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'Smart growth' not just for Atlanta
Central, coastal Georgia need it too

By David C. Kyler
The Georgia Forum

Gov. Roy Barnes is on the right road in using "smart growth" to improve metropolitan Atlanta's major problems, including air quality and transportation.

However, in other parts of Georgia there is a danger that a preoccupation with conventional economic pursuits may result in the same problems created in Atlanta.

A recent newspaper article referred to rural Georgia's "desperation" for economic development. Few will argue with the fact that many areas of rural Georgia could benefit from appropriate economic opportunities.

Avoid desperation choices
However, we cannot afford to make desperate choices that could impose serious environmental problems on future generations. In contrast, smart growth policies in other states have shown that better land use planning is an effective way to improve the quality of life and reduce threats to natural resources.

A concern with smart growth should not be viewed as condemning or obstructing economic development efforts. With increased information, and a commitment to the long-term public interest, we can realize both economic opportunities and better protection of our natural resources, which in turn, will provide further economic benefits.

One of coastal Georgia's greatest strengths is the extent to which its economy is based on ecological and historic resources. In fact, nature-based business and tourist activities support more of our regional economy than any other single classification of employment.

It is estimated that commercial and recreational fishing alone generates $600 million in economic activity and 20,000 jobs, and that boating, camping, bird watching and other outdoor activities create employment for another 20,000 people.

Business needs resources
Connections between our state's resources and our business interests are at the heart of what makes our region's heritage and quality of life unique. If we value our heritage, we must protect this legacy by aggressively advocating public policies that promote sustainable growth.

Georgians must carefully consider the consequences of our development decisions to be sure that we are not trading one type of desperation for another. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions, such as:

Is it wise to locate animal-production facilities, malls and parking lots in floodplains, or on sites that are adjacent to rivers and wetlands?

Should we continue to accept the largely unmonitored use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture and forestry without fully understanding their negative impact on water quality, fisheries and public health?

Is it really in the region's best interest to deepen Savannah's harbor? At best this will achieve marginal gains in waterborne commerce. At worst it will further degrade the water quality and permanently destroy irreplaceable habitat that is essential to thousands of existing jobs in fisheries and tourism.

All those who care about the future of our region and our state should carefully consider these issues.

Governmental decisions affected
The concepts of smart growth are based on a greatly improved assessment of the effects of human activities on natural, historic and other resources. The public's ongoing stake in protecting these resources should be reflected in every aspect of governmental and personal decision-making.

State and local governments' responsibilities include deciding when and where to build water lines, sewer lines, septic systems, roads and schools, how land should be zoned and how to design and develop sites to minimize disturbance of vegetation, soils, water quality and wildlife habitats.

Governments' responsibilities also include using and protecting natural resources consistent with state law, as well as the vital tasks of monitoring and conducting research on the condition and functions of many diverse ecosystems. These efforts are seldom given the priority and funding they deserve.

Individual choices count
The smart-growth ethic also involves the decisions we make as individuals. Do we purchase low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles? When we're finished with products, do we recycle them, dispose of them properly or donate them for reuse? Are there reusable alternatives to items we throw away?

Landowners who want to be proponents of smart growth should consider forgoing the short-term economic gains of inappropriately developed properties. There are also profits, significant tax advantages, and long-term public benefits to be found in dedicating land to open space and conservation easements, which may still allow certain active uses.

Most important, Georgians need to make sure our elected officials understand that poorly conceived decisions made in the name of economic development will degrade the very resources that support many existing businesses.

Surely that kind of growth is anything but smart.

David C. Kyler is executive director of the Coastal Georgia Center for Sustainable Development based in Darien.

On Jan. 1 we celebrate a number

By Brad Warthen
Knight Ridder Newspapers

The moment when a millennium begins is an arbitrary point in time. A millennium is something that begins or ends pretty much when a consensus of society says it does.

The fuss-budgets (some of whom are otherwise very nice people) who say the present millennium doesn't end until the dawn of 2001 base their assertion upon this logic: There was no year zero''; the first year of the modern era was anno Domini 1. Therefore the first thousand years under this system didn't end until A.D. 1001. So obviously, the current millennium won't end until midnight on the night that starts with Dec. 31, 2000. These folks cite such authorities as the U.S. Naval Observatory and the British Royal Observatory.

Fine. If it makes you happy, I'll even say you're right. But you're also wrong, particularly if you say everyone else is wrong for getting excited about watching the world's odometer roll over by four digits.

An artificial milestone
To begin with, there is nothing inherently special about a grouping of 1,000 years. That we are fascinated with it is purely the product of our having adopted the decimal system, which gives special emphasis to powers of the number 10. If we thought in the base 2 (or binary) number system, the way computers do, the notation 1,000 would refer to the concept we know as the number eight. So if we thought like computers, all the stores would be having millennium specials every eight years.

The only common measurements of time that are more or less precisely calibrated by nature are the day, which is based on how long the Earth completes a revolution, and the year, which is how long it takes this planet to travel around the sun (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds).

Then there's the lunar month (28 days), which is used by many for religious purposes, but not for the common calendar that most of us use to order our daily lives. Everything else the minute, the hour, the week (the Bible ordains it at seven days, so I go for that, but other cultures have organized their days in clusters of from five to 10) and especially such things as the decade and the century is arbitrary. Such measurements begin and end according to how we choose to slice up time.

Starting point unknown
We don't know when Jesus Christ was born. Remember, that is the theoretical beginning of the current calendar. But nobody, not even the early Christians, counted their years from that point for several centuries. The guy who started this system of numbering years a 6th-century monk, mathematician and astronomer named Dionysus Exiguus had only a rough idea of when the Nativity occurred.

