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August 2019
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Staff Editorials

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.


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.


Good turnouts - good things

This weekend saw surprisingly large turnouts at two events in Jasper.

Around 1,100 kids and families turned out to the Back to School Bash in Lee Newton Park, hosted by Revolution Church on Saturday.

Then 300-400 came through the Cornbread Reunion arts event the same day at the greenspace on the corner of Main and Spring streets in downtown.

Inflatable slides and bounce houses are a surefire draw (just try driving by if you have kids in the car), but 1,000 people is huge for any local event. By all accounts the new church coming to town (site with sign on North Main) gave these families a great way to wind down summer, and for free. Free entertainment for kids of working families is something to be applauded.

We are actually less surprised by the turnout in the park than the turnout for the arts. It’s been a long time since 300 people turned up at any arts event. And the success of this event sponsored by PACA bucks the trend of declining (to be honest non-existent) interest in the arts here.

Before this a one/two punch of Jasper’s ArtFest ending, then the closing of the Sharptop Arts Center (the cornerstone for local arts for many years) left a dismal appraisal of the future of arts as viable community events.

One gathering boasting a strong turnout, selling out of the namesake cornbread, does not necessarily signal the time is ripe for the arts to resurface, but it’s surely a step in the right direction.

We hope the community will take notice of both these events, which civic/church obligations aside, were fun. At the church event, kids got to run and play and parents got to relax. At the arts event, there was a bunch of socializing that lived up to the reunion portion of the name and live music, plus painting activities for youngsters. There was also a chance to see works by local artists and for them to sell some of their works.

Community events are one of the perks of living in a small town: the chance to shake hands with your neighbors and find out what they have been up-to. They are also one of the foundations of democracy: the chance to assemble with your neighbors and get a pulse on how the rest of the people are feeling.

As a comparison, two members of the staff visited the metro area for an event on Sunday which featured difficult traffic, a long walk after paying $15 for the nearest parking space, $12 beverages and concerns of security leaving the event after dark. Needless to say they didn’t have the chance to talk to any neighbors there.

It’s fun to go to the big city for an outing occasionally, but it’s also enjoyable to be a spectator at local events which are completely hassle free.

If you missed the events of the last weekend, don’t worry, fall in Pickens County is thick with opportunities. Talking Rock Heritage Days, Tate Days, the Marble Festival, plus numerous smaller happenings in town and, of course, there is high school football.  

At their Wild Game Dinner, Jasper Methodist Preacher Greg Meadows talked about how lucky we are to have a single high school so we can all cheer for the same team and that’s what community bonds are all about.


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.

It’s OK to not be OK

“It’s not normal. It’s not normal to feel like this.”

These words will never leave the mind of Madison Holleran’s sister. Because just a few weeks after Madison uttered them over Christmas break 2013, she  leapt off a nine-story garage deck in Philadelphia, killing herself. 

Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, had gone from a superstar high school athlete and academic at her Pennsylvania high school to running track at Penn, an Ivy League school. In just one semester, the 19-year-old went from star to struggling – at least in her mind. But no one watching her social media feed would know the inner struggles of this larger than life kid.

Madison was a star athlete in high school, first with soccer then in track. She was the NJ State Champion in the 800m in 2013. She had a seemingly perfect social life – she was popular and kind by all accounts. She succeeded at everything. And maybe that was the problem. 

In her new book, What Made Maddy Run, ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan, details Holleran’s heart-breaking story and along the way reveals the struggle of many young people as they transition from high school to college. 

Maddy’s story is one of a battle with sudden depression as the move from high school to college became overwhelming. She missed her family and found the intense academic and athletic demands, things that had always come so easily, unbearable. Madison was accustomed to being a high achiever in the classroom and on the track. By most peoples’ standards Madison’s performance at college was still stellar, but she wasn’t meeting the demands she placed on herself. 

In her book, Fagan does a wonderful job of showing the pressures young people, particularly college athletes, face to be perfect, especially in an age of relentless social-media.

Although she committed suicide in January of 2014, Madison Holleran’s Instagram feed is still up (maddyholleran), and shows the last photo she posted of the Philadelphia skyline just one hour before she jumped. The image was filtered, Fagan points out in the book -- meaning that before committing suicide Holleran took time to touch up the last image so it would look better than it really was.

Since her death, her family has started the Madison Holleran Foundation. The purpose is to let kids know “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.”

Depression can happen to anybody at any time, even people who seem to have it all.  Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults. Estimates show there are over 40,000 suicides each year, 4,500 of these are young people. 

In Maddy’s case, she was a perfectionist who struggled when she thought she wasn’t the best.  And it made things more difficult when she looked at social media. In her book, Fagan writes: “They scroll through others’ Instagram accounts and say, ‘This is what college is supposed to be like; this is what we want our life to be like.’ While her friends told her they too were struggling, the images on social media trumped the reality they were privately sharing.” The life we curate online is distinctly different from the one we actually live.

A little over a year before she died, Madison posted on Instagram a snapshot of a quote from Seventeen magazine: “Even people you think are perfect are going through something difficult.” That image too had been put through a filter. 

Fagan’s book is a must read. If you’re a parent of an athlete or an academic or just a parent whose child may be facing a transition in life. And if you are a young person, find this book if you feel you are struggling to measure up. 

And when we see those perfect images on social media, remember they likely have been put through a filter.