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Staff Editorials

Fall is the perfect time to explore area & festivals

Last Friday marked the beginning of autumn for us in the northern hemisphere and while temps are still warm we are looking forward to cool mornings followed by afternoons filled with just warm-enough sunshine. 

In the coming months, the days will become shorter and we’ll be seeing less and less sunlight, but before we wind up stuck inside on cold winter days we should take this time, some would describe as “perfect weather,” and get outside. 

From farmers markets and apple houses, to pumpkin patches and fall festivals, our community and its surrounding locales have a plethora of activities for those looking to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. 

Next weekend (Oct. 7-8) our Chamber of Commerce will host the annual Marble Festival. Lots of changes are on tap this year - an expanded kids’ area, a free downtown concert, and a renewed focus on arts and crafts. A mountain arts and crafts demonstration area inside the gates in Lee Newton Park will be a new treat this year and there will be a Main Street Experience during the festival hosted by the Jasper Merchants. 

Only a couple of weekends later, the town of Talking Rock’s annual Heritage Days festival brings two days of old-fashioned fun resplendent with antiques and crafts. The picturesque town puts on a great event (this year on October 21-22). It has seen attendance grow every year as the people keep coming back to see what’s new in Talking Rock. 

And on November 4th, Tate Day aims to keep the history of the town alive with an old-fashioned parade, a tour of the Tate marble school, a cake baking contest, and plenty of musical entertainment along with arts and crafts. 

Festival food is always a treat (yes, we are thinking of funnel cakes already.) We can’t think of a better way to spend a cool north Georgia weekend than visiting the local festivals, eating your fill and visiting with neighbors.

Autumn in the towns north of us brings fresh apples waiting to be picked. And when you get home from a morning plunking around an apple orchard you can spend some more family-together time poking around in the kitchen baking up delicacies with your recently picked bounty. If you wind up cooking too much, feel free to drop extras off at our office at 94 North Main Street.

Boasting the color of autumn itself, patches of orange pumpkins, too, call to us from our own area farms. Ready for picking, baking, and carving into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, pumpkin pickin’ is close at hand and yet another excuse to get out and enjoy the cooler days of fall. The allure of homemade pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread is another reason to get yourself to a pumpkin farm.

Also be on the lookout for haunted attractions throughout the area.

Of course not everything this fall requires a walk around festivals or farms. Although we hate to advocate polluting the environment with long drives, a tour around some of the county’s more mountainous areas would be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The splendor of seeing the native maples, sourwoods, sassafras, and sweetgums putting on their annual color show is something to be admired.  

Head up Burnt Mountain Road and you’ll find a hiking trail just before the first look-off. A nice hike in the woods on a 70-degree day sure sounds good to us. 

So while the weather is still so nice let’s celebrate the fall “harvests” and appreciate the bounty they offer. 

Angry Humans

By Dan Pool

Editor

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Over the past couple of weeks, I have run into people (some online) who were irrationally mad. Here are some instances of the anger that seems to occur daily.

• The volunteers taking up donations for the hurricane relief  near the chamber of commerce offices apparently rubbed someone the wrong way. Even though they are giving their time to help others, they were blasted after we posted the story on our Progress Facebook as their efforts didn’t suit someone online.

• Discussing a situation with some school officials they related how they came under fire for a decision before any details were released. People were literally complaining about something they had not heard the first detail about. Some of those on the attack didn’t even have kids affected by the change.

• Another Progress employee saw someone berating a business owner over cookie prices. 

• The clearest example: I was talking with a linemen stopping traffic while contractors unloaded two power poles. It took about 10 minutes to move the poles, a fairly efficient operation considering their size and weight. But during this time, a waiting motorist began blowing their horn, then whipped around and roared off down the other lane. The lineman handling traffic said that reaction was not uncommon, nor the worst he was subjected to last week (one person accused him of restoring all her neighbors’ power, but intentionally leaving hers off).

I would love to ask that motorist where he was in such a rush to get to? Did he have a patient on an operating table? Was he needed to advise on a Korean missile launch? Is there any situation around here so urgent you can’t wait ten minutes for guys to move very large objects needed to restore power?

In discussions with people on the receiving ends, they commented that people “are just angry.” It does feel like everywhere you go someone is mad about something. 

Angry Birds is a fun game; angry humans are ugly to behold.

There were a couple of different ideas expressed about why everyone is so on edge all the time.

One, it ties back to social media, where it seems 85 percent of the people post about what has made them angry. The wording on social media may also contribute to the mood - think about how often you see words like “destroyed” used to describe a successful argument. 

A second opinion on the widespread anger is everyone is stretched too thin on all fronts, all the time. The public fury we witness is the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back. The ranting person could very well add, “I have just had all I can take” which might explain their tirade and bring them some sympathy. Whether it was health issues, family strife, financial concerns or poor romances, when their electricity was cut, it became a breaking point.

