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February 2020
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Staff Editorials

Damn, there is a lot of plastic

By Dan Pool, Editor

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Last week, we had a few days of the Progress Plastic Elimination Challenge. We didn’t create a hashtag or make t-shirts, but our staff did decide to be conscious of our plastic usage for a few days as an experiment.

There are some pretty interesting ways groups promote reduction of plastic with consumers, including several where people piled up all the plastic they wound up with for a period of time.

We made mental notes.

And the one conclusion we all agreed upon is there is a lot of plastic waste out there and you end up with more of it than you realize no matter how much you try to avoid it.

Among some of our small staff’s observations:

• Chances are if you get something to drink on the go, it comes in plastic – though several members of the staff sought out aluminum cans (which are easily recycled and efficient) plastic dominates drink containers - except beer. At several stores, major Coke/Pepsi soft drinks are only offered in plastic bottles. 

• If you eat fast food, you wind up with all kinds of plastic – from packets of sauce, to containers for food and again with the drinks, cups, lids and straws. It’s hard to imagine anything other than plastic or Styrofoam (just as bad or worse chemically) in which you could get a shrimp plate home from a drive-thru. In our discussions, we generally agreed we would pay slightly more or dine elsewhere if a chain offered a non-plastic substitute like corn starch containers that do biodegrade in less than a century.

• A wide variety of purchases, particularly toiletries and small electronics, come in ridiculously thick plastic packaging that is not only an environmental problem but a pain in the rear to open. Do so many products really need to come in a safety sealed cocoon that requires a sharp knife to open?

• Plastic sneaks up on you – Only one member of our staff regularly uses totes in place of plastic bags at the grocery store for big shopping trips. But we all ended up with plastic bags when picking up just an item or two with efficient clerks who bagged purchase before we could say “no bag, please.” Some of us did pull some purchases back out of the bags, but that ends up messing up the clerk’s line and holding up other shoppers.

Taking stock of our habits really made two points: consumers can make a difference with their personal choices that would be significant if a new less-is-better mood became a nationwide norm. It’s not farfetched that people might carry re-useable shopping bags or re-useable water bottles/cups/straws with them one day, as who would have thought every living person would carry a phone with them everywhere they went 10 years ago?

Second, personal choices make a difference, but much of the plastic is unavoidable unless corporations step up with decisions regarding packaging. Is there something less harmful that groceries and other household supplies can come in that consumers will support? 

If you are wondering why we are worrying about a bunch of cups, straws and bags we’ll leave you with this: (numbers compiled from a variety of different internet sources)

• 500 million plastic straws are used in the US every day. 

• The average American family takes home around 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.

• Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. 

Every little reduction will help, particularly if it’s a small action by many consumers. Just think about the impact over the course of a year if everyone started by  eliminating one straw, one bottle and one bag a day?


Pickens blessed with health

Where we live makes a huge difference in how well and how long we live and if new research by the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHRR) is correct, Pickens County, which ranked 19th in the state for health outcomes, is a great place to be. 

And we aren’t surprised. While fast food restaurants may dot our landscapes more than fruit and veggie smoothie stands and poor recreation opportunities may hinder us from getting outside as much as we would like, Pickens is still a great place to be. And apparently there are only 18 other counties in the state  “better” in terms of health. 

Pickens is officially 19th out of the state’s 159 counties for health outcomes, with only 13 percent of us ranking as having “poor” or “fair” health. A full 19 percent of people throughout the state rated as poor or fair health. 

Pickens residents only have an average of 3.4 poor physical health days each year. Statewide that number is 3.8 and the least healthy county reported residents with an average of 4.6 days with poor physical health. The healthiest county averaged just 2.9 poor physical health days.

Of course physical vigor isn’t the only thing that makes us “healthy.” Mental health casts a long shadow over our total health and locally people reported just 3.6 days of poor mental health, lower than the statewide average of 3.8. The healthiest Georgia county reported just 3.1 poor mental health days and the least healthy county reported a full 4.3 days.

And while 16 percent of adult Pickens countians reported as smokers, it’s less than the statewide average of 18 percent. 

Not all of the latest health numbers are flattering. Adult obesity in Pickens is listed at 31 percent, one percent more than our counterparts throughout the state. That number is the percentage of the adult population age 20 and older who report a body mass index (ratio of weight to height) greater than 30. Note: One way to combat this might be to shop local at our Jasper Farmers Market now open every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. - noon. Eat fresh and what’s in season.)

Our physical activity is nothing to write home about either. According to the CHRR our physical inactivity level is 29 percent -- five percentage points higher than the statewide average. In other words, Pickens residents as a whole sit around about five percent more than the usual Georgian. We recently editorialized on these pages, our access to exercise opportunities are limited because of the meager state of our parks. And the latest studies reinforce the idea that this county needs more recreation. The CHRR figures showed that “access to exercise” rates at 69 percent here while statewide the average is 76 percent. This based on the feeling of those surveyed who feel they have access to exercise opportunities. 

Seventeen percent of Pickens residents were listed as “excessive drinkers” compared to an average of  15 percent across the state who are imbibing too much or often. 

