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Staff Editorials

After Paris, what now?

    Last month, the Islamic State, monstrous psychopaths that they are, proudly claimed they brought down a Russian plane over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. And, they took responsibility for a bombing in Beirut, all before their followers killed 129 people and left 352 wounded in Paris on Friday.
    They wanted to kill more last week and, no doubt, they intend to keep on killing in the future. Their followers refer to the deaths as “miracles.”
    In Paris they went after what analysts call “soft targets,” areas that are undefended. We see these “targets” as people - people enjoying a pleasant evening with friends, having meals at cafes, listening to live music and watching a soccer match.
    Following the horror in Paris, French President Hollande said his nation is “at war” with ISIS. And our own president has said we are “united against this threat.”
    But what exactly does that mean?
    The French are dropping bombs on ISIS targets in their Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. We’ve pledged more airstrikes. This is a good start; we’ve wondered why there haven’t been more intense attacks against the terrorists all along.   
    Whatever our overall strategy becomes, it should be focused on specific military targets, coordinated with other countries in the region. And where is NATO in all this? France has been attacked by an outside power. NATO members must do as Falcons fans are encouraged to do each Sunday and “Rise Up.” This is a Western fight because ISIS has made it a Western fight.
    In the wake of Friday night’s attacks in Paris, the French have said they “will lead the fight and will be ruthless.” In the aftermath of such horror, words like these are what many, like us, want to hear. We want our leaders to say they will retaliate for atrocities like these that left a pregnant woman hanging out of a window above a Parisian street clinging for her life while trying to escape madmen.
    But strongly worded statements of solidarity and pledges to defeat ISIS from Western leaders are simply sound bites unless they are converted into a tangible strategy. With each attack comes a lot of talk. From politicians and journalists to eyewitnesses and those of us watching as it unfolds on television, we all express our shock and outrage at what happened. The real test of our resolve comes six months or a year later when our military is still fighting the beast.
    Up until the Paris attacks, ISIS had successfully called the West’s bluff. They were convinced we wouldn’t send  ground troops to the areas of Iraq and Syria. And so far they’ve been right. Our strategy has depended virtually on the air war and training Iraqi troops and secular Syrian rebels.
    But ISIS has grown too strong to be taken down by such a piecemeal effort.
    We hope the Paris attacks will act as a political tipping point, bringing more Europeans – and Russia - closer to our policy to destroy ISIS. They are weakening but they won’t be defeated unless the powers act together.
     Just bombing them won’t work. 
    ISIS has gotten what they want so far and we need to take it back with a united military front, much like the World Wars, where you round up your allies and take care of business.

Trees that provoke rage like these

I think that I shall never see
Trees provoke rage such as these

Trees planted with good intentions
By city crews with inmate assistance

Trees whose green boughs interfere
In Jasper’s downtown business air

A tree that may year-round wear
A nest of Christmas lights in her hair

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only the mayor loves these trees

    With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, who penned the poem Trees much differently in 1913.
By Dan Pool

