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Staff Editorials

Save your mind, get outside and play

“Tell me about an invention you don’t like and why,” was the question recently posed to a second-grade class in Louisiana. 

“I would say that I don’t like the phone,” one student wrote. “I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day…I hate my mom’s phone and I wish she never had one.”

Ooof. If that doesn’t get parents’ attention, what will? A teacher recently posted this message on her Facebook page and it went viral. Why? Because this child’s honesty is like a punch in the gut for parents who know deep down it’s true – they’re addicted to smartphones as much (or more) than the kids they’re trying to tear away from tablets and video games.  

Phone and technology addiction is a problem most people are aware of, but the complications it causes go deeper than just physical time away from our kids (which is bad enough). Excessive technology use has a strong link to increased anxiety, a condition that’s ravaging the country. A New York Times article “Anxious Nation” offers troubling statistics: anxiety disorders now rival depression – and in some age brackets surpass it. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 38 percent of teenage girls and 26 percent of teenage boys have an anxiety disorder. A new study from the University of Illinois finds that addiction to, and not simply use of, mobile technology is linked to anxiety and depression in college-age students.

“People who self-described as having really addictive style behaviors toward the internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales,” said psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted this study.

Charlie Hoehn was a workaholic who was constantly on his computer or phone, the latter of which he’d bring to bed to check work emails after midnight. He developed crippling anxiety and after trying a variety of strategies that failed, he stumbled on the book The Power of Play. It was his “a-ha” moment, and one we can all benefit from. Humans are suffering from what he calls “chronic-play depravation.” 

“The research is pretty clear,” said Hoehn, who has gone on to do a Ted Talk about his experience and has written the book Play It Away. “They have done experiments. They’ve deprived animals of play—they give them love, nurturing, food, shelter, all the things they need to survive— but they deprive them of play, the animal inevitably grows up to be socially and emotionally crippled.”

What do we do? Do we want our kids to remember mom or dad in that unflattering position hunched over our phones with blank zombie faces? Do we want to contribute to our kids (or us) developing mental health disorders? Let’s make memories instead. We just passed the unofficial beginning of summer - Memorial Day weekend and the last day of school - and have the promise of several months of warm weather ahead. This summer, let’s get outside and play with our kids, family and friends without – or with very limited – technology.  

Locally, we’ve got new bike trails in Talking Rock, a couple of hiking trails on Burnt Mountain, and the Dawson Wildlife Management area/Edge of the World rapids, Carter’s Lake and Amicalola Falls that are short drives away. You can even make smaller changes in your routine – instead of going to a restaurant take lunch to one of the many parks in town. Hoehn recalls the first time he chose play over screens and work. A friend asked him to grab coffee for a work meeting and he suggested a game of pitch instead. 

Humans aren’t wired to spend their lives indoors, sitting at screens under the eerie glow of fluorescent lights. Research shows that getting outside is crucial for our health. It’s been shown to fight anxiety and depression, lower stress and blood pressure, improve focus, fight fatigue, and improve short-term memory. Technology serves us positively in a lot of ways, but gone unchecked can become detrimental to health and relationships. This summer let’s get outside and play. Your kids (and you) will be much better off.


To the PHS Class of 2018 and their parents

To the 272 students who will take their final walk in Dragon Stadium Saturday, here’s a heartfelt congratulations. The ceremony is an affirmation of 13 years of hard work. To your parents and other family members who’ve watched you grow over the years, good luck. Good luck because for you it’s a bittersweet day filled with a range of emotions.   These emotions will likely range from happiness and pride, to sadness and downright sorrow. 

The pride and happiness are self-explanatory. Those emotions come from being excited for all your child has accomplished and the wonderful person they’ve become as they grew from a tiny tot into young - very young - adults. The sorrow is a little different. For while the students are excited to graduate and move on to another phase of life, parents are desperately wishing they could keep one foot in the past while simultaneously being excited for their future. 

Your parents have long known this day would come. From the moment they brought you home from the hospital in a car seat that was way too big, they knew one day you would graduate from high school. It’s both a day of celebration and a stepping stone from one part of life into another, more independent one. Your parents know you growing up is inevitable but they’re going to miss the child that you were. 

Be kind to your parents, because, while they knew one day they would have to say goodbye to that little kid who waved with tiny hands from the school bus window, high school graduation day is the day it seems to really happen.  

It’s a hard day for parents. For on graduation day many parents are reminded of all the days that will never be again. The days of being able to scoop you up in their arms and throw you on their shoulders, pinching your cheeks, and reading to you in bed each night. You are trading footed pajamas for shirts from your designated college t-shirts, military uniforms, business suits or work boots. 

