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Staff Editorials

Candidates’ religious views matter

     In the South we may have been taught to shy away from talk about money and religion, but when it comes to the religious views of American presidential candidates their ideas about faith should be front and center.

     This November’s presidential election will mark the first in American history where there are no white traditional Protestants on the ballot. There are two Catholic candidates for vice president, a Mormon on the republican ticket for president and an African-American mainline Protestant for the democrats. More than being attached to a particular denomination and its platform of beliefs, those seeking elected offices should be candid with voters about their personal religious ideas. If they are sincere about those beliefs and not just giving it lip service for the benefit of wooing voters, it shapes them politically.

     Religion matters. And it matters in politics. Our ideas about the world are shaped through our religious beliefs and those aspiring to the Oval Office shape public policy. Before voters cast their ballots we need to know everything we can about a candidate. Just like we should ask whether Obama or Romney are members of private clubs or extremist groups or have particular affections for dog racing, we need to know as much as about their religion as we do their stance on healthcare, the job market, or government spending.

Unlike many countries, the United States has a long history of separation of church and state. In 1802, founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship”.

     America is a beacon of religious freedom and the people we elect to high office should uphold those rights at all costs, but their personal religious identity impacts their views on social platforms that we care about.

     It’s not unconstitutional for citizens to ask to be informed on this aspect of their lives just as we are their marriages, where they went to school and whether they grew up rich, poor or somewhere in between. All these factors mold them into the candidates they’ve become and have profound influence on their decisions. Before we decide whom to entrust with the highest office in the land we have a right to know about their religious views.

     Romney and Obama’s views on faith, more than their particular denomination, moved from the private realm into the realm of public scrutiny when they accepted their party’s nominations in recent weeks. Both candidates say they are heavily influenced by their faith but they haven’t told us how that translates into their politics.

     We know Romney is a Mormon but how does that affect his political views? Maybe there is something in particular about his Mormon faith that would make him a stellar president but he needs to tell us what that is.

      Obama, who joined the United Church of Christ in his 20s, has said he reads the Bible almost daily, and that his support of policies for the underprivileged stems from the “ethics Jesus Christ taught,” but his blend of traditional Christianity and progressive social values still remains a mystery.

A recent study of voting patterns in Congress found that legislators follow ideology and party affiliation, no matter what their religion, and a 2008 Pew study found that 44 percent of Americans have changed faiths at least once. We need to look beyond denominational lines to what a candidate’s faith means to them personally.

Anti-Catholicism almost kept John F. Kennedy out of the White House in 1960 and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were Southern Baptists, but Evangelicals opposed their nominations. It’s not about a denomination but about how religion shapes their character and belief system.

Religion is an intensely personal thing but, before a candidate finds himself occupying the West Wing, it should become a part of public domain.

Are we thankful enough?

     Gratitude is defined as a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. Being grateful makes us aware of the good things in our lives and recent mental health studies are discovering the link between gratitude and what it can do for us – better sleep and better attitudes.
      But are we thankful enough?
     How many of us spend time considering how blessed we are? As we go through our sometimes mundane daily activities do we reflect on all the good things in our lives or do we take them for granted without much consideration at all? We’re guessing the latter. It’s easy to do - focusing on our to-do list, which never seems to shorten, or about the bills coming up.  
      Last year researchers discovered links to better sleep among grateful people. A study by a psychology professor published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being reported that writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening helped students worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better afterward.
      Apparently when we focus on the good things in our lives, however minor they may seem, it gives us an overall feeling of well-being and happiness. No more glass half empty.
      But it’s not just about being grateful in our head, we must express it as well. It’s nice to think about how lucky we are to live in a beautiful town, or happy that our children go to safe schools, but to really derive the benefits of a grateful life we should express it to others. 
      The people around us matter and it’s important for us to let them know that the cupcake they surprised us with on a rainy Monday afternoon meant something special to us.
      We can be quickly reminded of the wonderful things in our lives when we see someone who doesn’t have the same things we do. We become conscious of being grateful for our parents when we see someone who lost theirs, or thankful for our vision when we know a blind person and the difficulties they face.
      Many of us might not think of our jobs as something to be grateful for - of course in this economy maybe we do - but they give us the means to buy food to sustain us and shelter our families.
      When faced with the question, “What are you thankful for?” we are easily reminded of the good things in our life - friends, family, laughter, or a place to call home - but we too should know that adversity is also a cause for gratitude. That enemy who helped us uncover our blind spots so we could become a better person, the boy who broke our heart in college but who ultimately helped us mature, and the plethora of mistakes that make up our lives and improved us along the way, all combine to form the great human experience called life. For that we should be grateful.
      Although we may have ups and downs, trials and triumphs throughout our lives, there’s always something for which to be grateful.
      Remember those things and you might just have a better night’s sleep tonight.