More and more research shows that our social connections, particularly among older residents, are a key component to living and aging well. (One study even found that social isolation is similar in health risk to cigarette smoking.) Pickens addresses social isolation well, according to the CHRR.  We boast  plenty of volunteer and church organizations that keep our residents as involved as they want to be. According to the study we rate at 9.7 memberships associations compared to the state’s 8.9.   

Much richer counties like Forsyth (#1), Oconee (#2), Cherokee (#3), Fayette (#4) and Gwinnett (#5) ranked highest for overall best health outcomes, according to the report. For surrounding counties, only Dawson to our east ranked higher than us, coming in at #15. Gilmer County ranked 63rd.

So as spring continues its pollen explosion and the days get longer and more filled with sunlight, let’s remember we have it pretty good right here in Pickens County. 

Weird things you think about at Walmart

By Angela Reinhardt 

Staff writer

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A weekend trip to Walmart proved that America’s most ubiquitous retailer is in the business of more than just groceries and home goods: With 95 percent of U.S. consumers shopping there, a Walmart experience is a shared human experience. The iconic photo web series “People of Walmart” has provided a raw, unfettered cross-section of Walmart shoppers we can all relate to - from ladies in bathrobes to shirtless dudes to “Wacky Weed Wizard” in his tie-dyed muumuu.

I avoid big box stores, but sometimes you can’t get around them (“I’m pressed for time and need my prescription filled, some ammunition, AND a head of lettuce.”). There’s a lot that can cross your mind while you wander around a 150,000-square-foot building. This is my “Walmart Medley,” a collection of random (not very deep) thoughts inspired by my recent outing to our country’s most-shopped-at store: 

•Those bumpy things on the sidewalk

I walked up to the building and saw all those little concrete bumps in front of the main doors and realized, to my delight, I wouldn’t need a buggy because I could carry the three small items I came to get. Surely by now the sound of a cart rumbling over those horrors has been scientifically proven to be one of the worst, most unsettling in the world. And what purpose do they serve? To keep carts from rolling away? Aesthetics? How has every other retailer managed to survive without these sonic torture devices?

•Generic vs. name brand

While I scavenged through the pharmacy aisles for a knee brace for my husband, a man studying the meal-replacement shakes stopped me. Why were 16 bottles of Ensure $19.97 when generic (also 16 bottles per case) were only $10? All the nutrition highlights were the same, and as someone who regularly buys off-brand I advised him to get generic. “Usually you’re paying for advertising or packaging,” I said. I thought about the tasty J. Higgs chips I discovered at Save-A-Lot – then I hypocritically chose the Ace knee brace over the Walmart brand. 


•Kindergarten fantasy job realized

I took my three items to self-checkout and it dawned on me this technological advancement made my five-year-old fantasy of being a grocery store bag girl a reality. I’ll probably never bag a heaping cart of groceries on my own, but those idealized kindergarten daydreams of scanning produce and separating items by type was now possible - albeit not as fun as I thought it would be.  

•Self-checkout manners

I looked over to the “Scan & Go” section, which unlike most self-checkouts was equipped with a conveyer belt. A customer had what was easily 100 items unloaded. She awkwardly looked for barcodes, searched produce codes on the computer, and bagged…very….slowly. I realize there was a conveyer belt, but shouldn’t all self-checkouts be considered an express lane? She must have had a fantasy about being a grocery clerk, too.  

•To tabloid or not?

I scanned the tabloids while I waited. “Lori Loughlin really botched her career,” I thought. Someone definitely buys these things, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing it happen in real life. Maybe people hide them under other items in their cart. As usual I just read the headlines, secretly wanting the full story.   

•Plastic bag guilt

They’d run out of the standard-size plastic bags and had haphazardly put larger ones in their place. They didn’t attach like they should to the metal holder and I had to fumble a few seconds to get one open. “I shouldn’t even be using these damned things,” I said to myself. In a brief shame spiral, I thought about all the plastic bottles I’ve used and vowed to ditch single-use products and get some of those reusable totes.     

•People sleep here

On the way to the car I remembered a photo essay about people who camp in Walmart parking lots in cars and RVs (Walmart allows it, according to the NY Times article). I wondered if we had any travelers in the Jasper lot, and other than wanting to camp myself (in woods, not on asphalt) I made a mental note – “If you ever own an RV and are in a pinch, remember Walmart.”  

Tired of the outrage

By Dan Pool, Editor

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To say I’m outraged by the outrage might seem hypocritical. It’s more a case of I’m tired of seeing constant outrage as the go-to response for everything.

Every time our president makes an off-the-cuff remark, there is a flood of liberals who wail and moan and gnash their teeth as though the comment was going to destroy the country. Then comes the backlash of conservatives who wail and moan and gnash their teeth that the liberals got so heated up in the first place. 

It would be much more impressive had someone posted on their social media, “I was looking over the latest reports on the effects of the tariffs and...” 