This Saturday as you stand with your parents in your cap and gown, your parents will beam with pride in you. But, inside, they will also wish they had one more day to do those easy little things with you that brought you both so much happiness. No more gifts of stuffed animals that brought such delight to both giver and receiver. No more watching you round the bases of the t-ball fields as a similarly-tiny tot tried to tag you out. No more dance recitals with pink, fluffy tutus and you watching the teacher, standing just out of sight of the audience, for guidance.  

Remember, your parents and family members see in your face now the face of a young man or woman on the cusp of independence, but what they really see in their minds is Pre-K graduation day and the face of that four-year-old parading down the church aisle with a tiny cap and gown. 

You are now a person who can find your own path and reach your own goals independent of your parents. 

Congratulations, graduates. Few other days of your lives will be as moving as this one. Remember the day well and give your parents some slack for all the tears.

And as you move forward in your lives, remember there are a thousand paths in front of you. Dare to be different. Recognize you have the power of choice at every moment available to you: choice in what you do for work, who your friends are, even what your attitude will be for the day. 

Be conscious, stay awake and live with your eyes wide open. Own your life and career. Choose your commitments wisely. Laugh every day and always keep love and compassion in your heart. 


Hands free is a great law

The state of Georgia has made a serious step in the right direction for public safety and it doesn’t involve any gun/mental health, immigration or terrorism rhetoric. It’s a law that will assuredly save lives, will affect all of us and really tick off a lot of people.

The Hands Free Georgia Act prohibits holding a cell phone while you drive. It was signed by Governor Nathan Deal last week in Statesboro to recognize five Ga. Southern nursing students killed in a highway crash (see story on page 6A).

The new law, which will start with a $50 fine in July for anyone spotted with a cell phone pressed to their eye or in front of the their face while behind the wheel, is desperately needed.

Cell phone use has become so commonplace while in transit that dramatic increases in wrecks are mostly ignored. A Georgia Highway Safety official referred to talking on a cell while driving as “second nature.” It’s amazing that the bill actually had to state that it is unsafe and now illegal to watch a video while driving -- as though people were oblivious to the fact that Youtube and maneuvering a vehicle don’t go together.

The problem now will be convincing the public to really put down that phone. A survey by the National Safety Council found that 25 percent of all drivers felt that sending text messages or e-mails didn’t affect their driving and this percentage jumped to 65 percent for drivers under 35 years old. Many cited the fact they slow down as why their texting and driving was safe – sort of like a drunk claiming to drive better while impaired.

This new law will take aggressive and rigid enforcement to shift the travelling public’s belief that they have some right to talk on the cell while driving. If you have not been following this law, it really does prohibit holding a cell unless you are “legally parked.”

Despite some people’s opinions, statistics grimly show that cell phone use (even taking calls) behind the wheel kills. 

• The National Highway Safety Institute finds that distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016.

The National Safety Council found that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes a year.

Texting while driving is considered six times more likely to cause a wreck than drinking and driving. 

Georgia banned texting and driving in 2010 but that law didn’t have the effect that was desired. Georgia’s crash rate continued to climb, while states with hands free laws were dropping. found that crashes in Georgia rose 36 percent over the last two years as compared with a 16 percent drop in accidents over the same period in 13 of the 15 states that have enacted hands-free laws.

The total ban on holding cells was needed for at least two solid reasons.

First, officers said the texting ban was impossible to enforce as drivers could claim they were making a call, checking a GPS or doing something else on the phone (you should set your GPS before shifting the car into drive).

Second, there are plenty of other actions besides texting you can do on a phone that are distracting. Do you really want someone checking scores on a busy college football weekend while driving along the street where your kids are playing?

Anyone who has ever seen that person weaving all over road, holding a cell in front of their face should support this law. If you are the person who is sure they can use their cell and drive at the same time, get over your privileged attitude because you can’t.

Traveling at 55 mph and looking at your cell for just two seconds allows your vehicle to move half the length of a football field (about 50 yards) without any eyes on the road. If you don’t think bad things happen in that length of time, refer to the fatalities and crash statistics above.


Merging county, city water/sewage asks too much, not so with cooperation


Over the past year the topic of merging county and city services, particularly water and sewage, and has been bounced around sporadically. The idea has popped up in a number of forums, meetings and discussions and was a dominant non-issue during the comprehensive planning   meetings just completed.

Officially, the comprehensive planning sessions labelled the idea as a strong minority view but mention of merger studies did not gain support for the 10 year update. Planning Director Richard Osborne told one incredulous member of the public that while it was discussed a lot and can certainly continue to be talked about, the official tally shows the majority of the stakeholders prefer the county and city of Jasper to continue as separate infrastructure service providers.

Has the county missed an opportunity to expand our most crucial infrastructure or did we avoid a quagmire of study committees and hubbub, adding a layer of bureaucracy to water/sewage?

