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Staff Editorials

On tomato planting and freedom of speech

By Dan Pool
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    Advice on tomato planting stretches the limits of the most creative gardeners.
    You can dig holes so deep only the tip of a tall plant is exposed; some believe in planting the root-ball and lower part of a plant sideways; there are those who only water their plants with a PVC pipe running directly to the roots; those who swear by certain soil mixtures; people who believe the leaves should be kept dry; numerous theories on fertilizers and even those who hang their plants upside down – as though God intended tomatoes to grow while suspended above the earth. And we’re not even getting into phases of the moon.
    For me, I usually just dig a hole and cover the roots with dirt, though I always listen and consider the exotic ‘mater growing methods.
    And, I take much the same approach running a weekly newspaper, striving to be open to hearing/presenting all views, even those I find obnoxious. And this takes effort on our part. As George Packer wrote in a recent essay in the New Yorker, “self censorship is the path of least resistance.” It would be much easier to only run articles we know people will like, that only praise and only highlight the great things about this county.
    We are well aware that this county votes overwhelmingly Republican, but when the Democrats clean roads, we still report that.
    As I discussed with a very polite, questioning caller recently, our general goal is to be inclusive of all views in this community.
    When asked if we were legally bound to run an Other Voices column by Andy Kippenhan in last week’s Progress, the answer is no. Freedom of speech means that people can say whatever they want but, with newspapers, we have the right to publish whatever we want and to leave out whatever we choose. We could have left it out.
    At the Progress, however, we don’t edit based on our whims. Whether I agree with something has little bearing on what ends up on our pages.
    And as I agreed with the caller, Mr. Kippenhan is clearly a provocateur. He wants to shock with his writing. Certainly on an extreme edge for Pickens County but he is expressing political/social views.
    Though it would be easier and safer to never publish extreme views, our philosophy of inclusiveness means we give a forum to people even when we know their views won’t sit well with others. It’s okay for someone to challenge established views; no one has to adopt the opinions presented and often people find that honest debate sharpens your own deeply-held beliefs. At least one person who has sparred previously with Mr. Kippenhan in letters was excited to see the column. He was planning his response when he left the Progress Wednesday.
    For me personally, I don’t want to be a gatekeeper of what views are presented to the  people who buy our paper every week. It’s a slippery slope – you start weeding out opinions you don’t like and where do you stop?
    A good editor should never reveal a bias, but even a cursory look at me and my two school-aged children shows that I am well-served by senior citizens continuing to pay their school taxes.
    But, if an editor started tailoring the coverage to his or her whims, what is to stop us from rejecting all the news/ads/opinion pieces of the seniors opposed to paying school taxes?
    Or what if we had only chosen to present one side of the recent chicken house fight?
    Or what if we didn’t accept restaurant reports that made our advertisers look bad? Or if we didn’t want anything that upsets the mayor to make the pages?
    Freedom of speech is a two way street. You get your voice presented but so do people who may say things that you don’t agree with.
    Our view remains, better to debate than silence.

Libraries are not dead and they need your support

    You’ve got a computer. Everyone you know has a computer. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a home without a computer.
    But the man we recently met at the Pickens County Library doing schoolwork on one of their PCs doesn’t have one. And neither do a lot more people than you would think – especially those with lower incomes who use the library’s Internet access for tasks like job searches, online school, homework and browsing the web. 
    Without last week’s budget increase from the county, requested by the library’s board of trustees, Pickens’ branch would have been forced to trim staff and hours – and these hours, we imagine, would have been the later evening or weekend hours used the most by working adults and students.
    Astonishingly this budget increase (a modest $4,850) still leaves the library with zero dollars for materials in fiscal year 2016, down from over $13,000 in 2012. A zero dollar materials budget means ALL money for new books, new audio books, etc. must come from grants, donations from individuals or businesses, or help from Friends of the Pickens Library, the 501c3 that supports our branch through fundraisers and other methods.
    But some people argue that libraries are outdated, on track to becoming irrelevant, dusty tomes languishing on the back shelf of a life now ruled by technology. We couldn’t disagree more, and statistics from our local branch clearly show that the library here is used heavily in terms of both circulation and PC/Internet access –not to mention the wide array of other services they offer.
    Data from FY 2014 shows general attendance at Pickens’ library for that 12–month period at 76,638 (a clicker at the door counts people as they enter the building). This averages 1,474 times a week patrons walked in the doors, or an average of 210 times a day some one entered the building.
     For circulation, a total of 96,337 items were checked out during that same timeframe. This number includes 46,543 adult books; 37,331 juvenile/young adult books; 6,398 audio books; 2,420 videos/DVDs; and 1,985 eBooks with total 2014 borrowers for the year at 12,964.
    The PC/Internet was used 20,287 times. Their wireless connection was utilized 4,091 times. Other library usage included 41 adult programs serving 417 people; 104 children’s programs serving 1,566 kids; the meeting room was used by 2,372 people and the study room was used 765 times. There were nearly 39,000 copies made during the same year.
    To us, these numbers are significant.     
    Who these people are becomes clearer if you look at a 2013 Pew Research Center study that found “adults who live in lower-income households, and adults with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely than other groups to say [library] services are ‘very important.’”  An earlier University of Washington study of library patrons found that low-income families use library computer disproportionately more than other segments of the population.
    But a recent Jasper Lion’s Club meeting highlighted another important aspect of libraries --- the fact that they foster brighter futures. During Women’s History Month, for example, successful women from Pickens County were honored by the Lions, and we don’t think it’s a mistake many of them had a connection to the library either through family or other avenues.
    Public libraries are a crucial tool for many people in our community and we simply can’t afford to have their hours cut or have them operating with a weak materials budget. It’s a lifeline for many, providing free resources to people who need them. Whether or not you personally use the library shouldn’t matter – they deserve your support if you can manage it. Make a donation. Become a member of Friends of the Pickens Library. Go in and see what materials your library uses and donate those because a healthy library is crucial for a healthy community.
     Learn more about Friends of the Pickens Library and how to become a member at You can also go visit the library a get a brochure during their regular hours, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

