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September 2019
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Staff Editorials

Classrooms are no place for cell phones

Over the last week we’ve heard several school teachers describe the horrifying impact of cell phones on students in the classroom. These teachers used unsettling phrases like “epidemic” as they describe a drastic change they’ve seen with their students over the last few years. They trace the change back almost entirely to our kids’ cell phone, social media and technology use. These teachers we know, and others around the country, are literally begging parents to help them get a grip on a scourge that is destroying our kids’ minds and undermining their education. 

One teacher gave an alarming example – she told us creative writing was once the easy, fun lesson in class but that students these days have a hard time coming up with original ideas. During one creative writing assignment half the class couldn’t think of anything to write about.

“It’s like they don’t know how to imagine anymore,” she said. This teacher went on to describe the mood in the classroom when she asks kids to put their phones away. She said they get fidgety, “like drug addicts.” 

Other teachers talked about how much phones distract students in class (One teacher said she could “walk in juggling hamsters with her hair on fire” and students wouldn’t bat an eye), how they make kids mentally and physically lazy, how students don’t participate in events at the same levels they once were, and how phones and social media ramp up drama and cyberbullying in school. 

The argument that smart phones are a “tool for learning” is a dangerous one. In fact, cell phone use in school does the exact opposite - it puts students’ learning at risk and exposes them to more cyberbullying. Kids aren’t using their phones to find out which country sank the Lusitania – they’re Googling memes, taking selfies and sending each other photos.

It might surprise people that Silicon Valley parents  in the tech industry are exceedingly cautious about their kids’ use of phones/screens. Many ban them completely. In a New York Times article “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley,” a former Facebook executive assistant said, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

The article goes on to quote former Wired editor describing screens for kids as, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine,” being “closer to crack cocaine.” 

Other tech giants like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs also spoke publicly about severely limiting or prohibiting their kids’ screen and phone times – and study after study backs up their decisions. A 2016 London School of Economics study “found that schools which ban the use of phones experienced a substantial improvement in student test scores,” according to a Huffington Post article. 

Incidentally, many of these Silicon Valley parents - and parents of kids in the world’s top performing schools – keep technology out of the classroom all together, or strictly limit it.  

France recently banned cell phones in schools through eighth grade to boost concentration and reduce cyberbullying. NPR visited one school to see the results – the principal reported a radical “night and day” change. He said kids are friendlier, more polite, and interact more, and that administrators and students don’t have to deal with ramifications of harmful pictures circulating on social networks. 

We’ve heard there are moves to integrate more Chromebooks and move away from phones in class in some grade levels, but we think the local school system should ban cell phones from all classrooms and require they be kept in lockers during school hours. The system’s current policy that gives teachers the choice of whether or not kids use phones is, on the surface, reasonable – but it puts educators in the tough position of beating back the constant pressure from students.  

We can prepare our kids for the digital age without doing collateral damage to their minds. Parents and administrators should heed teachers’ cries for help and help keep phones out of class and  limit them outside class. Our kids and their futures – our collective futures - are at stake.     


Can we keep ignoring the costs of major storms?

Just imagine you’re a passenger in a car and your spouse says, “don’t want to be a chicken little, but there could be something wrong with the brakes. Probably not, a bunch of mechanics told me there was a problem, but those guys might have just wanted to sell me something and a few other mechanics doubted the first mechanics, so who knows? Besides, it’s a long ways before we come to a stop sign.”

Switch this analogy to climate change. The majority of scientists believe it is occurring and is the result of what us humans are doing. Maybe they are wrong; maybe it’s a hoax; maybe the planet will correct itself or it’s a natural cycle; maybe there’s nothing we can do short of shutting down the whole economy to stave off the effects and we might as well get used to it.

But, just like with the brakes, considering the worst case scenarios - flooded coastal cities, disruptions with weather patterns and food systems, displaced people - shouldn’t we consider some basic maintenance? The old ounce of prevention idea.  People eat rigid diets, take blood pressure medicine and walk, not because they fear a heart attack that week, but because they take “one day” into account.

No one can directly tie the latest hurricane to climate change. But it’s long been thought that warmer oceans mean more and bigger storms. A Science Magazine article on stated that hurricanes are directly tied to the surface temperature of the oceans and the warming Atlantic “will likely lead to even higher numbers of major hurricanes.” 

One of the key arguments against taking any action to address climate change is the cost. The federal government has rolled back fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and decreased regulations on industry, all in the name of economic growth. The economy is doing well.

But Hurricane Michael inflicted a heavy financial toll. According to Ga. Public Policy Foundation columnist Jeffrey H. Dorfman, “As of this writing, I estimate Georgia cotton growers suffered $550 million in losses. Worse, Georgia pecan growers suffered $560 million in lost crop, damaged and destroyed trees, and lost future income while waiting for replanted orchards to mature. Georgia vegetable farmers also suffered heavy losses, perhaps over $400 million. Topping even that, Georgia timber owners may have lost $1 billion, with 250,000 acres completely lost and 750,000 acres with varying levels of damage. Add in “smaller” losses, such as almost 100 chicken houses and 2 million chickens destroyed, plus damage to peanuts, soybeans, container nurseries and greenhouses, and the total losses in Georgia’s agricultural industry will almost surely exceed $2 billion.”

