Jackson County Opinions...

APRIL 21, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 21, 2004

A Reminder Of How A Life Should Be Lived
Death has a way of reminding us of how life should be lived.
This week it was the death of Lee Sorrow, 21. He grew up in our church where he was universally admired because of his personality. As improbable as it might sound for a teenager, Lee was always pleasant and polite and seemed perpetually on the verge of having a good laugh. In a way, he reminded me of Sam Brown – one of those people blessed with such a personality that no one could dislike him.
He was too young to die. Sudden, unexpected deaths shock us. They remind us about the frailty of life and the fact that none of us can count on the arrival of the next morning.
Two other young men died in similar accidents last week, one in Franklin County and the other on I-85. The people who knew those victims are doubtlessly in shock like the friends and family of Lee.
Death, even sudden and unexpected death is a part of life we want to ignore. It’s always something that happens to someone else or someone else’s family; otherwise, we’d be obsessed with fear for ourselves and our loved ones. Even parents who are never at ease when their teenagers are on the road do not fully accept the possibility that those kids may never come back home.
Yet it happens all the time. Seldom does a year go by without a high school student or two dying in an automobile wreck in Jackson County alone, and we’ve become accustomed to reading about multiple-fatality wrecks involving young people, usually from the Atlanta area. Most of us who drive can recount cases where we narrowly avoided serious accidents, thanks to our own diligence or that of a driver who compensated for our carelessness.
The stark, undeniable truth is that we do not control our own destiny. Everything we work to achieve, study to accomplish or save to possess; anyone we love, can be wiped out in a heartbeat, in a cruel incident of bad timing, a single act of carelessness or some kind of malfunction.
We all know that, but we tend not to think about it until we see someone cut down suddenly, particularly a young person. When someone like Lee Sorrow dies, we face reality again, for awhile, and then in a year or two when we’ve fallen back to normal thinking, we get another reminder that we do not know the number of our days.
What we should take from these experiences is a resolve to live better lives, to love those we should love, to do the work that needs to be done and to accept every day as a precious gift to be lived in the fullest. We would be kinder, less critical and more generous. We’d live the way God intends for us to live. Alas.
Some people don’t need to be reminded. Lee was one of those, who by nature was loving, quick with a hug and a smile and who enriched people just by being Lee. Sam Brown and Nolan Spear Jr. also come to mind as local men who died too soon but whose lives are legacies.
The rest of us require more work. We need to be reminded to put our spiritual houses in order and to treat others as if this is our last day on earth, because it just might be the last. day.

The Commerce News
April 21, 2004

9-11 Blame Game A Waste Of Time, Energy
Lets be realistic. In Washington, DC, every politician is trying to attach blame to someone for the events of Sept. 11, 2001, but it is not realistic to imagine that either the Clinton or Bush administrations could have prevented the attack.
Even now, knowing full well that terrorists desperately want to inflict more damage upon America, it is accepted that they will be successful. The government through its intelligence gathering, investigative or enforcement arms may prevent one or many attacks, but sooner or later, the terrorists will succeed. After they do, the politicians will again show more willingness to assign blame than to apportion resources to make America safer.
While it is valid to critique any administration’s policies related to defense or homeland security, the attempt to lay the blame for a successful terrorist attack at the hands of one person or one political party does no service to the public.
Don’t blame Bill Clinton for Sept. 11. Don’t blame George Bush. Blame Osama bin Laden and concentrate on his capture and that of his followers. Let’s dedicate our resources to making it harder for terrorists to strike and to making sure that those planning to harm America will experience the full wrath of the United States when they are identified.

Election Season Begins; Do Your Homework
Brace yourselves. The political season is about to get into full swing and it’s time to start paying attention if you want to make informed decisions later this year in the primaries and the general election.
First, be warned. It is going to be ugly. If you’re not up to seeing, hearing and reading accusations, rumors and outright fabrications about candidates, you’re in for a long, long election season. Negative ads have proven effective in national, state and local elections and you’ll see them at all levels.
But a discriminating voter can learn a lot about a candidate’s character by how he or she conducts a campaign. It is one thing for a candidate to attack an opponent’s record – and something quite different to distort it, take statements out of context and twist the record to indicate something it does not truly reflect. Likewise, if a candidate’s effort to be elected is directed mostly at demeaning the opponent, a discerning voter might deduce that the candidate is without virtue himself.
The key for the voter is to sift through the position papers, the detritus of talk radio, professional political commentary and advertisements, and listen to the statements of the candidates to find the kernels of truth and the indicators of character that will determine how you cast your ballot. Too often, voters are not willing to expend the effort required to become truly informed. They listen only to views or parties with which they expect to agree and try to reduce complex issues to simple, clear black and white choices instead of comprehending the many shades of gray that make most major issues difficult to resolve. Being an informed voter means doing your homework, reading between the lines and being willing to consider viewpoints other than those with which you are comfortable.
Local and state politics are about to heat up; the national presidential campaign is already underway. Voters can expect to be inundated with reasons why they should support or oppose candidates of all stripes. It will get ugly, frustrating and boring – but the only way to make sure you vote intelligently is to pay attention. It’s all part of the democratic ritual that allows citizens to select their leaders, a process we may take for granted but one that billions of the world’s citizens do not have. It’s your government. Do your best to choose wisely.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 21, 2004