Hunger Games passes Potter: Children forced to kill better than magical spells?

     Harry Potter and his magic wand have taken a back seat to Katniss Everdeen and her bow and arrow as Amazon announced last week that “The Hunger Games” trilogy has now outsold all seven of J.K. Rowling’s series about the boy wizard.

     Really?

     How can books whose premise that a central government, in retaliation for an uprising 75 years ago, randomly picks boys and girls aged 12-18 once a year and forces them into a battle to the death surpass in sales one of the biggest cultural icons of the past decade? (Admittedly, the final Harry Potter movies stunk it up worse than the final Star Wars films.)

     When the Harry Potter series made its debut in 1997, a decade before The Games, there was outrage and book bannings across the nation because of its content. Critics said the first book, Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, contained Satanic subtexts because of the wizardy while supporters likened the books to fairy tales like Cinderella. As the series progressed and the tone turned darker, more debate ensued about whether children should be allowed to read them.

     As of last year, J.K. Rowling’s magical creation had sold 450 million copies. Not too bad considering the opposition to it or maybe because of it. Adults never seem to learn that when you tell kids something is bad for them, it only increases their enthusiasm for it.

     Enter The Hunger Games series, which includes the original book plus Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

     In The Hunger Games, the kids aren’t just forced to compete against each other in schoolyard games like Quidditch as in the Potter series, they are made to knife or bludgeon each other to death in their post-apolcalyptic nation Panem, where the countries of North America once existed.

     And what do these kids’ parents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors do? Sit back and enjoy the show. The whole event is televised for all to watch. Sure it’s bad for the 24 kids chosen each year for The Games but hey it’s all good entertainment, right?

     Maybe, like Harry Potter, the books have more to say about us than we realize. Are we really the type of society to sit back and watch while our government does the unthinkable right in front of our eyes, even forcing active participation? Do we enjoy seeing the devastation wrought when people don’t stand up when our neighbors’ rights are thrown over?

     In The Hunger Games, the “show’s producers” insert obstacles into the game to make it more entertaining for the “at-home” audience. The horrors unleashed on the players during the Games - the wolf-like creatures called Wolf Muttations,  and Tracker Jackers, genetically-altered wasps trained to attack anyone who disturbs their nest - just made for better story.

     Perhaps The Hunger Games aren’t all that different from the reality show Survivor (except the death part, of course) or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. As long as it’s entertainment we’re all good.

     But, it still strikes us as telling that a decade ago libraries were banning a mostly-innocent tale of magic wands and haunted castles and to date no one has uttered a peep about a popular book series with a plot so dark that if a student turned in a plot-synopsis for an essay, they would be shuttled off to the school shrink.

      The question is: have adults finally given up worrying about what kids read or have we all turned a little darker?

We’ll ponder that one while we take a break from reading Fifty Shades of Grey, which is also bounding up the all-time best-seller list.

When we change recreation, swing for the fences

     It used to be that in any southern town the most anticipated event was Friday night football, regardless of whether or not you had a kid involved in the game.

     It's fun to have everyone gather to cheer on the home team, and even better if it happens to be the week our team is duking it out for bragging rights against a hated rival. We, in the south, love our football and we love sports in general.

     But our county recreation department hasn’t offered youth football in 20 years.

     Now, the Jasper Youth Sports Association boasts over 300 kids playing football and cheering this fall. JYSA also has a competitive spring traveling baseball team, tumbling classes, and is expanding into a wrestling program.

     With the successful Jasper Youth Sports Association, the opportunity for the county to host football in their park and enjoy the packed stands and busy concession booths the sport brings is gone.

     To borrow a saying, “If you build it, they will come, but if you don’t have it, they will go elsewhere.”

     Although the county does have a soccer league, another group, Mountain City Soccer, sprung up when the recreation department wouldn't get behind soccer development.     Mountain City Soccer now has more than 150 kids playing in a fall soccer league, despite the county's concurrent program. Similarly, the local swim team, with more than 80 swimmers each summer, is run by a coach who developed her own program and is unaffiliated with the recreation department. A few years ago First Christian Church started sponsoring Upward sports with leagues in basketball, cheerleading and soccer.

