Jackson County Opinions...

OCTOBER 1, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 1, 2003

1,500th Column Now Completed, Thank Goodness
Braves’ manager Bobby Cox won his 1,900th ball game recently and Gary Sheffield had his 2,000th hit. Imagine my shock to discover I’d hit something of a milestone myself last month, my 1,500th column.
That hardly ranks up there with Greg Maddux’s 16 consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins or winning the triple crown of horse racing – particularly in the areas of pay and fan interest – but that’s a lot of newspaper columns.
Those who start writing columns do it for ego, no doubt about it. I recall launching my column in 1974, desiring to enlighten readers with my storehouse of knowledge and wisdom. That required two weeks, and it’s been pretty much hit or (mostly) miss ever since. The eagerness to expound upon the issues of the day has been replaced with resignation about the weekly task of writing 92 lines to fill a 2.481-inch by 15.382-inch hole. Never longer, never shorter. Scarily, there remain hundreds of readers who have suffered through most of those columns. And others who quit reading them entirely.
I gave you a break from November of 1985 to February of 1987 when I took my skills to the coastal plains of North Carolina, to which I am reasonably sure my columns did no lasting damage. One highlight of that absence was reading in The Commerce News a tiny bit of respect in a letter to the editor who declared that the former editor (yours truly) at least had a “juvenile sense of humor.” My wisdom failed to turn a profit in North Carolina, so I scuttled back to Commerce and picked up pretty much where I’d left off.
Since the first one, the process has changed very little. About half of the time, I’ve either written my column for the next week’s paper by the end of Friday or at least know what I’m going to write about. The rest of the time subjects are more elusive. More than once I’ve waited until the absolute minute and thrown something together. Usually it shows.
Coming up with the ideas, now there’s the catch. Sometimes, inspiration jumps out and grabs you. Those are the times when circumstances either demand or inspire a column. But there’s only so much low-hanging fruit, so the rest of the time I sit staring dumbly at my computer monitor in the vain hope that the muse will arrive.
Strangely enough, reader reaction to the “inspired” and the put-something-on-paper-because-there-is-a-hole-to-fill column are about the same – totally unpredictable. You can never be sure what people will absolutely love – or hate.
To me, a “good column” is one that is done and a “bad column” is one that is not. This one is getting better every line ...
I don’t have any secrets, because when the inspirational drought hits, I’ll grasp at anything to fill the space. You read about my vacations, hobbies, political opinions, my likes and dislikes regarding anything, and about my family, although writing about the latter is riskier now that every column is online. I share the good times and the bad and too often the boring or inane.
After 1,500 columns, I’m not sure whether I should have a plaque made to mark the achievement or send an apology to each of you. Maybe both.

The Jackson Herald
September 24, 2003

Trouble with 10 Commandments
Far be it for us here in Jackson County to offer Barrow County advice about what to allow on its courthouse walls. But the debate in our neighboring county over a display of the 10 Commandments has reached far beyond Barrow County and has become another in a string of Church vs. State lawsuits.
All the usual suspects are on the Barrow County stage — the ACLU, the Klan and of course, a number of politicians looking for a way to take advantage of the situation for their own personal gain.
What a mess.
While we agree that government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting any particular religious indoctrination, we fail to see how a small display of the 10 Commandments on a corridor wall would unduly infringe on anyone’s rights.
But what is really sad about the current debate is just how weird our society has become in the battles we choose to fight. Compared to the civil rights movement, which really did free a large number of people from official government domination, the debate over a courthouse plaque is minor.
Isn’t there some more important problem in Barrow County that needs attention?

Arcade probe just the start
We don’t know what state investigators will find as they look into the City of Arcade’s history of writing speeding tickets. But as most locals know, the small town has long had the reputation of running a “speed trap” along Hwy. 129.
The completion of the new bypass has allowed for even more speeding tickets since speeds on that highway are higher than when traffic had to snake its way down the “old” Hwy. 129 through Jefferson.
We don’t have a problem with local law enforcement officials keeping our roads safe. But the truth is, some of our local governments look at speeding fines as a major source of income.
Both directly, and indirectly, these local governments pressure their police departments to write tickets to raise money for the town’s general fund. Often that process targets out-of-county vehicles and even minority groups, people who generally won’t cause too much of a fuss locally.
That isn’t right. There is a fine line between acting in the interest of public safety and acting in the interest of money-hungry city officials.
Local citizens know the difference.


