By Dan Pool, Editor
A retired friend with proven credentials in government and business who now calls this area home was having lunch with me recently. He did not want to be named but gave a perfect example of how Pickens County is regressive when it comes to planning.
Consider the idea of the mountain bike proposed by a land trust for north Pickens and the county leaders’ reactions. [Please note this has nothing to do with the actual merits of that proposal.]
When it was first mentioned, the government response was essentially a combination of the following: we need to look into this; might be something good; we’ll try to help.
Nowhere was there reference of whether a passive park in north Pickens fits or does not fit into our long-range recreation goals.
A more progressive government, according to my experienced friend, would have immediately been able to assess it based on their long-range plans. Are more recreation areas a goal of the county? Or have the taxpayers generally said they prefer government to focus on traditional sports fields?
Whenever something like this comes up, it’s like reinventing a wheel in Pickens County.
Adding more planning meetings may seem like a minor point, but it substantially changes the way the local governments operate. It switches from decisions based on what the top officials feel at the spur of the moment to what is developed through planning processes, written down and formalized. It does not rule-out revision or improvisation, but is a recognized starting point.
It’s true the county has a Joint Comprehensive Plan that ludicrously runs through 2028 but it’s rarely referred to and never publicly checked to see if we are working towards the listed goals.
The document, running around 100 pages with a lot of graphics, is vaguely encouraging but short on nuts and bolts.
For example, the current comprehensive plan notes that “goods producing job growth is declining” and that 51 percent of our working residents commute out of the county.
It then gives 13 different measures to promote economic development including “expand business and industrial recruitment efforts” as though it were that simple.
One of the more interesting notes of the plan which, includes input from Jasper, Nelson and Talking Rock, is under infrastructure (page 60), “Consider the formation of an independent water and sewer authority to plan and manage services county-wide. (The City of Jasper does not concur with this.)” The italics are in the plan.
This plan alone makes a decent first step towards a lot of improvements, but what is lacking is a champion. Some leadership from the commissioners or others, perhaps our magistrate judge who is working to promote more planning, is needed to take what is essentially a dead document and put it into action.
After all it took Tom Brady on the field, not just the Patriots’ game plan, to win the Super Bowl (sorry Falcons fans).
We’d challenge our commissioners and public officials to be ambitious. Throw out some big ideas. Maybe one reason Pickens County is not progressing as much as some want is no one is daring to dream a better future.
Whether it is recreation areas, economic development opportunities or significantly expanded water and sewage, our government officials must set the course, not just react when someone shows up with an idea. What is our strategy in 10 years? What kind of benchmarks are we going to measure whether we are making progress or not? What do our leaders think are the obstacles and challenges that are holding us back?
Next Tuesday, there is a state-required meeting on the Comprehensive Plan (see article on page 4A). If you have views of where we need to go by all means attend. If not, then at least encourage our leaders to go big or go home.
By Christie Pool
Serious dog lover
My dogs love to ride. Correction: one of my dogs loves to ride in the car. The others just get really excited about going somewhere, even if they don’t particularly enjoy the trip.
When I say love: Shadow, our 9-year-old, long, black-haired sweetie of a mutt, seems happiest when his head is stuck out the window, ears blowing straight up from the wind, and nose sniffing countless new smells. Our other “big dog” Boston just likes being loaded into a car and hanging out, doing something besides sitting on the porch or walking around the neighborhood with me. She likes riding, but she doesn't love it the way Shadow does. The third dog, a 10-pound Bichon - well let's just say his spoiled little self much prefers sitting in a lap than riding.
That being said, a couple of weeks ago I loaded the dogs into the Jeep and ran to Walmart. It was a cool, brisk morning at our house, in the upper 40s. While driving into town, I noticed it already warming up during the 15 minute ride. I parked beside a small tree giving some shade (even though it was likely still in the low 50s but a little shade is always better). I rolled down the windows enough so the dogs could stick their heads out but not so much they could jump out and run off in search of an adventure (or a nearby restaurant).
I rushed through the store, grabbing needed items hastily. Arriving back at my car, I noticed all three dogs had their tongues hanging out, panting a little. I was surprised. Sitting in the car I realized it was indeed stuffy. I cranked the car and started home, rolling down the windows for the obligatory sticking out of heads (the dogs, not me). Looking down at the console, the thermometer said 57 degrees.
Doesn't seem too bad, right? Even at sub-60 degrees it doesn’t take long for a car’s interior to heat up to uncomfortable levels - especially for animals. I felt terrible. They weren’t hot, but I doubt they were comfortable.
While good-intentioned - I just wanted to make them happy and let them ride along with their faces in the wind - I came dangerously close to being THAT person who leaves their dogs in a too-hot car. And that was at 57 degrees.