I took these thoughts to a mental health professional to get his learned, but unofficial, opinion. Obviously he had not talked to any of the people firsthand. His opinion wasn’t that people were too angry/ stretched-to-thin. In fact it was the opposite, that modern people have gotten too accustomed to convenience coupled with inflated sense of self-importance plus, “being great big babies,” which leads to temper-tantrums.

When you can order literally anything your heart desires online and it shows up in 48 hours, when you have drive-thrus for everything from dry-cleaning to pharmacies, when you take care of all bill paying with a few clicks of your phone, then, by gosh, you aren’t going to tolerate anything (even a hurricane) interrupting YOUR power service or a school not making YOUR opinion a top priority.

Whatever the reason for the constant outrage in the culture, it’s clearly a mad, mad, mad world out there and that’s sad.

Make healthcare work for the nation, not for political points

The attitude in Washington on healthcare (and most everything) seems to be if at first you don’t succeed, blame the other party for political gain.

Or, rhetoric is a perfect substitute for hard work.

Or possibly, if a previous administration gives you lemons, wail and moan  because no one will make lemonade for you.

The problem with Washington legislators scurrying away from the Obamacare versus Trumpcare issue is that it holds many American’s healthcare hostage.

Rather than chest-thumping about repealing Obamacare, a more practical approach for the past six months would have been, “We’re gonna fix the thing.”

The idea of chunking it sounded great on the campaign trail but was horrible as a policy direction. Even with its ridiculously high prices, Obamacare has had several years to gain traction, including 22 million Americans who signed up for individual coverage.

Too many people spent the last few years with a twisted hope that maybe it would completely break down so we could put something new in its place without any fuss.

Unfortunately for the Americans who rely on Obamacare, it’s not completely breaking down to be replaced by some Republican Phoenix rising from the ashes, but neither is it going to correct itself to a sustainable state.

We would like to see congressmen, like Tom Graves and Doug Collins, back off the doom and gloom and start pragmatically addressing the one overriding problem of cost to consumers.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which both Democrats and Republican reference as reliable, the current healthcare plan can be salvaged if the federal government can stabilize the markets, which Congress is scheduled to begin work on this week.

In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation website stated that there is “a decent chance for bipartisan cooperation and a successful outcome.” That’s encouraging to hear that relief is possible.

Despite all the rhetoric, healthcare experts say that the system is improving and should continue to improve with price and coverage, noting that many of the initial Obamacare problems were not that unexpected with such a massive shift in the multi-billion dollar industry, especially as there were people offering limited support for political reasons.

It has turned out that all areas of the country have at least one company that offers insurance plans. The last “bare” county in rural Ohio has been covered – though many areas have limited options and astronomical prices.

It is also worth remembering that the nation’s uninsured rate fell to 10.9 percent last year from 17.1 percent in late 2013. This is a 22 million person step in the right direction. Treating uninsured people have been a persistent cause of high prices for all patients. Someone is paying for the people without any health coverage who have critical illnesses and injuries – in the form of higher costs for all of us.

Regardless of what the plan is ultimately called, the problem that must be tackled is cost. And this is specifically tied to the individual plans. While everyone’s group insurance seems to go up every year, both before and since Obamacare, the 155 million of this nation who get their coverage through work aren’t seeing the same level of price fluctuations that the individuals are.

If CFO’s think back, group insurance prices and increases have been a major economic thorn in the side of the nation’s businesses well before Obamacare, and unless the nation addresses healthcare concerns across the board it will continue to be a drain on the bank accounts of companies. Price is a problem that further talk of scrapping the current system will not address. Rest assured that talk of implosion and political posturing will not bring down the cost of insurance one cent.

Partnership between the insurance companies, medical industry and Washington is the path out of the swamp, not stump-speeches for political gains.

 

What will finally take out the human race?

Fun question to ponder, but not cause for alarm

 

With all the winds and storms, it’s easy to slip into apocalyptic thinking. What will finally wipe us humans as a species off the planet?

The Bible makes it plain that no one knows when the end will come: 1 Thessalonians 5:2 - For you are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Clearly disregarding this, prophets and nuts have been declaring “The End is Near” every time the calendar winds up with an unusual pairing of digits or a teen does something unsavory in front of adults. In fact, a Christian numerologist has predicted September 23rd as the apocalypse, the day Planet X, “the death planet,”  will crash in to earth and destroy it. (Note that Planet X was also predicted to hit us last December and September, and back in 2012 when the Mayan calendar ended.)

Recently the British publication Times Higher Education polled 50  Nobel Prize winners and asked what they saw as the biggest threat to mankind.

The 50 winners of the highest prize in science and other fields represent a quarter of all living winners. Several respondents said they answered the question theoretically. They did not think the end was near, but, if asked, their answers were what they felt were the biggest threat.

So what did the collective geniuses eye as big nemesis?

The most common answer (34 percent) felt some type of environmental issue. Several cited climate change. Others referenced a problem people have faced since the beginning of time – feeding everyone and having access to drinking water, especially as the world’s population continues to grow.

