Another Town, Another School: Mass Shooting Pandemic Continues to Infect America

Yesterday another mass shooting occurred at an elementary school in America.

If the above sentence sounds devoid of emotion, it could be because at this point what more emotion is there to give at the constant and senseless acts of mass violence committed by individuals and their guns targeted at innocent people just trying to learn, or as was the case a couple of weeks ago in Buffalo, NY, just trying to get groceries?

In fact, when the first alerts started popping up on my phone, I shrugged it off as just the typical end of school year in America news. It wasn’t until the death toll numbers started to rise that I started to pay more attention.

As a journalist, I am trained to keep my emotions out of a story and just capture the facts. I like to think that is why I did not feel enraged when the first stories about the shooting started coming across my phone. In realty though, I did feel an emotion. I felt numb after realizing I don’t have any more rage to give with all of this senseless death and inaction by politicians at the local and national level to do anything about the pandemic of gun violence that shows no sign of stopping.

Within a single fourth grade classroom at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX, 19 children and two teachers were killed.
Photo R. Anderson

Within a single fourth grade classroom at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX, 19 children and two teachers were killed.

The fact that they were fourth graders hits a little close to home.

Back in my twenties and early thirties when my mom was working as a fourth-grade teacher, I would often visit her classroom.

Some years I volunteered as a weekly math instructor, and other times I just gave them a career day style speech about what it was like to be a journalist.

Thinking back now on how full of life and curiosity those kids were makes it extra difficult to picture the victims of the latest shooting were killed before their lives really had a chance to take off.

Some of the victims were even murdered on the same day as the end of school awards ceremony, which should have been a day of happiness and celebration. Instead, it was a day of death and destruction.

Even those who survived will carry scars for the rest of their lives. All of the students and staff of Robb Elementary School, along with their families and the larger community are victims. Some were just lucky enough to be called survivors.

Shortly after the shooting, and before many of the bodies had even been identified through DNA evidence based on what happens when an assault rifle tears through the body of 10-year-old child, a Texas politician, who I refuse to name, stayed “on brand” when he said that the solution to ending gun violence was to arm more citizens.

Following a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, TX in 2019, instead of cracking down on guns, Texas made it easier for people to get guns by eliminating burdensome gun permitting and training requirements that had caused citizens to have to wait a few days to get their guns and also show that they took a course to know how to responsibly use them.

Following a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, TX in 2019, instead of cracking down on guns, Texas made it easier for people to get guns by eliminating burdensome gun permitting and training requirements that had caused citizens to have to wait a few days to get their guns and also show that they took a course to know how to responsibly use them.
Photo R. Anderson

In Texas they seem to go by a belief that one is just endowed with an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit and possession of as many firearms as possible.

By eliminating the pesky paperwork and allowing open Constitutional Carry, Texas lawmakers made it easier to wear a gun outside one’s pants for all the honest world to feel as the song goes.

Before I continue, let me get this statement out of the way, lest people stop reading. I am not saying to ban all guns. I am not saying the Second Amendment should be struck from the United States Constitution.

What I am saying is, who in their right mind would think that average citizens need to own assault weapons that were designed to inflict mass carnage on a battlefield in times of war?

Think of the types of guns that were around when the founding fathers wrote the Second Amendment, and then ask yourself whether those same men would have guaranteed such a wide-ranging freedom of gun ownership, without specific caveats related to high powered weapons, if assault rifles had been around at the time of the writing of the Constitution.

There is a big difference between saying someone has the right to own a single shot musket versus saying they have the right to own a high-powered assault rifle with a large capacity magazine.

This weekend while many families of the victims of the Uvalde shooting are burying their children in tiny coffins, five hours away in Houston, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem are among the many politicians scheduled to address the attendees at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meeting that kicks off 72 hours after the Robb Elementary School shooting.

To his credit, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has decided not to attend the meeting due to an “unexpected change” in his schedule. Additionally, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston) has opted out citing travel to Ukraine as his reason for missing the event.

One can only hope that others encounter similar unexpected schedule changes between now and the start of the conference. It is easy to say you can’t attend because you are out of the country. It is far braver to tell the NRA that you are choosing not to attend out of principle versus travel plans.

The tight knit attached at the hip holster relationship between some politicians and the gun lobbies demonstrates why it is so hard to enact common sense gun reform in America.  After every mass shooting, people call out for their elected leaders to do something about the uniquely American issue of gun violence.

Yet, instead of making lasting reform, politicians will send out thoughts and prayers and try to paint the shooter as either a lone wolf who had racist ideals, or a lone wolf who had mental health struggles.

Speaking of the mental health excuse, in a turn of phrase more suited to a 19th Century Charles Dickens novel than a 21st Century press conference following a mass shooting at an elementary school, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said earlier today that the fault in the shooting was not that of a system that allowed an 18-year-old person to buy an assault rifle and over 350 rounds of ammunition.