California water woes, a cautionary tale for Ga.

    From the Gold Rush to Silicon Valley, California has had more than its fair share of development luck. They also have Hollywood, not to mention a major chunk of American agriculture. The economy of that one state dwarfs most nations.
    So it was troubling to see the governor declare last week they had a serious water shortage, which is a colossal problem when you are the most populous state in the nation at 38,800,000. As a comparison, Texas is a distant second at 26,956,958.
    Governor Jerry Brown has ordered California’s 400 water agencies to cut usage by 25 percent in one year. This will affect 90 percent of the people in the state. The cuts are expected to be directed mostly at businesses and governments.
    Californians have been forced to act because of a drastic four-year drought. It has gone long enough and been so severe that state officials say they can no longer look at it as a fluke or cycle; drought must be considered the norm for the foreseeable future.
    In other words the original plan of let’s-just-wait-until-it-rains has been scraped.
    While it seems we’ve been getting no shortage of rain in our own Peach State (population a little over 10 million, 8th most populous state) a decent portion of Georgia actually ranked as “dry” by the USDA in March 2015. According to the USDA scale, dry comes before drought.
    While California’s plight may not seem applicable to current Georgia, you don’t need a very long memory to recall the recent parched period in our own history from 1998 to 2003. 
    Well-known landscape expert Walter Reeves, the Georgia Gardener as he is called, has an excellent drought history on his website The site notes that this was one of several “drought of the century” spells we have seen going back many decades.   
    The website also contains the following breakdown, “In the 21 years since 1986, Georgia had the following precipitation levels: Normal - 6 years; Above-Average - 3 years; Drought - 8 years; Severe Drought - 4 years.
    What has happened here when rain wouldn’t fall? We poked around with some conservation measures like odd/even lawn watering restrictions and basically waited until it started raining.
    In fact, the Reeves website noted that during the driest years, water consumption actually increased across the Southeast. No surprise really as the last drought hit at the same time development was in full advance.
    State officials did express concern that there may not be enough water for the Atlanta metro area to keep growing, but they failed to take any substantive actions. No new reservoirs were built and conservation measures were generally labeled as wacko environmentalist agenda.
    California did no better to prepare. An earlier request for voluntarily cuts of water use by 20 percent had little effect.
    Now, when the barrel is getting low, the problem can’t be ignored on the other coast, and rather than gradual changes California is forced to find solutions this year.
    California should serve as a canary in the coal mine for what our failure to plan ahead may cost us one day. This is not the kooky people the west coast state is also famous for with some green agenda raising a false alarm.
    It’s the business leaders, the civic officials who are telling people to brace themselves. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past,” said Governor Brown in the New York Times coverage.
    California officials say first in their crosshairs are heavy water users like golf courses in the desert and car washes.
    It will be interesting to see how things turn out on the other coast and we sure hope key people in Atlanta and in city halls everywhere are taking note.