Woes of school standardized tests
Somewhere along the way, we have perverted the meaning of standardized testing in this nation. This month, local school students are taking the Georgia CRCT test. For third-graders, it is a do-or-die test — if they fail the reading section, they have to do remedial work and retake the test, or stay back in the third grade for another year.
Talk about pressure. Most adults never face the kind of performance pressure we now expect third-graders to conquer.
It’s not that I’m totally opposed to standardized testing, or general school accountability, or ending the legacy of social promotions. Indeed, there needs to be a way to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Some schools are better than others. That’s usually due to the leadership of the principal and the quality of teachers in the school.
But it’s also true that even the best teachers and principals are sometimes expected to do the impossible. Too many of our kids are handicapped with troubled homes, or with parents who simply don’t care.
Some say that talking about demographics or the home lives of students is just an excuse, or even worse, racist.
But no one can refute the fact that most successful students come from families that care about education. It’s difficult to create successful students whose lives are surrounded by unsuccessful and uncaring adults.
So the performance of our students isn’t just the function of what they learn at school. To ignore that fact, as some “no excuses” advocates postulate, is to ignore reality.
But is standardized testing the way to help children who fall behind?
I’m not so sure. Part of the answer to that depends on the questions on the test. On that point, I’ve become a cynic of the educrats who create the tests. Too many questions are vague. Often, only one or two questions are used to measure an entire area of student performance.
But the real problem with standardized tests is that state education bureaucrats have hijacked the testing system as a way to force local school systems into adopting controversial curriculums. Rather than being designed as a measure of student performance, standardized testing has become a backdoor way for the state to usurp the notion of “local control” in public education.
If the question is on a test, then school curriculums have to be designed to answer that question.
But because of the secrecy surrounding these standardized tests, no outsider ever gets to evaluate the questions or the motive behind the questions. Even teachers aren’t supposed to look at the standardized tests.
After years and years of studying and reporting on standardized tests, I believe that not all standardized tests are created equal and not all standardized tests are valid measures of a school, or an individual child’s, performance. The statistics do sometimes lie or distort the truth.
Still, for better or worse, standardized tests are here to stay. Parents want simple numbers as a way of evaluating public schools. State politicians, many of whom think they have the answers to all education problems, want to impose “accountability” on local school systems by using standardized testing like a sword at the throats of school leaders. All of that is easier than making a more subjective evaluation of our public schools.
Just try explaining all that to a third-grader this month.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
April 21, 2004

Personal vendetta drives Beshara’s rantings
It’s sad, but true, that the Jackson County government is being driven more by personal vendettas than public policy.
There are many examples of that, but one was again clear at the Monday night board of commissioners meeting when commissioner Emil Beshara launched yet another tirade against this newspaper and members of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. Indeed, he outlined a fantasized conspiracy theory and even used the word “corruption” in describing the authority’s actions.
In addition, Beshara alleged that this newspaper was part of some kind of large conspiricy to cover up what he considers damaging information about former authority chairman Elton Collins.
Alas, Beshara’s ranting Monday night was just another example of BOC smoke-and-mirrors, an obvious attempt to discredit those who disagree with the BOC’s plans to take over the authority.
Because Mr. Collins has staunchly defended water authority manager Jerry Waddell against attempts by Beshara and the BOC to have him fired, Collins has become the ring-leader of Beshara’s convoluted conspiracy theories.
It’s well-known that Beshara has a deep-seated personal hatred of Waddell. So deep and harsh is this feeling that Beshara had Waddell’s embittered former girlfriend, Wanda David, named to the authority board last year in a smarmy, low-class effort to drive Waddell off the job. (Beshara knew that at the time, David and Waddell were in the middle of a bitter lawsuit.)
But that didn’t work and Beshara has become frustrated with his inability to remove Waddell, so much so that he drug a television to the BOC meeting Monday night to show a tape of a newscast where he had made his allegations against Mr. Collins.
Frankly, we will gladly stack Mr. Collins’ credibility up against that of commissioner Beshara any day.
While Beshara has only held office for three short, controversial, confrontational and some would say wacky years, Mr. Collins has given over two decades of public service to local governments, the chamber of commerce and other institutions. His record as a community leader is beyond reproach.
Compare that to commissioner Beshara who has, well, three years of creating conspiricy theories to show for his time in public office.
For the record, this newspaper did look into Beshara’s allegations weeks ago and found them to be without merit. We refused to be a party to his effort to impune the character of Mr. Collins and to further his own personal political vendetta by further spreading his spurious allegations. What commissioner Beshara labeled a “cover up” we call responsible reporting.
But there is a moral to Beshara’s actions: When a public official is motivated by a personal vendetta, the public interest is seldom served.
Monday night, commissioner Beshara displayed a texbook example of that adage.

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