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August 2019
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Staff Editorials

We want to see city manager government do well

Last Monday was the first day at the office for Jasper’s new, full-time city manger Brandon Douglas. We want to go on record as saying we hope to see this new form of government be successful and work in the best way possible for the residents of Jasper and Pickens County. 

We also want to formally welcome Douglas to the position and to the community at-large, and we encourage local leaders, businesspeople, civic groups and the public do the same. 

The Progress doesn’t typically use editorial space to give our well wishes to newly-hired or newly-elected officials, but the separation of the mayor and city manager positions is historic for Jasper, and the road to this point was a highly-contentious, one several members of council believed in and fought long and hard to attain, so we think it’s worth saying in print. The city council voted to separate the mayor position and city manager in January 2018. They had been held by the same person (John Weaver) for decades. Douglas, former Assistant City Manger from Acworth, was selected from a pool of candidates for the job. Douglas, as well as the council members who hired him, have an opportunity to show the public how their decision is a step in the right direction - one that will foster more open and productive discussion among local leaders, more transparency, better responsiveness to the electorate, and tangible and positive outcomes for the public. 

The city’s change in government reminds us of the long, tedious process the county went through to move from a sole commissioner to the current three-person board. The powers that be at the time resisted the change, arguing a sole commissioner could move quicker than a multi-person board when it came to decision-making, policy changes, emergency response, etc. - but the three-person board has provided more representation for residents and significantly improved checks and balances. 

We recall commission meetings under a sole commissioner as brief and nearly non-existent, lasting just 10 minutes (at most) with zero discussion and what amounted to little more than reading the agenda. Under a multi-person board they moved to longer regular meetings and the addition of a work session, both with board discussion. The move to a three-person board also spurred along much-needed changes to a grossly mismanaged finance department following a public outcry, which led the county to more transparent financial operations, better money management, and reduction of the county’s reliance on short-term loans called Tax Anticipation Notes. We think these changes, which included the hiring of a new CFO, would have taken much longer under the sole commissioner form of government. 

Over the last several months we have seen a very few developments, mostly internal, that are positive outcomes from the separation of city manager and mayoral positions – fair vacation time for emergency and utility city employees and a new sick policy that doesn’t require employees have a doctor’s note after one day out of work. Now, we’d like to see positive moves in the city that impact the public, including in the areas of economic development, recreation, job creation and general quality of life. 

We’d also like to thank City Manger Jim Looney, who resigned from both his full-time job and duties as council member to take on the role, for filling the position during such a confrontational time in the city’s history. Best of luck to city council and the new city manger during this crucial period in Jasper’s history.

Podcasts offer convenient education, entertainment

Podcasts have become increasingly popular since Serial went mainstream in 2014. Any topic you’re interested in, there’s a podcast dedicated to it. Only have 15 minutes to spare? There’s a podcast that will teach you something or entertain you in that amount of time. Prefer to listen to a really great long-form story? News? Nonfiction? Science? Politics? There are podcasts that will fit the bill. 

While many of us might not take the time to sit down and read a book or a long article, we can listen to podcasts during our commutes, while we’re cleaning, walking our dogs, or training for that next 5K. From comedy and crime to science and history, here are a few of our favorites.

Over My Dead Body – Premiering on Valentine’s Day, it’s already  the top rated podcast on iTunes. It features the story of Dan and Wendi, “two good-looking, Harvard-educated attorneys whose wedding is featured in The New York Times. But when this “perfect” couple falls apart, it leads to a bad breakup, a worse divorce, and a murder case involving a menagerie of high-priced  lawyers and unexpected co-conspirators.”   

My Favorite Murder – While technically considered a comedy show, this podcast features lifelong fans of true crimes, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff as hosts who  each discuss a, mostly historical, murder. If you want to avoid some of their brash language, fast-forward until you hit 15-17 minutes into the podcast and you’ll go straight to the murder stories and less of their banter. 

Mobituaries with Mo Rocca - The host loves obituaries and introduces listeners to the people “who have long intrigued him - from the 20th century’s greatest entertainer to the Civil Rights pioneer who is completely forgotten to sitcom characters gone all too soon. Even if you know the names, you’ve never understood why they matter...until now.” 

The Dollop - Not so into American history but want to know cool stuff? The Dollop has you covered. Every week, Dave Anthony reads a story from American history to fellow comedian Gareth Reynolds who has no idea what the topic is going to be about. And listeners most likely have never heard the story either. Like, did you know, in 1976 a plane with 60,000 pounds of pot crashed in Yosemite?  

Science VS – From episodes like “The Mystery of the Man Who Died Twice” to “CBD: Weed Wonder Drug?” host Wendy Zukerman dives into contentious topics with the goal of finding out what the scientific community has to say. Serious topics like gun control to lighthearted (hypnosis, meditation, even ghosts) and chances are you’ll laugh while you learn. 