Transgender case in Ga. prison pushes state burden too far

    As though keeping thousands of prisoners from killing one another isn’t enough, Georgia prison officials must become more sensitive to people who have gender identification issues.
    For readers not familiar with this story, Georgia has a prisoner from Rome who was born a man. Prison officials took a look at him at the intake center in 2012 and felt confident enough he was still a guy to lock him up with the other guys for some relatively minor (burglarly) crimes. At that time, however, Ashley Diamond said he was a she and needed female appropriate clothes and hormones to maintain feminine looks.
    Diamond has gender dysphoria, which in clinical explanations means there is severe discontent with the person’s assigned gender at birth. Thus she felt she ought to be locked up with the women and addressed as Miss or her.
    In country editorial terms it means you were born a dude but feel like you ought to be a chick. In pre-modern times, should a condition like this befall you, you kept your mouth shut or moved to San Francisco.
    But, in the case of Diamond, you bring suit and, more amazingly, the federal Department of Justice takes your side, acknowledging that gender dysphoria is a condition requiring treatment like any other condition.
    [Sidenote: In Ms. Diamond’s case, her suit against Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) stated that she had suffered seven rapes or assaults. That is not acceptable and should be fully investigated and this inmate protected.  In their response, the Ga. DOC denied the assaults had happened and noted they offered Diamond protective custody, which she didn’t accept, according to a New York Times article.]
    The psychologists referenced in the brief filed by the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Attorneys said untreated or mistreated sufferers of Gender dyshphoria are likely to commit suicide, self castration, self mutilation and other lesser mental issues.   
    Diamond’s complaint says she has attempted both suicide and self castration while in Georgia prisons.
    It is distressing to see the courts give into this type of treat me a certain way or I will hurt myself argument. Diamond’s case cited the 8th Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment by denying her special treatment. Suppose someone said wearing pants causes me great discontent as that conflicts with my assigned nudity when I was born. Or my sobriety causes me great discontent as opposed to my intoxicated self.
    For the Ga. DOC, their record of keeping prisoners safe is not great. And common sense dictates that trouble will follow when you have someone femine and claiming to be woman locked up in men’s prison.  But, what is a warden to do? You can’t start sending males to female cellblocks.
    Does the state now need a third category when assigning prisoners? Male, Female and Other? And if the state makes an exception here, what about other places where segregation occurs by gender? Will school bathrooms or college dorms have to follow suit?
    In  Diamond’s suit, aside from the attacks (we repeat: which should be taken seriously) she said it was harming her mentally to be subjected to male grooming, male pronouns and dress. She was also distressed that she was no longer able to take hormone injections that she has taken for 17 years to maintain her appearance and the withdrawal could be causing health issues, though one of those cited was the return of facial hair -- hardly a tragedy.
    Ga. DOC, following the Department of Justice’s expressed position, has allowed Diamond to get hormone shots while in prison. Ga. DOC normally has a “freeze frame” policy where they allow anyone taking hormones for  gender confusion issues to continue while in prison. They just can’t start a new program. In Diamond’s case they weren’t following their own protocol.
    All humans need to be treated with respect, but cases like this stretch the bounds too far. They place too much burden on the state. The state’s duty is to keep prisoners safe and rehabilitate where possible, not cater to whims of personality.
    As a closing thought: how would Andy and Barney have handled this in the Mayberry jail?

Easter is a time for hope and renewal

Easter never seems to happen on the same day. Some years it falls in late March; some years it falls in late April. Sometimes it’s cold; sometimes it’s hot. 

Easter’s date changes because it’s based on the lunar cycle, celebrated Sunday after the first full moon following the March 21 equinox - but despite the most sacred of all Christian

holidays’ ability to hop all over the calendar, its message of hope, rebirth and redemption remains steadfast. 

In some traditions people observe Holy Week - from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday. Some people fast during Lenten season. Some hold somber Good Friday ceremonies followed by a poignant Sunrise Service Easter morning. Clearly, not everyone celebrates Easter in the same way - not everyone celebrates Easter at all – still, the message of restored life and renewal is one that is available to everyone. 

The blossoms of early spring are all around us now, just beginning to emerge, and their welcome sight and aroma highlight and embolden the  promise of eternal life. It’s easy to see why Spring is such a fitting parallel for the Easter holiday - the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection three days after his death - and it reminds us that we can be renewed and begin again with new life, or a new perception of our life. 

But just as we all hold Easter in different ways, renewal doesn’t always look the same. In nature it seems to happen all on its own. Seasons seem to change effortlessly from one to the next. Those buds we’re now seeing will turn to blossoms and eventually wither and die, to return just as lovely next year. But for people, in our day-to-day lives, renewal sometimes takes hard work and a willingness to reflect on events in our lives and move forward.

We’re reminded of the deadly Palm Sunday tornadoes that ripped through west Pickens in 1994. The surviving victims of that storm – people who lost their homes and their loves ones –had to pick up what was left of the life they knew, reflect, and forge ahead.   

This Easter, whether you are religious or not, whether you will attend church or not, why not take time to reflect and contemplate your own life and what the Easter promise of renewal means for you. Easter harkens change, which could mean a time to renew or deepen your faith or a time to renew an area of your life that needs attention. Maybe reflect on resolutions you made at the beginning of the year and either renew them, or evaluate and change directions based on things that may have happened the first few months of the year. Maybe it’s time to dig into a project you’ve been putting off, or a time to pursue new relationships or mend old ones. 

Whatever you need most during this season, Easter is a chance to begin again. This Sunday as people celebrate at church or with family and friends over a meal, and as children alight with the promise of a colorful egg hunt, Easter baskets, jellybeans and chocolate, we wish the spirit of Easter fills your minds and hearts. 

Happy Easter from the Progress!