According to a Stanford University study, when it’s 72 degrees outside, the temperature inside our cars can heat up to 116 degrees within an hour. At 80 degrees outside, the temperature can heat up to 99 degrees within 10 minutes according to the study.
Ninety-nine degrees! In 10 minutes! And rolling down the windows has been shown to have little effect on the temperature inside a car, according to the Humane Society of the United States. A dog can only withstand a high temperature for a short time before suffering nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or even death.
Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. Beating the heat is extra tough for dogs as they can only cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paw pads.
Now that temps are consistently in the 80s (think 100+ degrees inside a car), please remember that while your dogs may love to ride, they do not like sitting in a hot car.
As you prepare to leave most doctor appointments, there is some pre-emptive discussion for a plan B. “If you’re not feeling better in a day or two ….; if you develop a weird rash… if you have nausea…”
It is frightening that there does not seem to be any plans for follow-up care, second opinions or alternative treatment with the aborted attempt last week to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare. It appears that the president and congress basically said, “Well, that didn’t work. Guess we are stuck with what we have. Good luck everyone.”
GOP politicians have railed against Obamacare as a centerpiece of campaigns for the past seven years, but when it came time to chunk it, they couldn’t decide what to replace it with – and found out it wasn’t as unpopular out in the fields and woods of their districts as they first supposed.
It is a massive, complex bit of legislation and the fact that President Trump and Congressman Paul Ryan couldn’t fix the problems in the first few months of the new administration isn’t surprising.
It is disappointing that it now seems Washington is willing to tolerate a flawed product in the Affordable Care Act because they couldn’t agree on what should come next. They have essentially thrown in the towel – leaving the country to muddle on with our current healthcare mess.
It’s unacceptable for politicians in Washington from both parties to botch a process this badly, then walk away with their hands up. Making it more frustrating is you can hear the tone in statements that the Democrats feel like they have won something and the Republicans are waiting to pounce on any problem with the ACA to assail the Democrats.
The problem of the political gamesmanship is it will be the American people who suffer, if a not a full “explosion,” certainly continued problems with our healthcare.
Imagine for a moment if instead of the talk of “death panels,” the new administration had said this: “Obama got the ball rolling on improving American healthcare, but there are some serious problems and we are going to fix them?”
Not only might the approach of fixing problems produce a more conducive environment, it would also be a lot more accurate.
It’s absolutely true that Obamacare needs serious adjustments and tinkering, but apparently the lawmakers in Washington didn’t realize that many people like the fact they got insurance for the first time through the ACA and they don’t want to change; not to mention it is proving to be less expensive than originally projected.
The Affordable Care Act did start a change/reform in healthcare in this country, but it was only a start, hopefully not set in stone.
There are very real problems with the individual cost to many people who want insurance, and the fact that some people don’t want to buy the insurance even in the face of fines and issues with other mandates. It also bodes poorly that in some states the markets are failing after insurance companies pull out.
To go back to the medical analogy earlier, it’s like a doctor saying, “Well, my first attempt didn’t stop the bleeding. Doesn’t look like this is going to turn out well, but I’m done.”
That would be unacceptable for a doctor and it’s unacceptable for our congress. Get back in there and figure out what to do.
An implosion would reflect badly on Obama’s legacy and the Democrats in the long-run, but it will also be an implosion for the businesses and people and general economy of this nation.
At some point in the past decade, America went crazy for avocados. Those green fruits became the healthy/trendy crowd’s meth.
Not too many years ago most people would have been making an educated guess if they identified avocado as the base for guacamole – now you can’t swing a kale leaf without hitting a health food guru touting avocado creations.
The green bumpy looking fruits, mostly from Mexico, are showing up everywhere, with growers aggressively marketing them as a “super food.” When you have people making a Mexican food staple into ice cream you know organic hell has broken loose.
Avocados are eaten three meals a day in everything from smoothies to sandwiches. Avocaderia, a new restaurant in New York, opened this month serving nothing but avocados in all the forms imaginable.
This madness is best captured in a funny 2013 Subway commercial where two women try to outdo each other declaring their undying devotion to the fruit. The winning woman finally introduces her son, Avocado.
The hype is so widespread that one British publication termed it the “overcado.”
This constant marketing/hipness paid off for avocado sellers. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center website, consumption of avocados has “increased significantly from 1.1 pounds per capita in 1989 to a record 7 pounds per capita in 2014.” Wikipedia cited this trend, US per capita consumption has grown from 2 pounds in 2001 to 7 pounds in 2016.
Not bad business for something that was once known in the U.S. as the “alligator pear” and originally had a Spanish name judged too hard to pronounce by Americans, so marketers renamed it the avocado.
