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September 2019
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Staff Editorials

Restoring sanity to parents and classrooms

School is open for another year and with it we’re already hearing reports of bad behavior – entitled people who refuse to accept any blame or suggestions and show absolutely no respect to teachers or principals. 

To be clear here, we are talking about parents - full-grown adults who need a time-out or perhaps some corporal punishment.

It was recently reported by our governor that the state can’t keep teachers in the profession very long. While teacher salaries have reached a very respectable level, it must be assumed they don’t enjoy their work environment. Dealing with spoiled-rotten kids they can’t discipline without fear that any action will be met by an irate phone call/e-mail from some relative who is appalled anyone would take issue with the little tyrant they send to school every day.

Like any profession, some teachers are better than others and the worst teachers may be genuinely bad or uninspired. But what we’d ask parents and guardians to consider is that in generations past, teachers and all adults in authority were shown some respect. 

It was generally expected that kids be able to comport themselves in group settings and allow a classroom to function and this low expectation should still be meet by parents sending their child to school. What has changed is the view in the minds of many parents/guardians that their child is automatically right and so the  teacher must be wrong. It is certainly worthwhile for any parent to get the whole story, but the whole story includes the possibility that your child was at fault.

Everyone who has gone through the public school system has stories of the time someone “got them in trouble.” And life is full of unfairness. But, it’s hard to believe that  teachers have enough to free time to randomly seek out kids they want to punish for no reason. Parents who always feel that their child is targeted unfairly by teachers should take another look at what their child is doing to draw the extra attention.

The larger issue is how parents and students interact with teachers. Are they making the profession so unrewarding that many teachers don’t last longer than the five years mentioned by Governor Kemp? We have heard stories of parents who before even talking with the teacher have taken to social media to post inaccurate accounts of classroom episodes,which are supported by the typical Facebook trolls, who never consider that maybe the child is fibbing. Kids do that.

More civility in schools starts with giving respect to those in authority in the classroom, even if, as a parent or student, you disagree with them. That is the way the whole system operates. When children who have been led to believe at home they can do no wrong come into contact with the world (in the form of a classroom of peers and a teacher) it should be an awakening, but too often it’s a case where the enabling parents respond by thrusting themselves further into every situation. These parents need to ask themselves where do they stop? Do they follow the child along into adulthood to shield him/her from other authority figures like a boss or the judge?

Psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson advises as one of his key points to never raise children whom you dislike. That is pretty simple advice for parenting, but solid.  If you child is constantly engaging in some behavior that deep down bothers you, put a stop to it and don’t expect a teachers to tolerate it.

We need classrooms returned to a state of civil respect because at some point taxpayers aren’t going to keep putting out better carrots to lure new teachers. And this attitude starts with parents letting the teachers teach without expecting them tolerate behavior a generation before would have pulled out hickory switches to deal with. 

Take it down a notch with political rhetoric

Over the weekend, America saw two more mass shootings. It would be inaccurate to say Americans were shocked by them – just two more to add to the list.

Initial reports indicated that a gunman in El Paso, TX killed 20 and wounded at least 26 in a Walmart. Then within 24 hours, a man killed nine and wounded 27 outside a bar in Dayton, OH.

The El Paso shooting is getting a lot more press and is more interesting as there is a reported strong tie to the gunman and an anti-Hispanic manifesto posted on a website. The same website previously posted similar white supremacist writings of a mass shooter in New Zealand and an anti-Semitic rant of a mass shooter at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

There was some online jabbering that the Dayton shooter may have held some political views as well, but those were not as prevalent and one former school classmate of the shooter told the Dayton newspaper, “I think this is less of a hate crime and more of an ‘I hate everybody’ crime.”

President Trump has sharply condemned the El Paso shooting’s white supremacist motive, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

Will anything change as a result of these latest shootings? Probably not with gun laws, mental health screenings or immigration policy.

There will always be people like the young man in Dayton who have warped views on violence. There were reports he had been kicked out of school for making a hit list.

There will always be dangerously unbalanced people. But for situations like  the El Paso shooting the tone used in daily political discourse,  in partisan groups on both sides, especially in their online chat circles certainly plays a role.

It’s here that the average American might consider the tone they project. Maybe we need to add disclaimers that we are speaking only in the political sense when we call for the obliteration of some group or type of people. Or claim those whom we disagree with “hate America.”

Words do matter and when we use words like “fighting for,” “defending” or paint the opposition as “destroying our way of life,” the vast majority of Americans recognize this as political rhetoric, but for the mentally unhinged this identifies enemies who become targets.

The president often bears the brunt of criticism for his tweets. But people may be shocked to learn that Hollywood funny-man Jim Carrey makes a daily habit of posting offensive artwork skewering political leaders or that Madonna once said she had thought of blowing up the White House, later retracted. Multiple-wrongs do not make a right.