Here are some thoughts, both pro and con:

• Consistent through the discussion, speakers acknowledged the status quo is fine as long as the population here is static. Neither government is in any critical state, though significant growth can not be accommodated without expansion of water/sewage infrastructure.

• The city of Jasper has a full water department, which includes sources for raw water. The city has had their system in place for decades and serves the commercial area along Highway 515 and areas out in the county. The city/county service areas were set before the county had many resources, thus allowing the city to stake out territory the county may desire now.

• The county has water purchase agreements from surrounding cities/counties, including the original agreement to purchase essentially all the water they can use from the city of Calhoun at a rate that makes their operation financially secure. Of course, should some situation arise, Calhoun could theoretically cut off our county. The county is developing their first water source at Grandview Lake which will provide about 300,000 gallons a day, a significant portion of their needs.

• The city has sewage; the county does not. The idea of the county developing sewage operations is usually ruled out as impossible. We don’t buy that. Very difficult, yes, and not feasible for full countywide coverage, but we are not convinced that an inspired person with a deep-pocketed developer couldn’t put the county into the sewage business. Smaller package sewage plants for certain areas  have been discussed previously so the idea is not unprecedented.

• When discussing any merger it’s important to recognize the different size/scopes of the operations of Jasper and the county. It would be like telling someone with a paid home (city of Jasper) to merge with someone with a long-term lease (the county and their water purchase agreements).

• It would seem likely additional efficiency could be gained by merging the departments, with personnel and equipment shared in both systems.

• It also seems likely that a combined Jasper/Pickens water authority might be able to carry a bigger stick to accomplish  sorely needed projects. Expansion of water/sewage plants for Jasper is a looming and expensive proposition. Creating sewage for some areas of the county might be back on the table.

We’d like to end by saying that whether merger discussion ever rears its head again, there is undoubtedly and indisputably areas where cooperation between city and county over resources will benefit us all. This cooperation already exists. The city and county shared some water line work to allow more efficiency in moving H2O from one side the county to the other.

We’d urge the city and county to turn the discussion around. Rather than starting with talk of a merger; make that the end point (if needed). Begin by saying, “if we worked together are there some larger projects that become feasible.” And see where that leads.


College isn’t the only choice

For decades, it has been every working-class parents’ dream to have their child go to college, get that degree, and “do better than we did.” Their hope was their children would attain better and higher-paying jobs. High schools got on board with that sentiment and have been steering kids towards college for years. It was part of the American dream.

While parents and educators had good intent, the old “do good and go to college” sentiment is not in the best interest of every kid, especially now when so many high-paying trade jobs are unfilled and are available with often times shorter, specialized training that doesn’t take four years of expensive college to attain.

NPR recently reported that a “shortage of workers is pushing wages higher and higher in the skilled trades and the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening - even as the price of college keeps rising.” And that holds true here in Pickens where this newspaper recently reported that many skilled positions in jobs like welding are both high paying and plentiful. Across the U.S., there are some 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year that don’t require bachelor’s degrees, according to the NPR article.

We encourage parents and the school system to think of career guidance that sheds a more positive light on trade jobs. College degrees are wonderful and can prepare students to be thoughtful, inquisitive adults, but Georgia needs qualified trade workers. Businesses in Pickens and throughout the state are looking for employees with these important skills. 

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some of the most in-demand jobs in Georgia that don’t require a bachelor’s degree include: dental hygienist, paralegal, radiologic technologist, registered nurse, web developer, and telecommunications equipment installer/repairer. And guess what? They all pay more than $50,000 a year. 

Fortune magazine reported as many as two-thirds of U.S. companies across multiple industries say they have difficulties finding qualified applicants for technical positions, with the biggest gaps in the technology and healthcare sectors. 

According to the U.S. Manufacturing Institute, the industry will need to fill more than three million open positions over the next decade, as many as two million of which will go unfilled due to a skills gap and shortage of technical education. 

To combat this, Governor Nathan Deal announced in January that the state expanded the HOPE Career Grant to offer students opportunities in five of Georgia’s fast-growing industries: aviation maintenance, automotive technology, distribution-materials management, construction, electrical line work, and logistics. Majors in the construction field covered by the grant also include air conditioning technology, carpentry, construction management, electrical construction and maintenance, and masonry and plumbing. This means students can get the training they need for excellent, high-paying careers without a four-year degree.

Chattahoochee Tech, right here in Jasper, already has an array of options to help anyone who  wants to better their job chances find the financial means necessary to do so.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that people with career and technical educations are more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, and are significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study.

We would never advocate against seeking academic knowledge at college if that is where your heart, inspiration leads. But, the idea that anything besides college is second-rate is wrong and has been preached too long to the detriment of young people today and the American workforce in general.

Good careers come through many different pathways.