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Staff Editorials

A completely reactionary opinion on climate change

    Critics often dismiss ideas as “reactionary”  -- meaning something is not valid because it is a reaction to an emotional event.
    Well, this is a completely reactionary opinion on climate change inspired by last Wednesday’s weather.
    Wednesday we had what might be described as a bad spring storm. Kids in local schools spent a portion of their day in hallways following tornado drill protocol; activities were canceled.
    A couple of roads were closed, minor flooding occurred. Even though damage here didn’t get beyond a few downed trees and wet basements, nerves were on edge most of the morning and into the afternoon.
    Pickens came out pretty well compared to the nearby areas. Fannin, Gordon and Bartow counties saw tornado damage.
    The Jan. 30 storms caused an estimated $75 million in insured losses, Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens announced. This was an early estimate according to the insurance office spokesperson and more reports were expected to be filed later.
    The troubling thing about this spring storm is that it’s January. It’s ridiculous that we had to fret over a thunderstorm this time of year when we should be worrying about ice storms instead.    
    We don’t like thunderstorms and strong winds any time in Pickens County. We’ve had enough storms that tore down houses and killed people here that you don’t blame anyone for getting nervous when the winds pick up.
    The last thing we want is more dramatic weather to come every year.
    You can argue that this tornado in January was a pure fluke, an odd occurrence and not indicative of anything. After all, it was just one storm that occurred out-of season –it’s not like frogs fell from the sky.
    But around the globe, there’s been so much abnormal weather that the unusual is now the norm.
    As Bill Gausman, a senior vice president at the Potomac Electric Power Company told the New York Times, “We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now.”
    Here are just a few of the current flukes:
    • Coldest winter in China in 30 years. In Mongolia 180,000 livestock froze to death.
     • It’s been so cold in Russia that street lights stopped working.
    • 8 inches of snow fell in Jerusalem this year – if you don’t remember Jesus and his disciples dealing with icy conditions, weather experts said the recent snow was “truly unusual.”
    • Drought and heat conditions in America’s farm belt caused all types of food-related issues last year.
    • New Jersey and New York got hit so hard by a hurricane that it caused New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a popular conservative, to take up the climate change banner with zeal.    
    • Texas A & M researchers have theorized the above average temperatures of the past summers in their region are outside the limits of what highways are designed to withstand.
    People who believe that climate change is occurring and it is caused by gases that human activity releases into the atmosphere will cite these weather aberrations as proof.
    People who argue against human created climate change will say those are reactionary arguments as there have always been storms.
    Even if those who deny climate change turn out to be right, when we have tornado sirens going off in January, it bears serious consideration that if anything we are doing is causing it, then we need to stop.
    Yes, we are reactionary; we don’t like tornadoes or droughts or hurricanes and we sure don’t want any more of them than necessary.
    As the old saying goes “better safe than sorry.”

Keep the night skies dark

Submitted by Keep Pickens Beautiful

    "Once a source of wonder -- and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze.
    Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone." (International Dark-Sky Association, http://www.darksky.org)
    Light pollution is any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, decreased visibility at night, energy waste, and more(http://mcdonaldobservatory.org). 
    As our community grows and additional structures and businesses are built, the need for lighting is inevitable. But we have options, and it’s up to us to make choices that will help preserve our amazing night skies.
    Now is the time to establish some guidelines that will help preserve our dark skies. Many communities throughout the United States have adopted ordinances, including Cherokee County (Cherokee County Zoning Ordinance Article 25 – Outdoor Lighting and Road Glare).
    Once obtrusive lighting is installed, it’s difficult to remove. Let’s use lighting that will provide adequate (actually superior) security while also focusing the light where its needed….downwards - illuminating an intruder, not the guard or observer.
    While its important to install county guidelines, there are many things we can do at home to help reduce light pollution and road glare.        You can start with your own yard by adopting good lighting practices.
    You have many options to adequately illuminate your property without negatively affecting your neighbors.
    Blinding, glaring lights are not always the most effective security measure; focused lighting is a much better deterrent to unwanted visitors.
    The solution to light pollution is 90 percent  education and public awareness, and 10 percent technology.
    Show examples of good lighting to your friends and neighbors. Once people see it in action, and understand its implications for cost savings and enhanced visibility, they are far more likely to adopt good lighting practices on their own.| (http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/darkskies)
    Please let our local officials know that you believe preserving our dark skies is important. While reducing our light pollution at home is a step in the right direction, controlling lighting at retail centers is much more significant.
    Let’s follow the lead of communities like Flagstaff, Arizona, Homer Glen, Illinois, and the other International Dark Sky Communities, as well as Cherokee County and their new Outdoor Lighting and Road Glare ordinance.
     Let’s keep Pickens County’s skies dark so we can preserve our nighttime environment.

