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January 2021
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Staff Editorials

Let’s trust in the vaccine

The COVID 19 vaccine certainly did come quickly, but don't mistake that for reckless haste. Consider it an example of what teamwork between science and government can do to meet a clearly defined goal. The ridiculous amounts of funding thrown at the problem didn't hurt either. 

Throngs of people showed up Monday morning to receive some of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for specified groups among the general public available in Pickens County.

As the number of cases here continue their skyrocket and deaths stand at 18, the vaccine couldn’t come fast enough. Since the Georgia Department of Public Health began keeping records last year, across our state there have been 648,694 confirmed cases, 45,177 hospitalizations, and 10,444 confirmed deaths. In Pickens, there have been 1,795 confirmed cases among our 32,000 residents. There have been 20 deaths here and 123 hospitalizations. In the U.S. there have been 22.7 million cases and more than 376,000 deaths.

Thanks in a large part due to heavy funding for research, two COVID-19 vaccines have cleared the Food and Drug Administration and are making their way to the most vulnerable citizens. The vaccines, one developed by Pfizer and another by Moderna, have been found to be more than 94 percent effective. Of course, misinformation can rear its ugly head, sowing seeds of doubt based on something someone heard on YouTube and passed along with the same credence of legitimate studies.

Thoughtful, critical thinking about what we put into our bodies is always encouraged but don’t let rumors and misinformation deter you. It is ironic that people who will consume packaged foods all day long without ever questioning the safety of meat-packing plants are now suddenly acting like zealous vegans over what they put into their bodies. If McDonalds can deliver 1 billion hamburgers a day safely, surely Big pharma can deliver the goods safely when they are on center stage.

Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and author of the book Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don't Go Away, says we should not be worried about the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. According to Larson says there are many steps on the process of development and large amounts of funding made the COVID-19 vaccine possible to start quicker. “We’ve shortened some of the administrative processes,” she told NPR in a recent interview. “We have new technologies, but the steps involving safety have not been shortened. They have not been compromised. And no vaccine will be delivered to the public before it really has enough confidence. And most importantly on the safety, no company wants a bad vaccine. No government wants a bad vaccine. No individual wants a bad vaccine. It’s not in anyone’s interest.”

Medicine has advance by leaps and bounds in the centuries since English doctor Edward Jenner in 1796 was credited for the world’s first vaccine for smallpox when he used material from cowpox pustules to provide protection against smallpox (his subjects were a milkmaid and his gardener’s 9-year-old son). Smallpox killed an estimated 300 million people before Jenner’s discovery. Louise Pasteur’s 1885 rabies vaccine was the next to make an impact on human disease. Vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, tuberculosis, and more were developed through the 1930s, according to History of Vaccines.

Somehow it seems safer for us to get a recently-developed vaccine from two of the foremost pharmaceutical companies in the most advanced country in the world than the chances a gardeners’s son and the milkmaid took back in 1796.

Human beings have benefitted from vaccines for more than 200 years. Let’s trust in them now.

A thanks to elected officials

Being an elected official isn’t easy. As a media outlet that works closely with these people day-in, day-out, we can see the long hours some of Pickens’ leaders – such as outgoing commission chair Rob Jones – put in. We see them at official government meetings and at a variety of other events all hours of the day. We also understand that Jones and other officials often shoulder the brunt of residents’ complaints, whether those complaints are fair and well-informed or not, and they are often blamed for issues they don’t even have control over. 

Jones, who despite this publication holding his feet to the fire on numerous occasions in stories and editorials, has always had an open door policy with us, has always returned our calls promptly, and has always answered the questions we asked. We know someone in his position gets invited to pretty much every social event imaginable, and in his case he almost always seemed to make it out.

The last year or so has seen a lot of big changes for Pickens’ elected leaders; after 16 years Jones was forced to leave office when our new commission chair Kris Stancil beat him in the primary; longtime Jasper Mayor John Weaver, who we also had a very good working relationship with, did not seek re-election in 2019 and was replaced by current Jasper Mayor Steve Lawrence in January 2020. We wanted to take this opportunity to thank all those who have served our community in the past, as well as those who are coming on board to serve in the future. 

We realize these are paid positions, in some cases full-time salaried positions, but there’s a lot of baggage that comes along with them, and in instances such as school board or city council the pay is so inconsequential it’s clear they aren’t doing it for the money. School board members make $100 per meeting. Jasper City Council members make $50 per meeting. These groups only have a few meetings a month so it doesn’t add up to much. This amount surely wouldn’t make all the long budget meetings and after-hours calls from angry parents and constituents worth it.  