    It seems those green trees recently relocated to our main drag are universally unpopular. It’s like the city had installed a Democratic presidential candidate on every corner with a microphone – that’s how poorly received the trees have been.
    For each good comment on the arborvitae, there are at least 10 to the negative. (Though I will concede that I am in that minority who think they look pretty good.)
    An initial poor acceptance is nothing new with work on Jasper’s streetscape. When Mayor John Weaver and council redid all the old cracked and crumbling sidewalks and replaced overhead utility poles with underground lines back in the 1990s, some merchants wailed that they had killed Jasper.
    The furor at the time was that the brick accent pavers on sidewalks, not to mention some concessions for handicapped pedestrians, weren’t worth sacrificing the parking spots that were eliminated. People also feared that the wider sidewalks to accommodate foot traffic and trees, would interfere with traffic down the street.
    The sentiment then being expressed was that Main Street was for driving, not for big brick sidewalks for trees.
    The trees that have been installed since that time have never garnered widespread approval either. The choice of a locust species planted in a few of the spots drew particular criticism.
    Grousing about Main Street’s appearance has ingrained itself as a tradition: we have Christmas Night of Lights,  the Marble Festival parade and Tree Grumbling season here in Jasper.
    Our new evergreen Emerald varieties of arborvitae are clearly one step up the leafy scale over the trees that were removed.
    Like aging fashion models the last batch had outlived their beauty. They were misshapen, crooked, droopy and mostly leafless.
    When the city crews first started cutting some of the trees this summer, I mentioned to the mayor the one in front of the Progress looked so bad even Charlie Brown would reject it, the mayor replied that one was slated to be left; it was the best they had.
    There were a precious few that still resembled healthy trees, which, sad to say, is par for the course when it comes to street trees. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that trees have a tough time growing in a hole in the road, surrounded by asphalt. These new ones may not last long either, but consider that the city got them as a part of a large purchase from a defunct tree farm. Jasper spent about $3,500 on a field full of trees instead of the several hundred a piece street trees can bring. And the city has magnolias and hollies which may be used in other areas of the city.
    Even if these trees fall to stress and difficulty in irrigation, the city isn’t out much. And the town could switch direction in the appearance.
    Moving to the all-evergreen look caught people by surprise and it may grow on them or it may not. But it certainly gives a unique and distinctive look on Main Street.
    And for people who really don’t like them, just wait around and we can all complain again when new ones are planted.
    In the meantime, there’s no denying they will look Christmasy.

Pickens County ready for a walk in the woods

By Dan Pool
    We are heading into the time of year when it’s best to get out in the woods. The leaves are beginning to change, which adds plenty of color to the north Georgia mountains and it’s not too hot to hike around without getting soaked in sweat.
    And for me, the best thing about this time of year is that the double scourge of the woods - yellow jackets and poison ivy - are about to be done for until next summer.
    I don’t buy into much of the New Age ideas of communing with nature but I will testify that it makes you feel good to get out and walk around the woods just to see what you can see.
    Old timers used to refer to a walk as a constitutional – because it was thought to be something good for your constitution (health). I suspect they didn’t worry much about distance, heart rate and special walking shoes as we do today. A walk used to be a chance to collect your thoughts far from the maddening crowd while also getting some fresh air.
    For those people who are always logging steps on some fancy watch, I think you should have a setting where you get double bonus steps for walking on plain earth rather than a walking path. Though paved paths are fine for exercise, it doesn’t compare to really wandering through the woods anymore than Captain D’s compares to freshly caught trout. We know walking in general makes us feel good, but getting outside in nature - on crisp autumn afternoons or even frigid winter days - can do much for our health. Charles Dickens clocked up a huge number of miles on foot - both in London’s damp city streets and England’s countryside. It’s estimated he walked 12 miles per day - in about two and a half hours. His FitBit stats would be amazing.
    A 2012 study found that participants with clinical depression who took a walk in nature experienced improved memory, while an earlier 2008 study found that healthy adults experienced a mental boost after walking for an hour in the park.
    For all the Henry David Thoreau-wannabes, Pickens County is on the verge of opening up two new Waldens.
    First we have the Talking Rock Nature Preserve, right off Highway 515 on the Gilmer County line. This 211-acre tract has been protected and is in the planning stage of trails and a Frisbee golf course through the work of the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL).
    Professional designers for mountain biking hope to open at least five miles of trail there for mountain biking as well as walking and trail running. They are also planning a world class Frisbee golf course where, at no charge, anyone who wants to add a little sport to their “constitutional” can fling Frisbees while they enjoy the woods.
    STPAL has as their mission that their properties are destined to be used “for the quiet enjoyment of nature.” Birding may also be a featured activity there. The property is protected now and some signage marks the location but trails and parking are still in the works.
    I met with STPAL director Bill Jones and the trail designers  in late summer and they emphasized that the park will be much better in the long run if they start with trails that “flow” with the terrain so it is worthwhile to wait rather than rush to clear out some paths wherever volunteers saw fit.
    Following this announcement in July, we again hit the outdoor jackpot this month when the county joined the local Mountain Conservation Trust to permanently protect the Narrow Gate tract which adjoins the Burnt Mountain Preserve. It will also sport hiking trails eventually.
    This piece of property has long been considered a crown jewel for preservation. Sitting near Bent Tree, Burnt Mountain and above Grandview Lake, much concern was expressed when development was proposed there a decade ago.
    Having this under conservation restrictions not only safeguards water supply and our views from town looking to the east, but it opens up some good hiking terrain. While the existing Burnt Mountain Preserve has limited trails, they are not suited for a wide range of hiking as they are very steep—how else could they be on the side of a mountain.
    This Narrow Gate acquisition totaling 282 acres encompasses the base of the mountains and should allow the existing trails to be worked into larger,  and flatter, walkways, at least flatter by north Georgia standards.
    These two new natural areas are tremendous assets for us in Pickens County. Without state or national park land, people here are deprived of the opportunity to wander in the woods, something that everyone should do occasionally.   