The problem with this new-found addiction (and what else could we call it when people are spreading it on toast?) is that avocados are only grown in a few places. A New York Times article stated, “nearly 80 percent of those avocados came from Michoacán, the only Mexican state authorized to export the fruit” because of concerns of pests in other areas of Mexico. Other South American countries grow some and California does as well, but not enough to meet the skyrocketing demand.
Unfortunately, Michoacán’s main avocado breeding area is also the key migration stop for western monarch butterflies. Those cool orange-and-black butterflies are being decimated out west because Mexican farmers are cutting every tree in sight to grow more avocados to feed a trend that will probably be as dead as acai berry elixir and pomegranate-love by the time their avocado trees grow. [Note: eastern monarchs migrate to Florida.]
Those awesome butterflies travel all the way from Canada (multi-generational flights). But instead of finding their usual over-wintering trees they are going to find a bunch of avocados rotting in the field because American foodies will probably have changed their love-affair to beets or guava (whatever that is). One online publication predicts cauliflower will be the next shining star in the fitness firmament.
The same New York Times article found that between 1974 and 2011, about 110,000 acres of forest across Michoacán’s central highlands were turned into avocado orchards, according to a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
It’s not that we are suddenly butterfly huggers and we admit to liking guacamole. It’s not purely environmental reason this is noxious; it’s mainly the whole trend-following culture that gets us riled up. In this case it’s further so, because you know many of these avocado devotees would launch into a foodie diatribe over someone eating a Big Mac. Just look at quinoa, similarly hip foodie fare. The Peruvian grain tripled in price between 2000 and 2014. The UN even branded 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa.
As with so many things, our culture-obsessed society pounces with mouths wide-open on what’s popular at the moment – as though all you have to do to be healthy and hip is eat avocados. Show a couple of celebrities with toned bodies slicing avocado into a blender and the next thing you know a population of butterflies is wiped out.
School administrators, teachers and parents anxious to see more technology in classrooms may want to re-think their desires.
Over the past couple of years, a barrage of studies found that increasing technology in classrooms at both K-12 and college levels had either little impact or, in some cases, negative impacts on student performance.
Among the more clear-cut and compelling studies, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development compared the amount of use and effects of school technology in 70 countries. They found "no noticeable improvement" in countries which were the most active in adding technology to their curriculum.
And, possibly more telling, a couple of countries famous for academic rigor, have done little to add new technologies. Surprisingly, countries that used the least technology on campuses include academic powerhouses Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
Several experts said the idea that young people will learn about digital devices and online offerings from older teachers is as laughable as the idea that parents need to show their teenagers how to access an iPhone.
In the U.S., research generally concluded that new technology is only effective in aiding classroom environments if a teacher was very conscious of its potential and integrated it as a limited complementary approach, not a replacement for direct face-to-face instruction between students and teachers.
In a paper on the Stanford Graduate School of Education website, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, stated, “It also underscores that replacing teachers with technology is not a successful formula. Instead, strong gains in achievement occur by pairing technology with classroom teachers who provide real-time support and encouragement to underserved students.”
While new technology can engage students and give them access to resources they otherwise may miss, the digital/online learning is not without drawbacks, according to the Stanford findings.
Among the hazards are, not surprisingly, that students can easily cut and paste answers without taking time to even cursorily examine what they are copying. The technology may help students find needed facts, but does not necessarily equip them to interpret or apply what they find.
Concerns were also expressed that tech savvy students will easily outsmart teachers and find all sorts of diversions with the technology that distract them from the assigned lessons.
Other critics worried that teachers can be so “dazzled” by the computers and software they may miss that students are not actually learning the material – just enjoying the show. On a nationwide scale, educators expressed particular fears that schools with scant resources will try to shift classroom lessons from real teachers to online curriculum.
A story on NPR reported that a study in July of 2016 “looked at high-achieving eighth-graders across North Carolina who had the opportunity to take Algebra I online. The study found that they did much worse than students who took the course face-to-face — about a third of a letter grade worse, in fact.” The NPR report noted that any time high achieving students’ performance declines, you know there is a fundamental problem in the class itself.
A 2011 New York Times story was a surprising account of how many tech-leaders in Silicon Valley send their kids to non-tech schools created to serve these super-rich internet millionaires. The story said that these titans of the tech industry wanted their kids in classrooms with blackboards and not computers.
The thinking at these Waldorf schools are that teachers help students discover critical thinking skills in a setting that promotes deeper-understanding, not a cursory reading or the brief snippets in online skimming.
An expert quoted in that article, Paul Thomas, author of numerous papers on public education, said, “Teaching is a human experience. Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”