Hate-filled diatribes are rampant online. And the way to one-up what’s already out there isn’t to post more articulated and thoroughly researched ideas; it’s to use even more incendiary words. From there it’s only one  step to see someone take action. That miserable, deluded loner believes he can suddenly be the hero for putting this talk into action.

Some of us need to “chill” or take it down a notch with the tone in our political rants. If you don’t think things have gotten out of hand imagine if Hillary Clinton wanted to ride in a float in a parade in Pickens County? Would she be safe? Not just safe from hecklers but from violence?

Or what about if President Trump wanted to go door-to-door in liberal areas of the country? How hard would the Secret Service job be that day?

America may have reached a breaking point as it’s hard to see what can ever re-unite the different political views. 

But the first step must be an ability to talk politics without using language that implies violent action is what this country needs.

SPLOST plan enables status quo forever

Disappointed. That’s the most accurate word we can muster to describe the county commissioners’ thinking behind the proposed sales tax spending plan voters will see on the ballot this November.

The wish list put forward at a meeting between county and city officials last week was devoid of any creative thinking or vision. It was as though they raised a loud cheer for status quo forever.

What particularly riles us and does a disservice to the citizens of this fine county is the fact that the commissioners want to spend $19.1 million of the extra penny sales tax over the next five years on roads, and a beggar’s mite of $740,000 on parks.

Of the $30 million in sales tax they hope to collect in five years (or $37 million in six years, depending on how they opt to proceed), 51 percent goes to roads, less than two percent to parks. One commissioner said they hope to raise this but we will believe that will happen when we see it on the ballot.

Roads are certainly important. They are literally the roadways to everything else; no denying it. If you didn’t have roads you couldn’t reach parks or hospitals, nor could  sheriff officers who will see $2.96 million (8 percent) of the SPLOST come into their office’s budget or the fire and EMS guys who will see $5.1 million (14 percent) come into their budget get to anyone needing help.

But the ridiculously lop-sided spending on roads doesn’t make sense. It’s putting too many eggs in one basket.

Their plan of ‘let’s spend it on roads’ shows a decided lack of planning or acknowledgement of what’s going on in the rest of north Georgia and world. It shows deaf ears on the commissioners to what various citizens groups have said in the comprehensive planning sessions, as well as ignores what economic development experts have said – we need to create a vibrant community to be attractive to younger people who will bring businesses and jobs.

The “we’ll just pave everyone’s roads” reeks of the old system of government where the commission chair was known as the road commissioner. That description no longer fits a modern county on the edge of metro-Atlanta and on the cusp of a growing population.

We need more than new asphalt around here. Asphalt, we might add, that takes people to other counties to recreate and thus, shop, eat and spend.

So, the county here waits at least another five years for any serious park upgrades to occur. The $740,000 will be easily gobbled up by projects at Roper Park, a park that was described in a county-funded study from the early 2000s as unsuitable.

Here again is the Pickens Recreation Master Plan from 2006, “the existing park (Roper Park) is an abandoned airport. The site is an inappropriate shape, long and narrow, and has a had few upgrades since it was built 35 years ago.”

We have added a $3 million, 30,000-square-feet community center there. The Robert P. Jones building is truly a nice asset, but that’s it. In 13 years since the county’s own plan called for more space, more amenities and more features, this county paid off the recreation center in March and hailed it as a great accomplishment but has attempted nothing else. Note also there is no park at all west of Highway 515.

  Consider the overall paltriness of what has been spent on new recreation projects in the past decade. The $3 million community center project over 13 years is about $230,000 year. The SPLOST proposal is $740,000 over five years which is about $148,000 a year. We are going backwards at a time when we need to see progress to improve the quality of life here.

“Come on up here millennials and please stay here PHS graduates and enjoy our single, sub-standard park. We’re not changing.” How’s that for a sales pitch? 


Our “old” and interesting provides local character

As many people know a wall collapsed at Commercial Interiors Manufacturing two weeks ago. The building is better known as the Old H.D. Lee plant. It is, of course, next to the Old High School which now houses the Mountain Education Center and a law enforcement training center.

The Old High School is across East Church Street and down the road slightly from the Old Jasper Cemetery. This plot of shady ground truly does contain burial sites as old as anything in the area. Neither the former H.D. Lee plant nor high school are really that old.

Nor is the Old Shoe Plant on Hood Road really that old; former would be a better word but it doesn’t sound right with the name and for these buildings old has become part of the name, not an adjective.

[As a sidenote, it is interesting to recall that both the Old H.D. Lee plant and the Old Shoe Plant are leftovers from the days of textiles/clothing industry in the area. The H.D. Lee plant employed a number of people to sew Lee brand jeans. LL Bean style duck boots were among the products that came out of the shoe plant.]