Instead, Abbott said that the fault fell on the community of Uvalde for not having the mental health hospital bed capacity to lock away people suffering from mental illness. Abbott definitely stayed on the guns don’t kill people branding.

To paraphrase a line from A Christmas Carol, Abbott seems to be channeling his inner Ebenezer Scrooge by saying that those with mental illness had best be locked away to decrease the surplus population of mass shootings. Pointing out all of the flaws in that stance is definitely a column for another day.

The problem with the labeling every mass shooter as a lone wolf approach is that once you start counting all of the lone wolves, they start to form a pack and bring light to a larger issue that cannot be so easily swept away by saying it was merely a single shooter.

Again, I am not saying that people do not have a right to bare arms. But seriously, what purpose does an AR-15, or other assault rifle have other than to deliver as many bullets as possible in the shortest amount of time?

Early in my journalism career, I had the opportunity to interview a man who traveled the country teaching high school students how to survive an active shooter attack at their school. Promoting a common-sense approach may have worked 20 years ago, but I have to question whether that approach nowadays is the equivalent of telling students to hide under a desk during nuclear fallout.
Photo R. Anderson

Early in my journalism career, I had the opportunity to interview a man who traveled the country teaching high school students how to survive an active shooter attack at their school.

School shootings were relatively rare when I wrote that article. In the years since, there have been countless school shootings and lives lost inside classrooms across the country. School active shooting drills have gone from a novelty item to a part of daily life for school children of all ages.

The program was sponsored in part by a funeral home. Let that sink in for a moment. A funeral home where victims of a school shooting would end up sponsored a program trying to let students know how to survive an active shooter.

However, as many active shooter cases have shown through the years, no amount of training or preparation can stop someone in body armor from barricading themselves in a classroom and shooting innocent children and teachers at will.

I am forever grateful that when I was in school my greatest fear was whether I would get to the bus stop in time, and not whether or not some lunatic was going to burst through the door and kill me and my classmates.
Photo R. Anderson

I am forever grateful that when I was in school my greatest fear was whether I would get to the bus stop on time, and not whether or not some lunatic was going to burst through the door and kill me and my classmates.

We should not continue to accept a narrative that we are a society where going to school and going to get groceries means that we could be used for target practice.

We should also not try to quickly say that every shooter was just a lone wolf who fell through the cracks of the mental health care system, or a racist with unique ideas, and therefore there is nothing to see here kids.

Of course, if history is any indication, after the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting are buried this weekend, and the NRA convention wraps up in Houston, it will be business as usual with thoughts and prayers for all, and guns available for purchase as far as the eye can see.

And, if Governor Abbott has his way a new mental health hospital will break ground in Uvalde.

Enough is enough.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see if I can make sense out of that another senseless act of violence and see what steps I can take to prevent another one.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Another Year of Observing Friday the 13th During a Pandemic

Last year, on Friday, August 13, 2021 I wrote my semi annual column about Friday the 13th. The column featured a pandemic twist with the thought that by the time the next Friday the 13th rolled around the pandemic would be over and the only thing to fear on Friday the 13th would be bad horror movies and superstitious people.

Oh how wrong I was, as once again Friday the 13th has arrived in the middle of a pandemic.

With that in mind, I present once again my thoughts on Friday the 13th on the only 13th of Friday that will befall us in 2022.

I first explored the Friday the 13th phenomena during the before times of 2015. Partly because I was feeling too lazy to come up with a new topic, and partly because it is still relevant today, I figured I would give Friday the 13th another look.

Consider this the surviving Friday the 13th during a global pandemic edition part two with all new material not seen in the 2015 and 2021 versions of this column.

While one could argue that the fear of Friday the 13th has about as much scientific backing as people claiming that masks actually cause disease, the simple fact is that Friday the 13th is just a day like any other day.

Each year has at least one Friday the 13th but there can be as many as three in a 365-day span.

For many people a black cat crossing their paths is a sign of bad luck. Were that cat to cross their path on Friday the 13th they might think that it was even worse luck.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2015 when I first wrote about the topic, Friday the 13th occurred in February, March, and November. In 2017 through 2020 there were two Friday the 13ths per year.

Last year when I explored the issue as well as this year, much like the Highlander, there can be only one.

From a strictly scientific perspective Friday the 13th occurs in any month that begins on a Sunday. Simple as that.

Of course, these days it seems nothing is ever really as simple as just following the science for some people.

Hollywood definitely loves to roll out the scary movies on autumnal Friday the 13ths for maximum marketing impact so one would certainly be forgiven if they were unable to purge their memories of thinking that Friday the 13th is something straight outta Tinsel Town and the scary movie craze.

While many may think that the Friday the 13th craze started with a certain movie character named Freddy, the roots of Friday the 13th actually run much deeper than late 20th Century cinema.

According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th did not occur until 1913, however, the components that ultimately converged to form it are much older and involve first looking at the two parts that make up Friday the 13th.

