Pam's Points: Snaking our way through faith, love, electric power

Pam's Points: Snaking our way through faith, love, electric power

February 4th, 2014 in Opinion Times

Gregory Coots carries two rattlesnakes across the stage during a Wednesday evening service at the Full Gospel Tabernacle In Jesus Name church located in Middlesboro, Ky.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Take it on faith

Handling snakes for the Lord. Rattlesnakes. All to tempt miracles.

Isn't faith strong enough without staging God to perform a miracle-on-demand, right now, in front of the fangs of a snake you're trying to exploit?

The same snake handlers - in the name of holiness - want "freedom" to worship in their Pentecostal way without the Tennessee authorities charging the pastor and confiscating 53 snakes - many so emaciated and diseased that more than half died.

There is a reason the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1878 that the government may regulate certain religious practices if they were viewed as dangerous to society. "So Mormons could believe in polygamy, they just couldn't practice it. Same goes for snake handlers," wrote Chattanooga Times Free Press staff writer Kevin Hardy in Sunday's paper.

That same law, hopefully, should ban the 22-year-old pastor or others like him from bringing a box of snakes to Market Street or the UTC campus or a park near you.

But just for doubters, here are two comparisons: More than 900 followers lined up to drink poison punch and give it to their children in the Jonestown Massacre at Jim Jones' People's Temple. More recently, Islamic extremists have said they serve God when they strap bombs to their chests and board airliners or walk into public buildings.

Faith really is anything but extreme. Faith is simple. It is, or it isn't.

Browns Ferry improvements

Speaking of faith: This spring, TVA's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant will finally come out of the nearly three-year shadow of a "red" finding - the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's most severe nuclear plant safety assessment short of ordering a plant to shut down.

Tennessee Valley Authority's three-reactor 1960s-era plant near Athens, Ala., has been under the red flag since May 2011, shortly after the utility discovered a blocked valve in a key emergency system that had gone undetected for about 18 months. Regulators said the broken valve could have prevented the safe cooling and shutdown of the reactor.

As NRC inspectors began to look at the TVA practices and policies that lead to the problem, they found more concerns - some that cast doubt on the entire "culture" of safety work, maintenance and even training in TVA's nuclear program.

The lifting of the finding is good - excellent, even. It signals that TVA has embraced what Brown's Ferry site vice president Keith Polson called a "drive" to sustained performance improvements.

But that drive didn't come without a cost to TVA and to us - the ratepayers. The red safety finding triggered intensive special inspection teams from the NRC, and TVA had to foot the bill. In 2011, when the swarms of inspections began, the NRC inspection rate was $273 an hour per inspector - on top of the $1.5 million a year fee TVA paid NRC for routine onsite inspectors. In January 2012, TVA officials said the utility was reserving $8 million in the 2012 nuclear budget just for the regulatory work associated that year with the red finding.

A million here, a million there. But consider the alternative: Our cost is a drop in the bucket compared to the cleanup costs of Fukushima, a near-twin to the Brown's Ferry plant that was unable to cool down safety after a natural disaster in Japan.

Labor of love?

Some 1,600 hourly workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant will vote by secret ballot from Feb. 12-14 to approve or not approve union representation by the United Auto Workers. For months, UAW has been talking with Volkswagen about establishing a German-style works council, which would be the first of its kind in the United States.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee chambers of commerce have decried the possible move, even as a majority of workers at the VW plant already had signed cards registering them as future members of UAW. Anti union groups called for the secret ballot, claiming some card signers were pressured.

Well, come Valentine's Day, the secret balloting will be done, and we'll see what labor calls love.