We also have the Old Jail on Main Street. We are not alone with our efforts to restore former houses of correction, hoping to change them from prisoner cells to tourist sales. Drive in any direction and you will find “Old Jails.” Dawsonville, Clarke/Athens and Canton, all have restored jails and in middle Georgia, Jailhouse Brewing Company is located in the Old Hampton City Jail.

Our Old Jail has a unique façade and a gallows which gives the building, constructed in 1906, potential as a true tourist draw when renovated properly. And at more than 110 years old, it can truly have the word old added to it name.

This building has been joined by the Old Convict Camp (on Camp Road) for our collection of former prisoner areas now in some state of preservation. While the jail retains its character, the Convict Camp, has been renovated as offices for the county public works department, though offices that  still contain some ominous jail doors.

There is no reason to call the Tate Depot, the Old Tate Depot as it’s the only depot in town and very nicely restored. If  its vintage charm is ever put to new use, it will be a tremendous asset.

As you can see there seems to be a decided preference here for referring to everything by a former use with old added to the front.

We could call Roper Park the Old Airport and the county’s administration building the Old Hospital.

Coming soon will be the Old Mulehouse, a new restaurant that has excited many by the owners’ effort at getting the Old NAPA Building (or Old Blue as some called it) back in action on Main Street. It’s not clear that a mulehouse ever ran out of that location, but a longtime Chevy dealership did.

And depending on its fate, the Woodbridge Inn, may become the Old Woodbridge, or it may still be the Woodbridge if it re-opens with the same name. This is  referring to the restaurant/inn not the old wooden bridge in front of it which will continue as the wooden bridge thanks to  all the state tax dollars that keep it up to code.

While better naming might be in order, all these old structures give us local character. Highlighting the old adds genuine small town flavor and historic preservation is an idea we hope the various mayors, commissioners and council will be on board with.

History not only draws tourists, but makes a place more interesting to live. Who wouldn’t prefer the old wooden bridge to a new concrete one?

As a saying by British writer Ethel Dell goes, “What the world, social and political, concrete and mental, really needs is not new things, but the old things made new.”

Ample caution a must as technology progresses

Concerns by watchdogs, and some members of congress, over facial-recognition software used by government agencies and businesses may not unsettle many of us. Unless you really follow and ponder technology it’s hard to understand and to see potential harm.

The use of facial recognition software has made the news several times recently. Federal immigration agents used millions of the photos in state drivers license databases to look for people illegally in the country using advanced facial recognition software.

And the city of Detroit has come under fire for using facial recognition software to look for wanted people on numerous security camera feeds around the city. The problem, according to critics, is the software is much less accurate for people with darker skin tones, thus it is more likely to produce false matches for minorities. 

Making sure the software is accurate is crucial but, assuming it can be made accurate, those uses seem pretty legitimate.  Of course, if it’s of dubious accuracy, the software sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi movie. 

The bigger threat lies in what else can be done on the grand scale by scanning faces, and especially as the programs are being vigorously developed by private companies. According to The New York Times, anyone whose photo was ever uploaded to the dating site OKCupid may be in a database now used by private interests for facial recognition software testing. The Times reported that one database had 10 million different images and another had two million.

Not surprisingly tech behemoths Facebook and Google are leading the way with efforts to develop facial recognition uses.

Congressman Doug Collins, who represents the eastern half of Pickens County, has been vocal about protecting privacy in the digital age by empowering individuals to guard their own information and expecting the private sector to be good stewards of information submitted online. In a strong statement released last week (see Other Voices on this page) Collins put forth principles he wants incorporated into this effort. His statement acknowledges that the speed of innovation and the complexity of the issue make it a challenge  to create legislation to hem it in.

Frankly, it is hard to foresee what problem would arise by Facebook and Google or the government being able to put a name on your face in a photo and make that searchable. Yet there is something unsettling that tech companies seek to identify you in pictures, even when your name was not attached. It is similar to being recognized by a creepy dude you don’t know. 

Lack of specifics aside, the fact we can’t see a problem right now doesn’t mean we don’t need oversight, controls and more thinking on the subject. As Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said in an interview in the Times article, “It’s time for a timeout. Let’s figure out how we can put in safeguards that protect our fundamental liberties.”

Another snippet in the same Times article clearly justifies the fear of technology slipping through the controls. Using AI involving bodies and faces, a software program called DeepNude allows users to create realistic nude shots starting with photos of whomever they chose.

Obviously that software is troubling. Not only does it open all kinds of doors for perverts, but consider the extortion/revenge possibilities.

According to the Times account, the creator of DeepNude deleted his program shortly after it was posted to a code-sharing website. Too late, as the article stated, it had already been copied and posted in other spots, and is now impossible to pull back as there are “too many dark corners” of the internet.

We may not immediately see a threat with expanded facial recognition software but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support efforts to put controls in place before it is too late.