We’re not arguing that all elected officials should be applauded and that some don’t take advantage of their positions of power. There are bad apples with ulterior, unethical motives, and leaders who make poor decisions that could damage a community. This is precisely why a free press and outspoken and involved public are important - but in instances where elected leaders are in politics to try to make an honest and positive difference they deserve a round of applause for doing what most people aren’t willing to do. 

We’ve enjoyed working with (most of) our past leaders, and look forward to getting to know the new ones. Time will tell if they prove themselves to be good servants for Pickens County residents. 

 

The light in the dark this Christmas

Matthew 2:1-2 – “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”

That star, believed to be the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that creates the illusion of one large star, is what many say guided the Magi to Bethlehem to greet the newborn Jesus, Messiah to the people. This is the Star of Bethlehem, or the Christmas Star, and arguably the most iconic and pervasive symbol of Jesus’ birth. We place it atop our Christmas trees, in our nativity scenes, in our school Christmas plays, and on our greeting cards. 

This “great conjunction” of the two largest and slowest-moving planets in our solar system hasn’t occurred in hundreds of years (it was last seen 800 years ago and occurred 400 years ago but couldn’t be seen by the human eye then) – but the phenomenon graced our skies this Monday night, bringing with it a sense of hope and awe not only for Christians, but for humanity at large. No one alive today has witnessed the rare event - and while we could all imagine what it would look like, none of us could be certain. Here in Pickens County, a cloudy morning gave way to a clear evening, making the phenomenon visible low in the southwestern sky just after sunset.

For thousands of years we’ve looked to the stars and planets to make sense of the world – some of our religions and myths are, in part, created by human contemplation of the celestial bodies and their greater meaning in our lives. Monday, people of all walks of life cast their eyes upward, into the heavens, to take in something bigger than themselves; to think about, perhaps, the last people to witness this same event so long ago and to wonder what life might have been like then. It was a unifying experience.

But the Star of Bethlehem didn’t only happen at the height at our Christmas season this year, it happened on the winter solstice, December 21st, the shortest, darkest day. How poetic, and how perfect? This event was needed in 2020 more than most years as we navigate the darkness and challenges created by a pandemic – the fear, the anxiety, the economic hardships, the isolation. We can’t imagine a more beautiful symbol of hope for brighter days ahead, or of a more poignant reminder of the spirit of Jesus, who came to be a lamplighter, a guiding light for everyone.   

John 8:12 - "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 

Cultures across this planet, stretching back centuries, have their own ways to acknowledge the deep darkness of December and the onset of winter, which brings along with it death, hibernation, and cold - but the good news is that from this point on the Sun will be resurrected after it reaches the lowest point of descent in our skies, and we look forward to the warmth, and the life, it will usher in.

This Christmas remember that without dark, there cannot be light. This year has been so dark for so many individually, and so dark for us collectively, but the darkness never lasts. If we hold to that understanding that it is part of life, only temporal, we can find peace in our hearts knowing light will return.

“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”

  We wish you the merriest of Christmases.    

 

Looking backwards and forwards

Janus, the Roman god for which January is named, is called the two-faced god, but not in the false sense. Janus was known for looking both forwards and backwards which is what we try to do every year at this time.

Looking back at 2020
The past year was dominated by a pandemic, so judging the progress or lack thereof in Pickens County must come with a footnote that applies to the whole world – regular plans saw little attention. A year ago, we had several issues we were championing: We encouraged the county to put to good use their $3.7 million in forthcoming SPLOST funds dedicated to the parks. Perhaps the pandemic has forced some rethinking on how people might play/get outside without organized programs. While t-ball, soccer and other sports are the core of county programs, it would seem an opportune time to promote and provide space/facilities that encourage individual or family recreation.
It’s laughable to recall the urgency we pushed local governments to create clear and feasible plans for public venues in January of 2020. During 2019 we had seen a steady stream of petitioners seeking rezonings or variances to allow all manner of gathering spaces, especially for wedding businesses. This sparked fears of rock concerts in farming areas, wrecks caused by guests who had over-consumed trying to navigate our dirt roads, and too much noise late into the night. With the total shut-down of large gatherings, the urgency is not there. But we’d still encourage our county planning commission and economic developer to create a simple one-sheet set of regulations on event venues and festivals. It’ll be needed again one day.
Back in January 2020, we’d tossed out the idea that it was time for the Marble Festival to be replaced with either Marble Festival 2.0 or a new festival altogether. This year we broke the tradition of a yearly festival honoring our white stone, so while all festivals are regrouping, we will double-down on our suggestion. Now is the perfect time for the Chamber of Commerce to roll out a drastically new/improved or completely changed format for our yearly festival. As a reminder, we have personally enjoyed and supported the Marble Festival for the past three decades. Our desire for change comes from the fact that it has undeniably been left in the calcium carbonate dust when compared with festivals devoted to apples, sorghum, bears in squares, moonshine or any other theme.
Looking Ahead for 2021
The perfect symbol heading into 2021 is the small triangle of land at the north end of downtown Jasper. The area, officially called Peace Park, once housed a jumble of rocks intended as an artistic display. They are gone. The area is bare earth and is open – just begging for creative planning. It’s too small to be a business or house much, but it could be a nice entrance into downtown. It’s adjacent to the Old Jail, wooden bridge and the very nice but unappreciated Oglethorpe monument.
The area is ripe with possibility for something tied to our history and heritage. It’s near the city’s new parking lot and the planned public restrooms. The space must be ideal for something small and attractive, but what? That’s where the public needs to chime in.
Get involved and not just with that one property. To every Progress reader and resident of Pickens County, we’d encourage you in 2021 to take part in the community. 
Clearly 30,000 heads are better than a handful of the same people who fill boards and volunteer for non-profits. You can’t complain on Facebook and expect anyone to listen when you never turn out. Whether it’s a non-profit, a government hearing or calling city council members, let’s see the public involved.
There is a constant complaint that government doesn’t listen. We’d disagree on the local level. It’s not that they don’t listen, it’s that rarely is anyone from the public speaking and even more rare for someone to raise their hand and ask if they can help.
You may not be able to change the world, but you’d be surprised what just one energetic volunteer can do locally.