Criminal – This podcast looks at investigations into historical crimes and stories on the wrongdoings within the criminal system. Recommended episode: The Escape. Did the two men who famously escaped Alcatraz in 1962 really make it? More than 50 years after never being found, “their 82-year-old sister is still waiting for them to come home.. and one U.S. Marshal is still on the case.” 

This is Actually Happening - If you ever are feeling bad about yourself, just plug in and listen to one of these first hand accounts from people who have experienced something life-changing, devastating and oftentimes unbelievable. These brave people will show you how they persevered through a time that seems too much for anyone to handle. 

Serial - Season 1. It followed the murder of Baltimore teen Hae Min Lee and the man accused of killing her who may or may not be guilty but remains in jail.   

Dirty John - A successful interior designer meets a handsome man who seems to check all the boxes. Her family doesn’t like him... and for good reason. “They get entangled in a web of love, deception, forgiveness, denial and ultimately, survival.”

Dr. Death - You’ll never look at your doctor in the same way again. “We’re all at our most vulnerable when we go to our doctors. we trust the person at the other end of that scalpel. We trust the hospital. We trust the system.”

You can rewrite history but we do not

The subject of a several-year-old news story has called us twice requesting we alter our online account. The story about him was positive and accurate but there is a personal item in it that has changed according to the recent call. He made a polite request that we delete or replace a portion of the story as the presence of the personal information, which this subject supplied himself, now creates conflict whenever it pops up on an internet search.

We declined to make any change. On the surface it may seem harmless to alter a trivial portion of a news story that few people have any interest in at this point. There is nothing the outside world/a future employer/a voter would find in that story to affect the subject’s career, political chances, or reputation. 

For us it’s the principle involved. To help this fellow out would literally change history. Even though the individual in question will never make a footnote in the annals of Pickens County, changing an accurate recording of an event is anathema to anyone who takes truth and facts seriously.

We published the story and it was accurate. It was a complete snapshot of a minor event and we aren’t changing it to suit someone’s fancy.

If we had done this guy a favor, it would open the door to future requests and erodes a newspaper’s responsibility to record the daily events, good and bad and minor.

For argument’s sake, you could take it up a small notch - suppose a politician wanted a column he once wrote endorsing some program/person removed online as the political winds had since changed. He might argue that he had written it but didn’t feel that way any longer so we should delete it -- and give him leeway to claim he had never felt that way.

Or to go another step, some 40-year-old asking us to remove an arrest story from when he was 18 as it keeps popping up on searches (young people be careful because this does happen).

To take this argument to the extreme, consider that in the oft-cited book 1984 - the main character works at the Ministry of Truth. What he does there is change books, records and newspapers to make sure history accurately reflects the current Big Brother ideology. Just like this caller to the Progress, it is much more convenient when the past can be edited to accommodate the present.

We would also like to point out that the man calling the Progress didn’t ask us to change our print editions, bound in book form, here and at the library and at the UGA archives and in many cases stored in trunks or clipped in scrapbooks or hanging on refrigerators. Nor did he ask us to recall all the issues we sold the week he made the paper. No one would even consider making those requests because they are so unrealistic. What’s printed on old-fashioned paper and mailed to several thousand people every week is as good as set in stone. 

There is no altering published print editions, regardless of the power or position of the person offended, embarrassed or angry. There is no going back a few years later and claiming something didn’t happen when you know darn well archives still have that news story about it.

Websites can be changed and online archives deleted. On social media, how do you know if the post you find is an unedited retelling?

Maybe newspapers are old-fashioned, but like a lot of things and people who are old-fashioned, we are also reliable, stable, and not subject to whims.

The lost art of doing nothing

By Dan Pool, Editor

It used to be something to do nothing. Now nobody seems to do nothing any more; everyone is too busy with something.

Allow me to elaborate.

In the rural South of the last generation an important part of most houses (from the nicest to the most meager) was the place  you went to watch traffic pass. Perhaps it was a rocking chair on a front porch, or a swing on a screened porch, or some metal chairs underneath a shade tree. Note, until recently Adirondack chairs were confined to the Adirondack region and the rest of the world used flimsy yard furniture with poorly constructed spring bottoms.

From your shaded vantage you watched traffic go by - especially in the evening. You weren’t waiting on anyone particular to pass nor trying to develop a new traffic plan. You didn’t expect anything to happen. You were doing nothing in all its glory -- either alone or in pairs or in small groups with light conversation mixed-in.

Traffic watching isn’t a popular hobby today. 

Front porches are now designed to be looked at by passing motorists rather than a spot for watching from. Nor do you find many sitting areas along the roads of subdivisions. If you left a bunch of  chairs under a tree in a gated community, you’d likely get a nasty letter from the POA. 

The idea of spending an evening watching traffic seems like something from another century even though older members of the community still maintain solitary watches. And they’ll still wave at you.