Vote yes on school SPLOST

    To face facts, we must replace the Jasper Middle School buildings. The sprawling campus was mostly built in 1958 and while the exterior is neatly maintained, problems abound with something used that many years, first as a high school and later as a middle school.
    Students and parents report that at times whole bathrooms are not functional. The director of operations has said that many of the problems with infrastructure would require digging up floors to remedy.
    And the building design limits the technology that students can access in their classroom – something that is becoming increasingly crucial in teaching.
    But the number one reason that the school needs to be replaced is that it’s not equal to its counterpart, Pickens Middle. You can’t have this. The superintendent told the board at a recent meeting that studies show students at better campuses do better academically. This is not a case of educators whining.
    The inequality between the two middle schools must be equalized. Half the county shouldn’t be assigned to the outdated campus.
    As to a design or even a location for the proposed new middle school, absolutely no plans exist at this point.    There is a lot of talk about whether (and how) the board can rebuild at the same East Church Street site or if they are going to look for new property. But it’s not decided.
    We called board chair Mike Cowart on Monday to doublecheck on any decisions, and he was clear, “We don’t have the cart before the horse.”
    First, they need to fund a new school and that means we need to vote yes for the SPLOST next Tuesday. New schools are best paid for one cent at the time, rather than through property taxes.
    We believe in this case, the project is not just a good one, but more-or-less mandatory. The kids in the half the county shouldn’t be held back so we save a penny at the cash register on every dollar we spend.
    The board, however, is disingenuous in their repeated claims that this is not a new tax. While the voters here have approved similar sales tax resolutions in 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2011, it is a new tax every go round. Each SPLOST comes with its own goals and represents updated priorities. Saying it is only “continuation” makes as much sense as saying the shoes I bought Saturday aren’t new, they just continue the old shoes I threw away.
    If down the road the school board trots out a SPLOST with poorly defined goals, you might seriously consider a no-vote. But this is not the case this time.
    When people want anything school-related, they usually use the argument, “it’s all about the kids.” In this case, it’s not only the kids, it’s also about the county seat and building something we can be proud of. Consider the location of JMS on Church Street, right  in the middle of the main avenue across this county, traveling east to west.
    It’s important that the school board handles construction well at such a prominent site. We urge them to consider the profile of that location and rebuild something there that makes the county proud. The current campus has served this county for half-a-century, let’s not see it become an abandoned site or be replaced with an eyesore.
    To do this, the school board needs the available funds. And we trust them to be good stewards of it. The school board has a solid track record of managing their building projects dating back to the current PHS campus (which was a lesson in mis-management but one from two decades ago). Since this they have relied on professionals and brought their projects in with nice results and on budget, even as the board’s makeup has changed regularly.
    They have earned our trust with the SPLOST and we hope with JMS they build something we can be proud of.   

