. But does this connectivity, giving people access to us at all times, make our lives better or are we ultimately losing out on the authentic moments of life while trying to capture them in our phones?

On JeepFest, county airport and City of Jasper civil suit

    The three stories on the front of this newspaper are mostly unrelated – a wildly successful Jeep event, a stalled airport project and the city paying out a big settlement for erosion at a piece of property that once was prime for commercial development.
    But there is an overriding theme there with the one thing that worked and two that didn’t (at least not yet): Events/festival/tourism can produce a lot of economic bang without the long-term infrastructure commitments required for commercial development.
    JeepFest showed the impact of big events – the town was packed with shoppers and dinners,  JeepFest organizers sold out of t-shirts and raised a heck of a lot of money to put back into the community. And it should be noted, everyone had a good time then went home.
    It’s the last phrase that we want to direct your attention to. Unlike the city of Jasper’s problem, no one involved in JeepFest is going to get sued because of erosion issues on steep slopes that may pop up years from now. City crews won’t ever be called in to try and stave off development problems on JeepFest trails.
    Of course, the long-range benefits of a thriving aviation business park in terms of permanent jobs, property taxes and regular monthly sales tax would dwarf even the largest festival. But for the short-term, we’d encourage the commissioners, mayors and economic development folks of this county to roll with what’s working, and for now that’s tourist-style events.
    This newspaper has long editorialized that Pickens County leaders need to put more emphasis on attracting events and regular attractions to promote economic development. We have used the example previously of a small town in Kansas that created a world-class soccer complex and now keeps their hotels booked solid year-round and restaurants hopping with groups coming to the camps, clinics and tournaments.
    With recreation sports, a state-tournament in most any sport will fill a town. Developing attractions, facilities and events that give people something to do will bridge the shortcomings we have with our lack of state parks, public lands, and accessible rivers and lakes.
    We never expected it would be our sheriff that showed so well what we can do in this community with our available resources. But, it was Sheriff Donnie Craig who started three years ago with a small Jeep ride that expanded into something wildly popular this year and has the potential to keep on growing.
    One person attending JeepFest said the town needs more things like this. “Heck, I’d even support a hempfest if it would pack the town with people and energy like this,” the enthused spectator said.
    We might not go as far as hemp, but the point is well-taken -- thinking outside the box is needed with events and festivals.
     Pickens County, unfortunately, doesn’t have an ace-in-the-hole in natural attractions to make coming up with future events easy. There is no public lake, mountain area or accessible river, to start with. But you can be sure the Kansas town didn’t have much except for flat space, which as they saw it made a great spot for soccer.
    The challenge lies in determining what else would be successful in terms of festival/events. Jeeps seem obvious in hindsight, but it was Craig’s action (and a whole of lot of volunteer help) that brought it about.     As the old saying goes, “Vision isn’t seeing what doesn’t exist. It’s seeing what is there but unseen by others.” And our sheriff surely demonstrated he has this with JeepFest.
    In the longrun, we hope that the airport will live up to its potential and we are hopeful that one day we will see a new wave of commercial growth here.
    But, for the present, let’s encourage our commissioners, mayors and economic development people to think off-the-main-road.