 

County must really make cuts to budget this time

    Everybody hates numbers, especially when they are large and represent money you don’t have. But readers, pay close attention to this re-telling of our county’s attempts at trimming the budget thus far:
    In September, 2012 the commissioner was seeking a 9 percent property tax increase that would have generated a little over $650,000 in extra money for the county. But bowing to public pressure, Commission Chairman Robert Jones (with the pledged cooperation of all the elected officials), cut the tax increase back to 4.5 percent.
    Commissioner Jones and the other elected officials said they would make up the $650,000 shortfall in the county budget using $328,347 in additional taxes from the 4.5 percent increase and then make cuts or find other revenues to cover the remaining $322,000.
    Sounds like a plan. But, when the 2013 budget was released a few weeks later, the pledged cuts hadn’t materialized and the budget had actually grown by 2.48 percent or $483,837.
    The county’s new CFO explained that this seeming reverse resulted from inaccurate budget figures used by the previous CFO and the increase in the budget came from new revenue and would not require any additional taxes. To her credit, having an accurate picture is essential to getting a handle on this mess.        The commissioner was emphatic in adopting the budget that while it was up, they were trimming spending that comes from taxes.
    Now, let’s jump to January 2013, the recently installed three person commission in their very first meeting, pledges to cut $1 million from the $19.9 million because the county is left with no other choice but to cut back.
    The county is not facing any immediate financial cliff but the fund balance reserves are drying up and cuts are needed by the end of this month to be effective.
    So to summarize, the county had $650,000 in budget cuts/new revenue needs in September of last year. Instead of making any cuts, they added $483,837 to the budget for 2013 and now we need $1 million in cuts to be made quickly.
    It doesn’t take a financial analysis or audit to see that we have gone in the wrong direction since September when the officials pledged to get serious about cutting.
    We’ll say no more in our words. This is from the open letter that the meeting of all the elected officials produced and was presented through Commissioner Jones last September:
    “County spending will change next year. You asked for it to be decreased and it will be decreased. County services will not be at it current level next year because cuts will be made. My understanding from the comments made to me over the past few weeks are that we are willing to spend a little more time in line to pay our property taxes and we are willing to wait a few more days for a building inspector if that means our property taxes don’t increase. I and the rest of your elected officials will make those cuts and we will make them as a team.”
    – Page 14A, September 13th, 2012, Pickens Progress

 

Praying before public meetings comes under fire nationally

    For as long as anyone can remember, every time a local city council or the school board or county government holds a public meeting in Pickens County, officials have begun with a prayer.
    But according to recent media stories, some citizens across the nation are taking issue with public prayers before meetings. There are at least five lawsuits around the country challenging pre-meeting prayers; one in California and New York (no surprise in those states), but also in Missouri and our neighboring Tennessee and Florida.
    When it comes to the expression of religion through prayer, we don’t envy lawmakers who are asked to decide on the constitutionality of such matters.
    As with any issue there are supporters and opponents, both with reasonable arguments. Supporters of the pre-meeting prayers say it’s a long-standing tradition that reaches back to our nation’s founders. They also point out that prayer is not mandatory for those who choose not to participate. But opponents say the prayers make them feel uncomfortable and cite the established principle of separation of church and state as reasons to abandon the practice.
    Pre-meeting prayer advocates say that in addition to spiritual benefits, vocalized prayers remind public officials to do good work and set a reverent tone for communities. Opponents say the mix of politics and religion is inappropriate – you don’t go to church for a discussion of the city budget so why expect the reverse at the council meetings.
    Not pertinent to the legal issues, it’s interesting to note that the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:5-6) advises praying in private, rather than making a public display.
    Ultimately, we recommend doing what’s right for the community where the prayers take place, not following a national decision. Let’s face it, views on the lawsuits in New York and California are going to be drastically different than in Tennessee. What works for one area may not be appropriate in others and in Pickens County there is a clearly a longstanding tradition of Christian prayer that, to date, has not been met with any complaints.
    In fairness there may be some who are uncomfortable that aren’t ever going to speak out -- criticizing prayers in Pickens County isn’t going to sit well with the vast majority of the populace. 
    This is a case where the federal courts need to recognize the diversity in the nation and leave it up to each community to decide what works for their citizens. One community cited in an Associated Press story voted by straw poll ballot to proceed with pre-meeting prayers in the face of threatened lawsuit with the sentiment being that if they have to fork over tax dollars later to defend the practice, it’s money well spent.
    Even though Pickens County is made up of an overwhelming number of Christians, if we pray at our public meetings, we encourage all boards and bodies to be inclusive of others’ rights to religious freedom of expression and not favor one religion over another. It’s most unlikely a Hindu or Buddhist will come forward for equal time but under the large label of Christians, we’d hope that all churches here are offered chances to pray in the style they use at their worship services. And, should another religion show up, the mixing of faiths went over well at a nationally televised program held to offer comfort following the Connecticut school shooting.
    Like the America of Washington’s time, Pickens County is primarily a “Christian” nation, but perhaps there is no greater strength of character than being accepting of others’ religious rights as our Founding Fathers most clearly were.
    So as we continue our prayers at official meetings our officials should always feel free to seek the guidance of a higher power, and may we be tolerant of different views, not just to keep lawsuits at bay but in the spirit of what our country was founded on.