Gun rights not a problem, some gun owners are

By Dan Pool
    I grew up in Pickens County when it was fully a rural county and needless to say guns were pretty common. One of our former reporters tells of a kid who got a new shotgun for Christmas and brought it to high school to show it off in the parking lot. The teachers two decades ago agreed it was a good looking 12 gauge, nothing more. Today that situation would have ended differently.
    I have no problem with guns. Where I have a problem is with gun owners who also happen to be seriously lacking in IQ or someone I would suspect of having an elevator that doesn’t go all the way to the top.
    Last summer at the 61 Main restaurant, there was a young man with a pistol in a holster drinking a few beers with a young woman. The bar area there is tiny and it was unnerving to have some guy you don’t know drinking beer with his gun out.
    Admittedly, there are places where you would be justified in carrying them for protection, but a farm-to-table restaurant on Jasper’s Main Street clearly isn’t one.
    I am a rural gun snob. If you grew up hunting, had a gun in your hands before your drivers license, learned to shoot and were preached to about “never pointing it at anything you didn’t mean to kill” by your father or grandfather, then I support your right to carry guns anywhere you please. Or if you had military service, then one assumes you know what you are doing with a gun.
    With our current gun statues, there are some restrictions on people who can’t own weapons, but these rules are thoroughly ineffective. Mentally defective people and convicted felons are empirically not reliable on an honor system, which is essentially how these rules work. For person-to-person sales, no one is required to even ask if the person falls into a restricted category.
    It’s the lack of idiot restrictions that bothers me. Anyone can walk into a store, buy a gun, ammo and go home and accidentally shoot their neighbor’s car, house, kid or dog while trying to figure out the safety. Even intelligent people should not be expected to figure out a gun by themselves without some training.
    A perfect example that I witnessed was at a friend’s house on Old Burnt Mountain Road.  He would host an occasional party for his wife’s metro area co-workers and a few locals to come shoot.
    At the last one, the boyfriend of one of the employees arrived with a duffle bag of firearms he had bought several weeks prior at an estate sale.
    He was candid that he knew nothing about guns and confirmed his incompetence by saying he had been randomly trying some of the  loose ammo from the bag in the different handguns to see which it would fire in – very unsafe.
    But the shocker was a “riot-stopper” pump 12-gauge found to be loaded when the host was looking over the arsenal. The guy had bought it that way and didn’t know how to check the pump shotgun. And it would appear whoever sold it hadn’t bothered to check or didn’t know how either.
    And this man and his purchase of loaded gun were fully legal.
    If you go  somewhere like the Bargain Barn, you can be sure a salesman is going to offer plenty of expert advice to get started.
    Local pistol instructor Carlton Wilson estimates that 1 out of every 20 students he trains shows up for the first class with a loaded pistol and almost no knowledge of how to safely handle it. Many have bought the gun but never fired it as they weren’t sure how, he said. “It’s not common but it happens often enough to be a concern,” he said.
    [Disclaimer: gun accidents rank low on the list of dangers, well below accidental poisoning or drownings.]
    While I support gun rights, I worry about where kids without that father or grandfather are supposed to learn how to unload an automatic shotgun or check to see if there is a round in a chamber with a pistol?
    The state of Georgia won’t let you hunt until you complete a hunter’s safety course. So, you may not legally carry a gun to shoot a squirrel out in the woods until you’ve had some training but you can carry a concealed pistol (with the safety off if you choose) to a mall as long as you aren’t a former felon or certified dangerously crazy.
    29 of the 50 states, including both Tennessee and Florida (and gun rights stronghold  Texas), require some form of training before issuing a weapons permit. Georgia should look to do the same.
    I don’t want to give the idea that I want someone to come for our guns, but a little education would certainly make me feel better about guys with duffle bags full of used guns.