Second place was “nuclear war,” with 23 percent citing it as a top choice (note with the style of poll, respondents could mark several choices). Some respondents linked this to the tension with North Korea and a few actually listed Donald Trump’s access to nuclear weapons as a threat to the planet.

The third top answer was infectious disease at eight percent. Four of the 50 laureates mentioned that this could come in the form of a new disease or it could come as increased resistance to existing strains of disease. Frighteningly, the World Health Organization also sounds a caution of resistance to existing drugs as a primary challenge to the globe, and we would all do well to remember that the Spanish Flu infected one-third of the world‘s population in 1918 and killed between 20-50 million people.

Tied for third (also eight percent) is an answer that may catch many by surprise as the laureates worried about selfishness/ dishonesty/loss of humanity. While many of us worry about these issues, it’s hard to believe they will destroy the human race, though some posts on Facebook certainly do make you wonder. One of the Nobel winners described the threat as, “humanist perspective as we rush into the age of the internet and its seductions.”

Following this is a threat that we would have pegged as being higher on the list, but it may connect into the above nuclear war fears,  terrorism and extremism.

Tied with this are two more unusual choices, with three of the 50 laureates answering that “ignorance and the distortion of the truth” could cause the downfall. Another three answered ignorant leaders.

The answers are rounded out with one or two laureates pointing to issues such as drug use, more specifically all humans getting hooked on opiates, fears over artificial intelligence taking over, and oddly enough Facebook (maybe a Nobel winner with a  sense of humor. But take a look at what’s on your feed today and maybe it’s not that farfetched.

It’s oddly fun to think about doomsday scenarios and is apparently widespread, hence the appeal of The Walking Dead. But keep in mind no one predicted any of these scenarios are likely any time soon, so you can go back to worrying about the fact north Georgia was put  under a tropical storm warning.

 

Slow growth not a bad destiny for Pickens

Poor ol Jasper. We never get anything. No Chick-fil-A, no Publix, no Longhorns and we miss the full eclipse. If only our city officials worked a little harder we might have had full totality Monday.

In reality, we can’t blame local government for the lack of exciting growth here any more than we can blame NASA for not putting us in the path of totality.

Figures presented at the most recent chamber meeting and reported in last week’s Progress show that Pickens County is middle-of-the-pack of growth for the state – we’re holding our own, even slightly better than average. 

Could more be done to foster business here? Sure. There is always room for improvement, but the fact there’s not a multi-screen cinema in town is not evidence our officials are turning away commerce.

Critics too often compare Jasper, which lacks topographical assets, to places like Blue Ridge, blessed with both a lake and river (not to mention a thriving tourist railroad) or to Cherokee County, which may not feel very blessed to be bursting at the seams with overflow faces from the metro area.

The figures shown from the Georgia 2.0 presentation demonstrated how ubiquitous slow growth is across the state. The figures from JobsEQ showed Pickens and 139 other counties (FYI Georgia has 159 counties) are lumped into a “rural” category which has experienced either job loss or minimal growth over the past five years. Based on their projections, these areas will not break out of that cycle in the next 10 years.

The report indicated that growth in Atlanta has been driving the state and the capital will see fast-paced development for another decade. Any motorist who ventures south of Cherokee County will not be surprised to hear that Atlanta boomed with a 10.4 percent jobs growth rate in the past five years, outpacing the national rate of 8.3 percent and the state average of 9.6 percent.

The disparity of jobs growth in the next decade becomes more pronounced with Atlanta  reaching 11.6 percent job growth, while rural areas of the state see their job growth at an anemic 1.6 percent – if projections are right, which is certainly not a sure bet.

Statewide results are useful in providing a wide-angle view, but it’s also important to pinpoint what is happening in places like Nelson, Talking Rock and the Foothills area.

And one important point is to realize Pickens County can not achieve much jobs growth as our unemployment rate is already so low it’s hard to find anyone else willing to go to work. In June our unemployment rate in Pickens was 4.6 percent and conversations with business people confirm that attracting decent workers is a prime challenge.

Companies looking to expand are aware of this. If you opened a big new company on Highway 515 who would work there? 

This county could surely use better employment opportunities, higher wages, and career-style companies. But as Cherokee grows, these type of positions may move next door and be a reasonable commute (though regrettably not in our tax base).

The speaker at the chamber, Jason O’Rouke, Vice President of Public Policy & Federal Affairs for the Ga. Chamber, encouraged communities to think differently about economic development, saying a growing trend is attracting younger educated people to live in your area and the companies will follow for the strong employee base.

Can Pickens do this? We do very well  attracting retirees, but we would be playing against character going after educated millennials. 

The community knows that Pickens is a great place to call home and as Atlanta grows we should be able to maintain a solid, if slow, growth here catering to those seeking a retirement community. Our vote for economic development is continue to play to the strengths and not  be stressed by the absence of robust commercial expansion.

If it comes, great, but we’ll be bucking a trend, which isn’t going to be easy.