How I know Bobby Fischer was a jerk

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff Writer

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Until recently all I knew about Bobby Fischer was that he was a chess prodigy who would forever be that sweet boy I remembered from the trailer for Searching for Bobby Fischer, a film I’ve never seen. It’s only been in the last couple months that I realized that little boy wasn’t actually Bobby Fischer, who for my entire life I mistakenly characterized as the humble-genius type. Fischer was, I’ve found out, brazenly unlikable and arrogant, a jerk-genius type instead. 

I know this now because two months ago my son expressed to me his newfound interest in chess, and since then I’ve gone down the chess rabbit-hole, watching old matches and interviews with players, reading about grandmasters and chess strategy (the latter of which I’m proud to say I understand at least part of the time) - but most importantly I’ve played a few matches with my 14-year-old.  

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon at home when Auri told me he was “getting into chess.” I had no idea he’d been playing with friends online. 

“Yeah,” he told me. “It’s fun.”

Memories of my childhood flooded in like a full-on pawn storm. Dad taught my sister and me the rules when we were young, 10 or 12, and we’d play from time to time over the years.  

“No kidding,” I said. “Wanna play?” 

I dug out our cheap 6-in-1 game set that can also be conveniently used for backgammon, checkers, cribbage (does anyone actually play this?), Chinese checkers, and dominos. The chess pieces were plastic and uninspiring, but miraculously all accounted for and even had the fuzzy green felt on the bottom I remembered fondly as a child. 

It had been at least 15 years since I’d played a match, but I was able to summon the rules from some long-unused backroom of my mind - and I’m not going to lie, I was proud of myself for remembering where all the pieces should be placed and how they moved. Still, I had no idea what to expect since I was rusty and Auri hadn’t been playing long - then he proceeded to obliterate me in seven moves the first game and talk copious amounts of smack the second. 

“Well that was an interesting choice,” he said, and, “Wow, I wouldn’t have done that,” he passively gloated after I’d labored several minutes over my turn before he swiftly took his. 

Damn it. He’s pretty good, I thought. Was he trying to psych me out? His approach was, of course, completely unacceptable in professional matches but somehow endearing at our kitchen table. He beat me every game, and it was easily the most enjoyable time I’ve had with him in a while. 

All this happened before we’d heard about the Netflix series Queen’s Gambit, which I have since watched voraciously (seriously, so good). Interest in chess skyrocketed after the show was released, and beyond being secretly glad mine and Auri’s interest wasn’t a bandwagon thing, it made me happy to think about people playing a game that is simple to learn with just a few rules, but a challenging mental exercise that’s extremely difficult to master. During some of my turns it felt like it looked like I was thinking - brows possibly furled, eyes  slightly squinted, and I may or may not have leaned forward a little at times. But in contrast to Rodin’s “The Thinker,” I probably just looked stupid. Auri didn’t haze me for that part, though, just my ill-thought-out rook to d3 move.

So, yeah, I know Bobby Fischer is a jerk now because my son told me he liked chess and I decided to play with him. I know that and so many other things I didn’t before – vague notions of openings like the Sicilian Defense; that Magnus Carlson is the current grandmaster; and that I find those two-dimensional chess boards that let spectators see what’s happening during a match oddly satisfying. 

I also know that there is no better way to spend time with my kids than tech-free activities that, hands down, put the check in check mate.