Agriculture is big business in Georgia. When you count related jobs like processing plants, paper and wood manufacturing, about one in 10 Georgians’ livelihoods is tied to our crops.

Aside from the crop losses in Georgia, the insurance claims for homes and businesses were estimated at another $1.5 billion (and rising) in damages.

In Dorfman’s column he noted this was an “unprecedented” storm. Maybe it was the worst, but certainly was not unprecedented. In fact, south Georgia suffered through Hurricane Irma in September 2017 when it was thought to have destroyed 30 percent of certain crops. And in 2016 Hurricane Matthew churned through in October causing somewhere around $90 million in damage in Georgia.

Rather than question how expensive addressing climate change might be, let’s compare it to the cost of doing nothing. 

There is no fiscal sense in continuing to ask for federal assistance to rebuild and replant in hurricane areas if we are doing nothing to reduce the risk of more and larger storms. It’s not about an environmental agenda, it’s about protecting our assets like crops and condos on the coast.

It may be that climate change turns out to be just a bunch of hot air, but with these kind of costs rolling up every year, it’s time to say “just in case, let’s take a look.”


Local businesses: Use ‘em or lose ‘em

You’d have to be blind not to notice  there is more construction in town now than there has been in a long time. Not only are new homes being built – developers for two massive residential/mix-use projects seek to break ground by the end of the year - but commercial construction is also on the rise, as well as several new business licenses issued recently at existing buildings.

Usually around Christmas, during the height of the shopping season, we feel it’s our duty to remind people to shop local. This year we’re reminding people a little before Halloween, the unofficial beginning of the holiday season. The city of Jasper has issued numerous new licenses in the last few months, including some unique businesses like Angry Mama’s Auction Co. and Escape and Evade, a family fun center with escape rooms, laser tag, a rage room and virtual reality, both of which could draw people from surrounding counties. 

We’ve got new restaurants, new catering companies, a new folk school and gun range, and new retail and service businesses that need us to patronize them – along with all the existing businesses, artisans and craftspeople in town. 

Not supporting a local business is like not going to see an elderly family member for years, and before you get around to it – even though you had every intention of visiting – they pass away. If we don’t support our businesses they pass away, too. 

When Toys ‘R Us went bankrupt this year, The Gainesville Sun editorialized that it wasn’t until they announced bankruptcy that people went to the store in town to shop. One employee said if they would have been that busy in the months leading up to bankruptcy, they wouldn’t have had to go out of business.  

That’s an example of a big chain being killed by the online giants like Amazon. While locally-owned, independent businesses are a huge part of what gives a community its character, it’s also beneficial to a community to support local chain stores because those tax dollars stay in the county. 

Still, even though Amazon can save consumers a few dollars on some purchases and Walmart is convenient “one-stop” shopping, a community that has nothing but chains and box stores and truckloads of shipments from Amazon isn’t interesting. We doubt anyone has ever said, “Hey, let’s travel a few hours to so-and-so-town and hang out at all day because their big box stores are out of this world.”  

Granted, some businesses have closed here because they weren’t the right fit for this market – we can think of a few that obviously didn’t have the base to support them and went under quickly. And while some items or services simply aren’t available here, forcing  a trip out of town, we suspect there are a ton of things offered locally people don’t realize. 

Shopping local not only supports our tax base, but it creates jobs, creates community, allows customers to develop a relationship with the shop owner and purchase unique items and it gives a town its own special vibe.   

If you want to have cool things in town, you must use the cool things in town - regularly.

Bring out your dead... or don’t

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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My husband just wrapped-up a production of Greater Tuna, an affectionate but satirical play that comments on small-town Southern life. In one funeral scene, two characters look over the dead body of a beloved judge.   

“Well don’t you think he looks nice?” Pearl asks. “I think he makes a lovely looking corpse, don’t you?”

After some contemplation and close examination of the body, Vera throws a wrench into unspoken Southern funeral etiquette.   

“One dead body just looks like another,” Vera says. “They look dead. And still.” (dramatic pause) “And waxy.”  

Anyone who has been to a funeral in a Southern town has heard – or has said themselves - things like, “He looks so natural, doesn’t he? So peaceful.” Or “Didn’t they do her makeup well? It looks just like her.”

With Halloween a few days away, death and the way we deal with the dead seemed an appropriately macabre topic. There’s no doubt we’ve been creative over the eons, engaging in everything from mummification, to Tibetan sky burials, cryonization, cremation, Viking ship burials, tree burials, Towers of Silence (Zoroastrians see the dead as unclean, and expose them to the elements until bodies are cleaned, then they put the bones in lye to dissolve), and the latest development in taking care of or disposing of a body – liquefaction.     