     It’s a shame that kids had to go to other places to fill needs, as the loss of players hastens the decline in county programs. Less than five years ago, opening day for softball/baseball saw 800-plus kids in the players’ parade, but by last spring that number diminished to almost half that.

     These shortcomings of the recreation program here most certainly extend way back before the last director was hired and fired. But as long as the county sees fit to make a change in direction, let’s make a big one, a complete overhaul. As long as there will be a new director, we urge the county to rebuild the parks/recreation from the ground up.

     There was much more wrong with the program than a single director, and bringing our county’s parks up to speed isn’t going to be corrected by adding just one new face. It will start with dedication from a county government that realizes the value of  having parks and programs here that are at least on par with neighboring counties.

     Even though we don't have the financial resources of counties to the south, and though Pickens starts well behind counties to the north in park facilities, new efforts in recreation will pay off.

     And this isn’t a plea for spending money on new gyms and fields. It’s a call for creative thinking about how to rejuvenate the program. Consider that Cherokee County boasts an array of sports and activities for kids, from fencing and yoga to dance classes, flag football, wiffle ball, and running and walking groups.  We have facilities for all those offerings.

     And these sports are not just for kids. People of all ages need recreation and the county should encourage adults and seniors to get busy with organized activities and classes as well. It’s hard to get taxpayers on board for recreation unless we show them there is something for people besides basketball players in the gyms.

     Sometimes it doesn't take more money, just ingenuity and the desire to get it done. Let’s throw for the end zone when we make this change.

School smoking ban: One vice as bad as the other

     The board of education last week banned smoking on all of its campuses and athletic fields, saying kids don’t need to see adults and role models around them practicing such a harmful vice. That’s true.
      Indisputable studies define the link between cancer and smoking. Each year in the United States, some 443,000 people die, because of issues related to cigarette smoking––that’s according to the Centers for Disease Control.
      Smoking is bad for us. If you don’t know that, you’ve been living in denial since 1950, the year the first major study showed the link between smoking and lung cancer. It is estimated that in that same year more than half of the U.S. population smoked. Today the number has dropped. Just 19.8 percent of Americans light up. Enormous public pressure has reduced smoking in the United States over the past decade.
      The school board is jumping late onto this bandwagon and playing it safe in its choice of which health problem to address. Smokers already are outlawed or at least vilified in public spaces across the country. With the exception of two school board members, few defend smoker rights.
      But if the school board sees itself as needing to set a role model standard, here’s something else to chew on, if you’ll pardon the pun.
     Hasn’t the school board bugled the attack on one vice while turning a blind eye to a more pressing health problem: obesity?       
      Smoking is a bad habit for students and adults, and the board is right to discourage it, but the policy is not a courageous stand. If the board really wants to show it is serious about influencing the community, how about some attention to diet, exercise, plus healthy food and drink choices?
      In 2012 our most pressing health challenge is obesity, particularly for the youngest students. During the past 20 years, a dramatic obesity increase has bulged in the United States with more than one-third of adults (some 35%) tipping the scales in the obese range. The obesity rates among adults and children, even children as young as toddlers, are staggeringly high. And the South and the Appalachians rank as the worst of the worst, according to a recent study published by the CDC.
      But when the state started to address student obesity with mandatory weigh-ins last year, local administration officials and board members either decried the move as an intrusion of government into private lives or remained silent.
      It seems our board would rather choose an easy target like smoking, ignoring the at-the-moment more serious health bomb obesity poses. Far better for the board to battle against extra calories––changing bake sales to fresh apple sales––or forcing teachers to offer something besides soft drinks, cookies and ice cream at school parties. But that would take some serious political courage. Look at the reaction when other public agencies tried to limit portion size.
With studies piling up to show our health is at serious risk because of our eating habits, perhaps the board should crack the whip on what booster clubs sell from campus concession stands. And yes, we are talking about those beloved nachos, those deliciously bad corn chips with melted fake cheese that boast a whopping 1,100 calories plus 60 grams of fat.
     Obesity-related maladies include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. In 2008, according to the CDC, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion. The latest study by the CDC shows the South has the highest prevalence of obesity, more than any other part of the country, though it’s doubtful northern concession stands sell anything much different from what ours sell.    
We’re not asking that school concession stands start stocking only organic Granny Smith apples, but if the school board wants to convert our school system into a role model for healthy living, it cannot just throw its weight around against an already maligned group of smokers while ignoring a worse problem for students.