Have a little substance instead of non-stop yelling and yakking about trivial matters as Shakespeare might say, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The height of my outrage over this outrage involves actor Jussie Smollett, who became really famous and discussed as though he were an important person. Other than Empire, Smollett’s career has little of distinction unless the Mighty Ducks ranks as a classic, and outside of acting, he had nothing of any gravitas to suggest his opinions or actions should be the subject of study. The news story that brought him infamy is pretty humorous. In a nutshell he paid two guys to rough him up, then claimed it was a hate crime, hoping to boost his career. Chicago police saw through the farce. So no one got hurt other than the guy who paid people to do it.

But, judging by media reporting, you would think Smollett was a spokesperson for the modern liberal world, a figure whose actions need to be debated and parsed over in pleasant company or at least on social media. 

Author Bret Easton Ellis used the phrase “generation wuss” to describe the faux outrage that erupts every time anyone says anything that doesn’t sit right with the masses.

He was targeting millennials whom he called overly-sensitive and narcissistic – because they were always upset by something and thought society gave a darn about their feelings. But from what I see this generation wuss outrage infects all levels of society.

Even here in Pickens County, as anyone has followed the news knows, a convicted sex offender was found roaming the halls and entering the bathroom at Tate Elementary. He was on campus including entering a bathroom about five minutes before being escorted to the office where his identification was copied. He left the building but when his prior convictions came to light, he was arrested before the sun went down.

He gained access through a door that apparently didn’t latch because pine bark got stuck in it. The sheriff has since added personnel to see that full-time officers are at all schools. The schools have elaborate plans to review procedures and entrances. 

While the man’s motives aren’t known, this is certainly a concerning situation to everyone -- possibly a close call with tragedy. But at the core, the problem was a malfunctioning door, not a colossal sign of incompetence or moral laxity or an indication that people are blasé about sex offenders at elementary schools. It was ludicrous to see people make online comments to the effect they wouldn’t stand for sex offenders to be walking the halls of schools. As though what? Other people find sex offenders on an elementary campus acceptable? As though the school not only should have known the particular door was malfunctioning but also foreseen that a sex offender was going to walk through?

This shouldn’t be taken lightly but when you get to the bottom line unnoticed pine bark stuck in a door is not a grievous sin or an unpardonable mistake.

Most of the time in life it is simply a malfunctioning door, not a moral failing and jumping on a moral high-horse every single day will sooner or later break the poor animal’s back. 


Our paid-off but inadequate park is a disservice to county

Earlier this month county officials and the public gathered to celebrate the fiscal accomplishment of paying off our $3 million community recreation center at Roper Park, now named for Commission Chair Robert Jones. It was a fitting honor; Jones was the then sole commissioner who undertook construction of that 30,657 square foot building which is well used.

There were a lot of good points made that day about Pickens being debt-free. Our county is 99 percent debt free and has a very low millage rate compared to other Georgia counties. Hoorah!

But, specifically with the park, we’d argue the county has been too fiscally conservative; that the single, outdated park with limited fields, an antique swimming pool, walking track, playgrounds remains inadequate for this county with 30,000 people. 

Over the past two decades, we’ve traded the quality of life a vibrant park system offers for pinched pennies.

Celebrating the debt-free, but meager park system here is akin to a jubilant 30-year-old crowing about not having a mortgage while living in his parents’ basement.

For counties, just like people, there is a time to spend and a time to save; a time to pay-off debts and a time to sign the dotted line to acquire more than you can write a check for.

In 2004, the county paid consultants WK Dickson to do a needs study on recreation in Pickens County. Note, this was before the community center was built which addressed a few of the issues they found.

The report begins by stating, “the master planning process started after a public recognition that current recreation facilities seem to be inadequate and there is no plan in place to address future growth.”

The consultants compared Pickens to similarly-sized counties, talked with officials in recreation and government and held at least one public meeting.  They found Pickens stacks up dismally against other counties in north Georgia and maybe the entire state in terms of parks. 

Most surrounding counties have more than one park. Here, “the existing park is an abandoned airport. The site in an inappropriate shape, long and narrow and has had few upgrades since it was built 35 years ago,” stated the report in 2004. Now, 15 years later, we still only have one park even though the population has grown some. Attempts at establishing simple playground parks on the east and west ends have gone nowhere. And most troubling, there is still no plan to address these shortcomings.

That report from 2004 concluded the most effective way for Pickens County to address deficiencies is to build a new park. It called specifically for a new 200 acre park in the county to go along with the existing Roper Park.

We got a very nice community center, while ignoring the larger need.

Parks produce quality of life. Quality of life ties into the people and businesses you attract to your county. We have gone the cheap, safe, conservative route for the past two decades and the results show. Perhaps our dormant downtown and lack of “things to do around here” tie directly into our frugal approach to parks.

One speaker at the celebration of the paid-off community center extolled the fact that it is crowded and hard to find parking. Consider that a clue that we need more of this kind of county-provided recreation. 

There’s a fine line between being frugal and being a miser. We urge the county commission to loosen their purse strings and give us parks we can be proud of for their amenities and appearance and not just because they are paid for.