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Staff Editorials

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.

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.

 

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.”

Zombies versus snooty English people

    It’s true America is a nation divided; a country split into two parties with fundamentally different beliefs and outlooks on life – some of us like zombie shows and others prefer British dramas.
    A large number of us want to watch marauding brain-eating zombies while others insist, for inexplicable reasons, on watching British gentry prattle on about some mischief the servants are up to.
    Boiling points are reached every Sunday at 9 p.m., thanks to diabolical television schedulers. That is when everyone is forced to choose sides. You either choose zombies or you choose snooty English people. For it is at that precise time that The Walking Dead airs on AMC while Downton Abbey shows on PBS – throwing every household in this nation into chaos, splitting families down the middle.
    If men are from Mars and women from Venus, everyone could go back to their home planet on Sunday nights and happily watch zombie killing on the red planet, while the fairer sex would get together and discuss the intricacies of what Maggie Smith said at a tea, as opposed to what she said at dinner.
    Not to be sexist, but facts are facts - this division most often comes down to gender. Dudes like zombie killing, about a thousand to one more than Masterpiece Classic shows featuring people polishing silverware. Women, on the other hand, may enjoy a good zombie-braining from time to time, but are more apt to miss it when confronted with a show from an elegant British manor house on another channel.
    This essential difference has bedeviled household harmony since the cave days. Even with technology that allows easy show recording, the one who controls the remote, drives the household.
    The two shows represent the two faces of our culture. The Walking Dead features oodles and oodles of zombie killing action. Zombies are dispatched at a high rate with crossbows, shovels, pipes, samurai swords and occasionally plain ol’ guns – when the writers run out of other ideas.
    The Walking Dead, which provides a compelling plot as well as useful post-apocalyptic survival tips, is both entertaining and educational for many of us – Never trust people with eye-patches when civilization breaks down.
    Unfortunately, the forces of Venus have seen fit to put a show on Georgia Public Broadcasting that spends many, many minutes of nothing but a bunch of snooty English people wielding their wit and manners against each other and the hordes of the non-aristocrats who surround them. However, this show, which features all the excitement of watching someone mow grass, apparently casts a hypnotic spell over a certain percentage of the public.
    It was bad enough two weeks ago when Downton Abbey came up against the SuperBowl and some households missed part of the biggest football game of the year. In some cases “the ladyships” simply banished their husbands to the servant quarters (kids’ rooms) to watch one of the best NFL grand finales in American history alone, not on their recliners and far from their tankards of ale.
    This Valentine's Day what we propose is a compromise of sorts. Maybe every once in a while a half-rotted zombie can run amuck through the halls of the manor house and eat a butler or some incidental cousin to the dowager, conversely the rugged band of survivalists in the Walking Dead could once every show drone on endlessly about proper etiquette while fleeing a horde of ravenous zombies.
    In the spirit of Valentine’s Day we’d like to suggest a new series, The Walking Dead of Downton Abbey.

 

Cove Road unsuitable for key thoroughfare

    Any one driving from northeast Pickens to Jasper for a Valentine evening outing  may have found themselves at a standstill on the long uphill leading from the bridge at Long Swamp Creek into town.
    And anyone trying to get home to places like Still Hollow, Hickory Cove, as well as the large gated communities of Bent Tree and Big Canoe found themselves similarly brought to a halt as they made the turn on to Cove Road last Thursday.
    The traffic snarl resulted from a two-car wreck at the intersection of Cove Road and Old Cove/Old Grandview roads. The intersection sits at the end of a sloping curve that can take drivers coming from town unawares if cars are stopped waiting to take a left.
    Speed can always be a problem, but the larger problem is that Cove Road is unsuited as the major east-west county thoroughfare it has become. Especially in the first four miles out of Jasper, Cove Road is steep and curvy. Wrecks are common in this stretch, especially in the narrow S-turns on the east side of Long Swamp Creek (commonly called the Cove).
    Having this road closed while emergency crews deal with auto-accidents is not uncommon. Christmas Eve also saw motorists waiting. Fortunately, there have been very few fatalities here. None are recalled in recent years.
    Cove Road with the creek, and old marble mines is a scenic drive. It was never planned to handle heavy traffic volumes.
    Based on recent population estimates, it’s fairly safe to say that a quarter of the roughly 30,000 people in Pickens live in the northeast quadrant of the county. And for a majority of these homes, Cove Road represents their best route to reach Jasper or Highway 515 for further commutes.
    Big Canoe and Bent Tree, with more than 3,000 combined households in Pickens County, including weekend getaway rentals are both accessed from Jasper via Cove Road.
    Highway 53 offers an alternative at some points. But once you get past a certain point coming to Jasper, you have to know your county backroads fairly well to detour off Cove. It can be done but not quickly and you can end up on even narrower routes.
    At one point the powers-that-be sought a reservoir in the Cove area to supply Pickens County and Jasper water needs. An added benefit touted was the construction of a dam offered the chance to re-build the most troublesome portion of this road – the section around Long Swamp Creek.
    But reservoir plans all drowned in state regulations and this is no longer mentioned as a likely plan, though it remains an idea we would like to see pursued.
    For now, we’d strongly urge the county to put a very generic item “find traffic alternatives to Cove Road” near the top of their long range plans.
    This might take the form of expanding that road; adding another route that parallels it; re-building portions of that road or something not even thought of yet.    
    NOTED: none of the options come easily, cheaply or without years of planning, lobbying and work. The topography created by the Long Swamp Creek Gorge, running all the way to Marble Hill from the Grandview area, presents a formidable natural obstacle. It’s not the Grand Canyon – not even the Grand Canyon of Georgia, but any road crossing will strain planners, road builders and budgeters.
    None of the options mentioned here (aside from the reservoir) appear very good. We know that another route through the area is difficult to envision. We know that it will be a monumental task to widen/straighten a road that has sheer cliffs alongside it.
    But we recognize, (looking at regular wrecks on a windy route that is the key east-west connector in the most populated area of the county) that the choice of doing nothing is the only option that shouldn’t be considered.