No way new courthouse doesn’t meet needs -- just look at it

    There is a video on Youtube that is entertaining in a headshaking way – it’s a collection of traffic clips that show what happens when different size rental/delivery trucks drive through underpasses that are too low.
    In most cases the clips show a clearly marked sign indicating the bridge or tunnel height before showing the roofs getting ripped off.
    From the video (click here to view) it doesn’t appear that anyone is injured, but a great deal of automotive carnage is shown because drivers either didn’t notice the signage of the low underpass or simply couldn’t do the math --12-foot-high truck plus 11.5-foot-high concrete bridge equals one big mess.
    This video came to mind last week when reading in the Grand Jury Presentment saying how the almost ready to officially open courthouse (with a price expected somewhere around $13 million) is judged too small for future growth. According to the grand jury presentments, “Another concern of the department heads is the potential impact of future growth that may require expanded services and personnel with the accompanying need for additional work areas. Most departments are now at a maximum capacity with very little accommodation for expansion if needed.”
    Seeing that statement brought the same feeling the owners of those trucks must have felt if they saw the video of their vehicle having its top sheered off -- a sickening, “you have got to be kidding me” reaction.
    The parking was also judged utterly frustrating and unacceptable in the Grand Jury Presentments, but most everyone has offered that opinion since the project began. To borrow a phrase Sole Commissioner Rob Jones favors, the parking “is what it is.”
    There are only two possible explanations for why this courthouse could possibly be judged too cramped (1.) It was truly built too small or (2.) Some judicial  employees didn’t get everything they wanted and are grousing.
    We know that not all department heads felt this way. At least one said the building space was more than adequate for future growth and overall the building has plenty of empty areas, which could be reconfigured if some department area needs more room.
    Another reason we’ll argue that the building is more than adequate: Look at it. That mammoth structure dominating Main Street is impressive; it’s grand; there is nothing cramped, small or limited about it. Maybe a few offices/courtrooms inside are smaller than preferred, but the idea that overall it’s not big enough to meet future needs can’t be right.
    Jasper Mayor John Weaver (who spent a considerable amount of time there for a recent civil suit) made an off-hand comment that the view and space in the second-floor bathroom was better than his office. Weaver, who normally butts heads on all things county, confided to our editor that he was quite impressed with the facility after a weeklong case there.
    Furthermore, we’d point out the idea that everything has to be built supersize is outdated. A predicted growth wave through the late 80s and 90s was tossed out to justify anything government or school administrators wanted at the time. No longer is that the case. It might be the case again some day, but there is no reason to believe that north Georgia will see a massive population spike anytime soon.
    One other simple comparison: The new courthouse is much, much bigger than the old leaky courthouse and, despite squalid conditions there, the courts did function. If they could work there, they surely can work in the new modern facility.
    Perhaps these department heads who feel hemmed in should randomly call 10 business owners and see how much facility expansion they have written checks for in the past decade. When the owners are the ones writing checks make-do, not re-do, is the answer.
    The new courthouse is nearly complete, it looks very nice and it’s been brought in apparently on-budget and more or less on-time. We say nice job Commissioner Jones and crew.   
    Case closed.   

U.S. should stay on sidelines in Syrian civil war

    The phrase if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it is nowhere more evident than with the current proposal for a limited military strike in Syria.
    We, more or less, tried this in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years and also in places like Somalia, the Balkans and, if you go back far enough, Vietnam and Korea.
    The problem with Syria (just as in Afghanistan and Iraq) is that you can’t “sort of” go to war, which is a good definition of “limited, narrow” military use our secretary of state is asking the American people and congress to support.
    In Syria, the president, secretary of state and a growing number of congressional leaders want to send a few missiles to hit government targets to essentially punish the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons.
    Ga. Senator Johnny Isakson put it this way, ‘If we fail to take strong action against Syria for this horrendous attack, then we are sending a signal to Syria as well as to Iran and North Korea that they are accountable to no one.”
    What the dictator/president Assad did was criminal, reprehensible and cowardly. He unleashed internationally condemned toxins that killed an estimated 1,500 civilians including 426 children in one attack on a subdivision.
    Proof is pretty clear that this was not the first time the ruling group in Syria had used chemical weapons against their own people and there is no reason to believe that it will be the last. Assad’s father was also a dictator in that country who didn’t hesitate to apply force against dissenters.
    While the crime may be evident, the path forward is fraught with peril. To begin with, Syria is another of those middle-eastern counties with arbitrarily set borders that pulled multiple different ethnic groups together – many of whom have not gotten along since the beginning of time. Power struggles among many rebel groups of different religions and different ethnic backgrounds and a government don’t ever end well. 
    According to statements made, the administration recognizes the futility of full-scale involvement and doesn’t want to completely run Assad from power, but hopes to chide the dictator into behaving somewhat better.
    While sympathetic to the suffering of Syrian civilians, we’d argue this is a case where U.S. force may do more harm than good.
    Among the problems/challenges and reasons it won’t turn out well.
    • History has shown that limited engagements don’t remain limited. Remember the idea that our soldiers would be hailed as liberators in Iraq and back home quickly?
    • Some of the rebels in Syria are linked to Al-Qaeda. U.S. officials have expressed concern that any weapons given to the rebels may one day be used in a jihad directly against us.     Even the most optimistic “hawk” on Syria acknowledges that there is not a reliable rebel option out there should Assad be forced out of power.
    • What Kerry has expressed hope for, at best, is to force peace talks – as though that has ever worked in middle east (it seems like the Israelis and Palestinians hold peace talks every week and they aren’t getting any closer to achieving anything).
    This is too vague a mission or reason to commit military force. With that as an objective, you can bet there will be no clear timetable for drawing back down our forces.
    • There is a whole set of complex alliances out there involving the rest of the middle eastern nations -- Iran, and Saudi Arabia are already involved and Israel is ready to get into it. In addition, Russia has pledged to firmly back Assad.
    • If we strike Syria to help the rebels, they may strike back directly at us. Chemical weapons and terrorism would seem to go hand-in-hand.
    It is horrible to see reports of the brutality of the civil war in Syria and no end is in sight to the violence and killing. But our opinion is this is one to sit out.