Imagine telling your co-workers you spent an evening with your wife just sitting there?

“So what did you do last night?”

“After dinner, sat on the front porch  until it got dark watching the traffic pass.”

“That’s horrible. Something wrong?”

One reason an evening spent doing nothing strikes people as so abnormal is the widespread belief that to be happy and successful you must be busy.

To be caught doing nothing, like sitting in a comfortable chair watching cars, would be embarrassing as it implies you aren’t important enough to have a calendar filled from morning to night.

A second reason you won’t catch people watching plain ol’ cars is because they can watch super-slick videos of dogs, funny accidents or uber-attractive people on their phones.

And rather than shooting the breeze with wife, uncle or neighbor, instant messaging allows us to communicate with hundreds of people who will probably tell us very important opinions and juicy gossip.

In the modern schedule there is no time to do nothing by yourself at home. You gotta be doing something and thanks to modern technology we can all do something all the time. From checking e-mails to shopping for a new gadget, there is no time for downtime. Especially if you want to keep up with the Zuckerbergs.

While we have evolved so that watching cars isn’t the social activity it used to be, we also report growing more unhappy; perhaps the two are related. Author David Foster Wallace wrote that boredom is the antidote to modern life but we certainly don’t tolerate boredom any longer.

A Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index found last year that Americans are the least happy they have been in a decade. The poll, which interviewed more than 160,000 Americans, found specifically those who were unhappy had “little interest or pleasure in doing things.”

That’s the problem in a nutshell, since the 1980s, we’ve been led to believe we need to do things. Seinfeld, a television show about nothing, is no longer on the air because people won’t tolerate a group of people who aren’t busy doing something.

Perhaps the researchers should have asked the 160,000 Americans their opinions on doing nothing. And then suggested they go do it on the front porch.


Yes, you can take my coat

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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Last week I had a lunch meeting with a colleague who was sitting in the booth when I arrived. As I approached the table, he stood up and asked if he could help me with my coat. I declined, but only because it was freezing and I was stuffed into two jackets, which would have made the gesture more awkward than he’d anticipated. After we’d discussed an upcoming project and lunch was over, he again offered to help with my coat and opened both the restaurant door and my car door. 

When I drove off it occurred to me that the art of being a gentleman is dying. It’s being smothered by an unfortunate bedfellow of gender equality that likens chivalry with slimy or “benevolent” sexism, and the over-casualization of society and relationships in general. 

This colleague is from an older generation than my own and, outside of my husband who regularly opens doors for me when we’re in public and carries heavy bags, I rarely see men around my age (36)  extend such gestures. 

I consider myself a progressive and independent woman. I believe in equal rights, equal pay, and sexual respect; I cuss; I could hardly be considered a “romantic;” and don’t shy away from heavy lifting or getting dirty – but genuine (the genuine part is important) acts of chivalry make me feel respected and special and I don’t want to live in a world where they don’t exist. My son is 12 and it would make me proud to see him treat females with such respect and dignity when he gets older. 

But what’s a man to do when women might not want you to take their coat? 

Every morning on the way to school my daughter and I listen to the Jeff and Jenn Show. One of their segments is called “Ghost Hunting” – a listener calls the station to get help finding out why a person disappeared from their life. In this episode, a man told the hosts he was confused when a lady stopped returning his calls after they went on what he thought was a great first date. The hosts call the lady, who tells them she was offended when he pulled out her chair - she was a successful business woman and didn’t need help from a man. This woman is not alone. According to one survey, 11 out of 12 women say if a man offered her his seat she wouldn’t accept it.

For this woman, having a man pull out her chair is a sign of feminine weakness. At the same time, the man struggles to understand his place in an increasingly feminist world where gender roles have shifted so much. When a man opens your door or lets you order first, it doesn’t show weakness in my mind.  Having a man put his coat over a puddle is overkill, but women can be empowered and successful and accept these gestures without feeling like they’re being sent back home to cook and take care of kids. 

Matters are complicated with the general devolution of what’s expected and/or demanded in relationships. Guys aren’t for the most part gentlemen, and women don’t expect them to be. Things have become so casual that a lot of men are comfortable sending pics of their genitals after the first or second date. Comedian Aziz Ansari discusses this unfortunate phenomenon in his stand-up special Buried Alive. He surveys the crowd and nearly all the women had received a similar photo. He then comments on how unacceptable this behavior would have been a few decades ago.

“I’d get thrown in jail the next day! Polaroid d*@! bandit strikes again!”

A male columnist from the UK writes, “Yes, we need to make sure that women are truly treated as our equals in society, but let's not use that as an excuse to stop being gentlemen.”  

As a culture we’re trying to work out the kinks when it comes to gender equality, but as a modern woman I still like a gentleman, and I value manners, respect, and courtesy. Like a female Cosmopolitan journalist writes in “Why We Still Want a Gentleman,” manners never go out of style.