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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
October 1, 2003

Life, or something like it
It was a year ago that I stood along the coast of Maine and watched the waves crash among rocks below. In front of me was a small child’s wheelchair where my seven-year-old son, Clark, sat with his head wrapped in bandages and covered with a red stocking cap.
We had gone to that small coastal town following Clark’s surgery in Boston a few days before. He was still weak from the surgery and while he could stand and walk, he tired easily. Here, he could rest for a couple weeks to recover.
The violence of the waves was in stark contrast to the calmness of the scene, the surreal beauty as the sun peaked between the clouds. But as I stood there, I wondered what the future would hold for him. All parents want assurances about their children, even though we know there is no such thing.
Clark had begun to have seizures when he was six years old. After months of trying various medications and undergoing dozens of tests, it became clear that surgery was the only real hope of getting his seizures under control.
So in late September 2002, surgeons opened his skull and cut out the part of his brain where tests indicated scar tissue was causing his seizures.
I wrote in some detail about that experience late last year and in the months since, many of you have asked me how Clark has been doing. I’m happy to say that for the most part, he is much better and his seizures less frequent.
But they have not totally stopped. The interval varies, but every 40-60 days, he will have a major convulsive seizure while sleeping. That’s better than having multiple smaller seizures for days at a time, but of course we would like for the seizures to stop altogether.
Clark also continues to take his anti-seizure medications, one of which we discovered has a strange side effect. Early this summer, we found that one of his medications caused him to stop sweating, putting him at risk for a heat stroke. Since a withdrawal from such medications can trigger seizures, we have been slowly cutting his dosage level back and phasing in an alternative medication.
In other ways, however, Clark has seemingly made a strong recovery. We were concerned about how the surgery would affect his school work since the part of the brain that was removed affects memory and verbal learning.
Follow-up testing last spring indicated that indeed he does sometimes reach a point of “overload” when the brain simply cannot process information fast enough. But by working with his teachers and tutors, those problems have begun to recede.
What’s amazing is that our brains have the capacity to “rewire” some functions. The functions lost from his surgery are slowly being rebuilt with new connections in his brain. That process may take a couple years, but it does appear to be happening.
In the months since Clark’s surgery, I’ve spoken or corresponded with dozens of parents whose children face similar problems. Epilepsy and seizures are much more common than I thought, although they take many different forms and have a lot of different causes.
We still don’t have all the answers about what the future holds for Clark’s seizures. They could diminish, or they could become more frequent. He may yet face more surgery in the future. Or maybe gene therapy or some other cutting-edge medical advancement will end his lingering seizures.
A year ago, standing on that rocky Maine shore, I wasn’t sure what the future would hold. I’m still not sure about that, but I do know that the kindness and concern expressed by many of you has meant a great deal to Clark and to our family.
For that, I thank you.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
September 24, 2003

Happy 10th Birthday To The Cold Sassy Players
This week, the Cold Sassy Players will celebrate their 10th anniversary with the production of “Our Town,” the Thornton Wilder classic with which the CSP began production in 1993.
The starting of a community theater group was a huge step at the time. Since then, residents have come to expect two or more plays a year and the “old Presbyterian Church” in which the first play took place has been renovated into the Commerce Cultural Center.
In the past decade, the Cold Sassy Players have provided a wide variety of top-quality plays, ranging from comedies to musicals. The quality of the plays, from the acting and singing to the costumes and sets certainly surpasses what the public expected when “Our Town” went on stage in 1993.
Only those involved in the production of a play really understand the commitment each participant must make. Even the actor with the tiniest part must show up for each and every rehearsal, as must the stage hands working with lights, sound and other critical functions.
Commerce is more culturally rich today for the efforts of the hundreds of people who have worked on the Cold Sassy Players’ productions. The names and faces may change, but the commitment is the same. Congratulations to the Cold Sassy Players for the first 10 years of local community theater.

U.S. Morally Obligated
To Iraq Reconstruction
Now that the bill is coming due, enthusiasm for America’s adventures into Iraq seems to be waning. President Bush’s request for $87 billion to go toward Iraq and Afghanistan is sparking tremendous debate among both Democrats and Republicans.
Of the request, $5.8 billion is targeted to rebuild Iraq’s electricity system, $2.1 billion for its oil infrastructure, $3.7 billion for water and sewer projects; $800 million for telecommunications and transportation improvements and $900 million for hospitals and health care. In addition, the taxpayers will build two prisons, build houses and import $900 million in fuel. In all, only about $20 billion is going for reconstruction; the rest is to maintain operations.
We can debate the amount of money that should be spent on operations and the administration’s options for raising it, but let no one who supported invading Iraq complain about its rebuilding cost. America broke it; now we pay to fix it, and the $87 billion is just for the next year. There will be more bills in the future. An America gung-ho to wage war has an obligation to rebuild what it helped destroy. And just as the administration under-estimated the amount of troops needed to do the job, under-estimated the resistance to American opposition and under-estimated the support we would get for the war and its aftermath, it also low-balled the cost of rebuilding Iraq.
It remains to be seen just how much the United Nations and other countries, most of whom opposed our foray, will help, but don’t expect much. America went to war over most of the world’s opposition, so most of the world understandably figures we’re the ones who must cover the costs.
The $87 billion comes as the Bush administration sets a record for deficit spending. That figure is more than twice what the government spends on homeland security, more than the combined total of all state budget deficits in the country. It is more than 10 times what the government spends on environmental protection programs, more than nine times what it spends per year on special education.
Still, the United States has a moral obligation to rebuild Iraq. We got the war we wanted and it’s too late to complain about what it will cost.

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