Going by our current calendar, Jesus may have been born sometime between 3 and 6 B.C. That's based on the long-accepted date of 4 B.C. (which has recently been challenged and recalculated as 1 B.C.) for the death of King Herod, and the assumption that Herod received his famous visit from the Magi as much as two years after Jesus' birth. That's a lot of assuming, but it's based on more information than was probably available to Brother Dionysus.

This is all further complicated by the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and next year is the Jewish Anno Mundi 5761.

So if you really want to get obsessive about this, the third millennium really began several years ago, and perhaps as many as 3,760 years ago.

When is New Year?
Then there's the matter of the precise day on which the millennium begins. Why does it have to begin on Jan. 1 of any year? Well, it doesn't. That, too, is completely arbitrary. During the (more or less) 2,000 years that we have honored Christ by our calendar, the beginning of the year has been variously calculated from Christmas (itself based upon the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, since we don't know what time of year Jesus was born), Annunciation Day (March 25) and Easter.

The pagan practice of beginning the year with the first day of January was just becoming widely accepted again when Pope Gregory XIII adopted it as part of his calendar reforms in 1582.

And even if a year does begin absolutely on Jan. 1, there's another problem. When the Western world finished switching over to the Gregorian calendar (which is more accurate than the Julian), we lost 10 days. So maybe we should keep those corks in the champagne bottles for a few more days, even if the millennium does start next month.

Finally, there's the problem that nothing Earth-shattering is set to happen when 2001 begins, whereas the changeover to 2000 threatens the computers that modern life is based upon. That would argue for marking that event as a bigger landmark in time than the one that occurs a year later.

But look celebrate the millennium (or don't celebrate it) any time you want. Whichever date you pick, you are being arbitrary to some extent. The bottom line for me is that I don't care. On New Year's Eve, I'm going to party like it's 1999 whether it is or not.

Brad Warthen is editorial-page editor of The State in Columbia, S.C.

Rocker's woes bigger than his mouth

It takes talent for a big league baseball star to raise such a ruckus in December, but John Rocker managed it big time. Because he's of Macon stock and an Atlanta Brave, we'd like to trot out some excuse for the pitcher's tirade, some reason for it that makes one iota of sense. But there is zero tolerance for the senseless intolerance imbued in this outburst.

John simply went off his Rocker. He crossed the line that separates the outspoken from the crassly spoken. In the Sports Illustrated article what had seemed a colorful and appealing young man suddenly comes across as nothing less than a world-class bigot. In one outpouring of bile, he manages to insult blacks, Hispanics, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, homosexuals, Indians, women and Russians ("How the hell did they get in this country?"), not to mention the entire city of New York and some of his own teammates.

Rocker's assault on the Big Apple isn't new. What's new is the egregiously hateful tone. What once seemed amusing jibes at New York fans suddenly turned into a diatribe with something to offend everybody. Even his Braves teammates were appalled, as well they should be, especially the Latin and African-American players. Racial epithets of the kind Rocker unleashed take us back to what the Jackie Robinsons and Larry Dobys had to endure when they broke baseball's color barrier.

Being contrite probably won't be enough to extricate Rocker from this mess made of his own big mouthing. "Everyone makes mistakes," he said. Yes, but this mistake was of the caliber of walking in the winning run in the last inning of the World Series. You can't take back that last pitch.

Braves' management is striking an unforgiving pose. There is already trade talk going around. But what club will be interested? Certainly not the Mets or the Yankees. Imagine black and Latin players on any team greeting John Rocker kindly at spring training. And that's if he gets to any team's spring training. Baseball's top brass is pondering a suspension.

Rocker not only has to reinvent himself, he has to convince everyone the conversion is genuine. In his favor is his youth (25), which, while no excuse, makes boys behaving badly a tad easier to forgive. But Rocker has exposed a darker inner-self that will be hard to erase from the public mind. Right now he's out there all alone with the bases loaded and behind 3-0 on the count.

John Rocker's next pitch had better be good.

- R. L. Day/For the editorial board

Guidelines give focus to religious debate

Every couple of years, the U.S. Department of Education issues guidelines designed to clarify what forms of religious expression in the public schools are allowed under the Constitution.

Revised to take account of the latest court decisions and legislative actions, they're intended to help harried principals and boards of education caught in the middle of the long-running, divisive and emotional debate about the overt role of religion in American public life and education.

This year's guidelines, endorsed by President Clinton in his Dec. 18 radio address, also give guidance to schools about working with religious groups which offer tutoring, mentoring or non-religious after-school enrichment programs.

The mailing included material prepared for the department by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, endorsed by Catholic, Jewish, Islamic and other groups as well as teachers' and school board associations. Without such cooperative input, guidance about partnering with religious groups which bans display of religious symbols or prayer with students by volunteers would be suspect.

While "faith-based organizations can play an important role" in schools, which need not be "religion-free zones," as the president said, school officials "may not endorse or favor religious activity or doctrine, coerce participating in religious activity or seek to impose their own religious beliefs," in the words of Education Secretary Richard Riley.

"Endorse," "favor," "coerce" and "impose" are all verbs susceptible of varying interpretation. The guidelines will not end the controversy, but should focus it more sharply.

- Ed Corson/For the editorial board

Letters to the editors

Changes in Dixie, Part I -- Charles Richardson

Editorial Board
Cecil Bentley
Ron Woodgeard
R.L. Day
Ed Corson
Charles E. Richardson

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