Believe or not? UFO spottings intrigue us

   Follow the link for this week's account of an August UFO sighting in the Ivy Ridge subdivision.

     Whether you’ve giggled at our front page stories the past few weeks regarding UFO sightings, or have been excited by the possibility that something unexplained happened here, we’ll bet you’ve at least been curious.
    Based on numerous calls and e-mails, we can safely say members of this community have strong opinions on whether strange lights in night skies are just military aircraft or something more “far out,” even alien in nature.
    Since the first story ran about the strange sky sightings back in November,  we’ve had a steady stream of phone calls, visits and emails from readers willing to share their thoughts with us,  and some who only wanted to tell us privately about the time they saw that strange thing in the sky. Several wanted to let us know that aliens simply don’t exist and there was no way a flying saucer crossed our sky.
    Our conversations, either face-to-face or by e-mail, have ranged from someone with a professional science background who has personal evidence that UFOs of the alien type do exist, to a person who said the whole idea of life elsewhere is absurd because of religious reasons.
    Whatever the reason the UFO stories have struck such a nerve, we have enjoyed the discussions and interactions with readers.
    We enjoy input from readers on the serious subjects like taxes and government spending, and we certainly appreciate that people take the time to comment on weighty subjects (as they have this week on the letters page regarding our campus security editorial last week).
    But this UFO subject is different because it’s fun -- so far no one claims to have been abducted and probed. One couple told us at the chamber meeting  this Tuesday that they certainly don’t believe in aliens, but have enjoyed the stories as a chance to lighten up during the cold winter weather.
    And we agree. Whether you believe in ET or War of the Worlds scenarios or whether you think those ideas are better left to crazed retirees travelling the country in RVs, it’s entertaining to talk about aliens.
    These type of “sightings” are nothing new, however.
    Back in 1947, an amateur pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported a “flying saucer” near Mount Rainier in Washington. Arnold reported seeing a chain of nine objects shoot across the sky, glinting in the sun as they traveled. Arnold told reporters at the time that he gauged the objects to be about 45 to 50 feet wide and flew between two mountains spaced 50 miles apart in just 1 minute, 42 seconds. If Arnold was right the objects reached a speed of 1,700 miles per hour, or three times faster than any manned aircraft of the era.
    The folks who saw the sky light up in Pickens County back in November may not have seen alleged spacecrafts breaking new sound barriers or shooting aliens out of pods to invade, but the question remains, “What did they see?”
    The nation’s opinion of “flying saucers,” a term coined in 1947 by Arnold, may not be what you expect. Last year’s survey of Americans  found 80 million of us, or 36 percent of the population, believe UFOs are real.  A full one in 10 of us say we’ve personally witnessed an alien spaceship, according to a survey commissioned by the National Geographic Channel.
    UFOs, like Bigfoot, ghosts, psychics and urban legends, are often viewed with complete skepticism, yet dedicated viewers tune in to reality shows on these subjects every week to scoff at the people on camera.
    OK, maybe studies have established that the majority of UFO observations are misidentified conventional objects or natural phenomena like aircraft, balloons, clouds, meteors or just bright planets, or even well-planned hoaxes. But what if some aren’t? Most investigators acknowledge that between five and 20 percent of  reported sightings remain unexplained, and therefore can be classified as unidentified in the strictest sense.
    When astronauts like Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell return from the moon willing to say he believes in aliens, why can’t we explore the possibilities?