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Staff Editorials

Dogs like to ride, not sit in hot cars

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

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.


Say no to the avocado, think and eat for yourself

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.


Keep technology limited in classrooms

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.”


Time for plan B, not dropping Obamacare subject

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. 


Take the blinders off with growth planning

Ask yourself which of the following growth patterns would you like to see Pickens County achieve?

1. Nothing more than we have now. Keep Pickens County the jewel that it is. 

2. A bunch of unique shops and restaurants on Main Street with a vibrant atmosphere where people stroll the streets.

3. A four-lane with more big box retailers and a busier, bigger road leading from downtown Jasper back to the four-lane along with new businesses on the connecting streets.

4. Quite a few subdivisions locating in large undisturbed tracts, trading some of those trees for houses and people – maybe 1,000 new houses and 25,000-plus more people.


We’ll conjecture, quite a few people picked number one. This is a great area to live so let’s not mess it up.

We’ll bet quite a few people (maybe the most) picked number 2 as a cool downtown with energy is something we  enviously eye in surrounding areas.

We are confident very few people picked 3 or 4. In fact, many longtime residents are probably cringing at the idea of more big box stores, congested roads and loss of greenspace.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but holding out hope that growth never arrives is not really an option. 

As fast as the Atlanta area is sprawling north with the Braves stadium now on our side of town and new lanes to help people get further north faster on Highway 575, it’s coming and will reach us one day, whether we want it or not.

Trying to slam the door on growth would be like trying to keep a discount store out of a commercial spot in the Grandview area; you’ll see the same result just on a bigger scale. 

The problem right off the bat discussing development is when people say they want to see growth what they really want are stores, restaurants and retail areas they like but none of the fuss or traffic woes or congestion. Reality Check: this  approach is not going to happen, any more than a new puppy will arrive without chewing, going on the rug or whining. 

Conspiracy theorists may believe that there is some hidden force holding Jasper back or that the mayor is subverting growth. In reality the blame, if there is any, does not lie with city hall. The fact is businesses aren’t gobbling up downtown buildings, a’ la Blue Ridge or Ball Ground, because investors and entrepreneurs lack confidence in the town’s business potential at this point. That may be changing.

Mayor John Weaver expressed recently that while he often ends up in the crosshairs of those dreaming of growth, he is not running people off as they are not knocking on the door to begin with right now. 

A better theory of what is keeping the brakes on growth for the time being is lack of sewage and water hampers residential growth and more population is needed to entice businesses. Woodstock’s cool downtown scene is walking distance to hundreds of residential spaces. It takes a lot of people to draw from to support unique restaurants and shops.

As we reported last week, Jasper is near its capacity with both wastewater and water. The county lacks sewage infrastructure entirely. Until this changes, there will be a big restricter plate with development.

We have talked to several people with expertise in development lately. Among the comments is that at this point, our county may not have the “rooftops” (population) to catch the eye of entrepreneurs looking to locate new businesses.

It seems Jasper and Pickens have reached that proverbial fork in the road. The one path requires expanding water and sewage to accommodate residential growth which will in turn drive commercial growth, both the kind people want and the kind that jams up traffic when you are trying to get home on a Friday night.

The other fork, shall we call it the one less traveled, would be to hold the growth wave back, however much is possible by having the city and county working together on water and sewage and knowing that this the best bet for controlling whatever development comes next.