My husband and I were talking about the intriguing tendency to comment on the appearance of a corpse in the South, where no one dies but everyone “passes away,” and our conversation shifted to caskets and burial vaults. We reminisced about a family friend who was a grave digger, and who also (poetically) built and sold pine caskets, one of which he was buried in when he “passed.” My husband, who also wants to be buried in a pine box because burial vaults “rob you of returning to the earth” through decomposition, had a professor who blamed widespread use of burial vaults on lobbyists. Apparently in Georgia vaults are not required by law, but most cemeteries do require them for “perpetual maintenance of grounds.” People can be buried on their own land with a permit in whatever kind of casket or box they please, and can “go green” and not use a casket at all. Family of the deceased also don’t have to buy caskets from a funeral home, and the funeral homes have to use whatever casket you want.   

The thing I like so much about Southerners and their relationship with death is there is a kind of humor and closeness with it that was clearly seen in a Southern Living interview with etiquette experts and authors of Being Dead Is No Excuse, a ladies’ guide to hosting the perfect Southern funeral. The authors highlight a few staples of a Southern funeral – we like big funerals and love to attend them. The authors take issue with long obituaries, eulogies (“where people talk about how loyal the fanny pincher was”), paper products at receptions, and themed weddings that include things like camouflage coffins or carrying uncle John to the graveyard in a pickup truck. There’s also a definitive funeral reception cuisine, they say, where stuffed eggs and green bean casserole are okay, but ribs are absolutely not.

“Nobody dies better than a Southerner.”     

My husband likes to joke that when his father died it was during a brief period in his life that he had a mustache. The scene is hilarious. There he lay, in his casket, with a mustache that looked awkward and out of place. When I worked at a photo lab in high school I processed several rolls of deceased people in their casket. It’s interesting that outside of the U.S. open casket funerals are apparently a horrifying and unusual prospect.

Some of our traditions are dying out, like sitting up with the dead, but with the plethora of new and old traditions still going strong, death has options - we can go out open-casket style or be picked apart by birds in the Tibetan Sky Burial. 

We’re all going to die in this body, but there’s some comfort knowing none of us have the “right” way to go out figured out. 





The scourge of traffic -- It's only the beginning

If you tried going from downtown to say Kroger or Dairy Queen over the past weekend you likely encountered some pretty heavy traffic with visitors to our Marble Festival. And the next two weekends with the Apple Festival in Ellijay will be similarly wretched up and down Hwy. 515. This is what Atlanta traffic is like all the time. And it's not pretty. 

In October with north Georgia festivals, Pickens County sees tremendous traffic flow from people trying to get away from the city for the weekend. They leave their crowded neighborhoods to trek north for open space, devoid of traffic and the anxiety that comes with it. Or so they think. If you noticed Hwy. 515 last weekend you saw they just brought their traffic north with them.

Atlanta ranks among the most congested cities in the world, according to a recent report by transportation analytics firm INRIX. That’s in the world, not just the United States. According to INRIX's 2016 global traffic scoreboard, Atlanta ranked eighth in the world for congestion with the average commuter spending 70.8 hours in traffic each year. The only ones who benefit from that much time spent in our cars are podcast producers and oil companies. 

Nationally, Georgia's metro area came in fourth and just last year Atlanta was No. 11 on the global list of most congested cities. While Bangkok, Thailand is the most congested city, five American cities rounded out the top 10 in the world, with Los Angeles,  leading the pack.

According to INRIX the top 10 are: Los Angeles with the average commuter spending 104 hours of their life annually stuck in cars; Moscow at 91.4; New York, 89.4; San Francisco, 82.6; Bogota, Columbia, 79.8; Sao Paulo, Brazil, 77.2; London, 73.4; Atlanta, 70.8; Paris, 65.3; and Miami and 64.8 hours.

With Atlantans spending 70 peak hours in congestion, the cost to each driver is $2,212. But the city loses out to the tune of $7.1 billion from lost productivity with workers sitting in traffic. That's a lot of money.

Economic opportunities in Atlanta come at a price and often  seem like a double-edge sword - we love the lifestyle offered by the expanding metro and how easy it is to get to the Fox Theatre for a show or Laughing Skull lounge for some comedy, but when we're stopped in traffic for hours on a Friday evening, it begs to be asked, is it worth it? 

For all the opportunity Atlanta and the metro area afford in terms of business, jobs, and entertainment, we hope the sprawl stops in Cherokee County. But we aren't holding our breath.

Rest assured, private automobile traffic is not going away anytime soon. While it's still largely kept at bay here in Pickens County, due to our mileage from Atlanta, the growth already coming to north Cherokee County in places like Ball Ground, will eventually spill over here. 

The folks down in Canton who spend exorbitant amounts of time on Hwy. 20 moving from the interstate to their cookie-cutter subdivisions will one day recognize they could just as easily drive another 20 miles north and reach the tranquility of Pickens County.

Reports say some 70,000 people moved into Atlanta last year alone. We should enjoy our mostly traffic-free peace for as long as we can -- sooner or later they will find us and our wide-open spaces.