Folklore historian Donald Dossey contends that the unlucky nature of the number “13” originated with a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party in Valhalla.

Long before he was the subject of a television series, the trickster god Loki, who was not invited, arrived as the 13th guest, and arranged for Höðr to shoot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, which it turns out was the only substance that could kill him. I guess one could say that Höðr kissed him deadly under the mistletoe.

So, if we trace the unluckiness of the 13th back to Norse gods, and accept the position that in the 19th Century Friday was “Execution Day in America” based on it being the only day of the week that all executions took place, one could see how the convergence of a Friday on the 13th could be consider doubly unlucky.

Of course, the value and mysticism associated with Friday the 13th is strictly a product of the imagination of humans. In particular, American humans, since the United States is the only country that appears to celebrate Friday the 13th.

Or, put in Willy Wonka speak when it comes to Friday the 13th, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”

Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky by some on their own, so it was only logical that both occurring at the same time would be even unluckier.

In fact, fear of Friday the 13th even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named in English and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).

Talk about a great word to roll out on the old Scrabble board.

Now that we know when it was first originated, as well as the scientific name for it, we might as well take a deeper look at why it is that some people ascribe such attention to Friday the 13th.

Personally, I have never feared Friday the 13th and am among the people who consider it just another day. Now, were yesterday Friday the 13th I may have considered it unlucky after cutting a piece of my toe with nail clippers.

Although he could be moody and liked to bite my nose to wake me up each morning, my dearly departed black cat, Lucky, was mostly a sweetheart and was certainly nothing to be superstitious of on Friday the 13th or any other day for that matter.
Photo R. Anderson

However, yesterday was Friday the 12th and just a slip of the clippers versus a cosmically unlucky day causing me to draw my own blood.

I will not alter my activities today, nor will I think that today is any unluckier than any other day.

Certainly, one could argue that we are all living in some sort of extended Friday the 13th unlucky paradigm brought about by the destruction of natural habitat and rising global temperatures that is creating new viruses that are pouring through the global population like an avalanche coming down the mountain. But that is both a column for another day, and a case for Mulder and Scully.

While there are other days to write about havoc humankind unleashes on the planet as a whole, the arrival of Friday the 13th made me think about sports and the superstitious rituals that many players seem to follow.

During my years covering sports at all levels, I have seen more than my share of superstitions play out among the people I have interacted with.

There are players who will eat the same pregame meal because they feel that to eat anything else would risk certain disaster on the field.

Hitters on a hot streak in baseball are notorious for continuing whatever “routine” it is that they feel is behind their streak since they feel any deviation will likely mean the end to the streak.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball is not the only sport with superstitions. Across all level of sports there are athletes who have a lucky shirt, or other article of clothing that they cannot go onto the field of battle without.

The tradition of “playoff beards” can be considered another sport superstition that athletes employ.

The link between superstitions and sports can start at a very early age.

Back in high school I did a feature article on the goalie of my school’s woman’s soccer team, who attributed her on-field success to a lucky argyle sock that she wore during every game.

Granted it was not a pair of socks but one single sock that took over when her “magic shoes” fell ill.

Throughout my career, I have been around many other superstitious athletes, and I am sure I will meet many more. To date though a single “lucky” Argyle sock has been the most memorable superstition I have encountered.

On this Friday the 13th beware of those around you who are extra cautious of their surroundings and if you find yourself short one Argyle sock in the wash, I have a pretty good idea where it might have run off to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a black cat while walking under a ladder and holding a broken mirror while stepping on all of the sidewalk cracks I can find.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Delivering Some Truth About Direct from Store Delivery

The way goods and services reached consumers changed a lot during the last two plus years thanks in part to necessity brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes in consumer buying patterns.

My journey in this new found territory of near instant delivery gratification has evolved from the previous accepted norm of waiting four to six weeks for something to arrive, to waiting two days, to expecting something to arrive within hours of it being ordered. Along this journey, I recently, discovered the convenience of direct from store delivery. Now, I find myself struggling with whether this is a good or bad discovery.

In the before times, if I needed something from Walmart I would hop in my car, drive three miles down the road, wander the aisles until I found what I needed, pay for said items, and drive home.

That all changed during COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, I joined the throngs of people who enjoyed the convenience of curbside pickup. In this scenario, I still got in my car and drove the three miles to the store. But, instead of going inside, wandering the aisles, and waiting to pay, curbside allowed me the ability to order and pay for my items the night before. After driving to the store at the appointed hour,  I waited in my car as my items were brought to me and loaded in the car. Curbside was a game-changer.

Then, around year four of COVID, okay maybe it was year two, I decided that putting on pants and driving to the store, waiting to have groceries placed in my car, driving home and bringing the items inside was really too much work. That is when I discovered the mythical beast known as direct from store delivery.

I was no stranger to delivery. Amazon and other retailers have forged a well-worn path to my door. I ordered all of my staples throughout the heart of the pandemic using the free delivery offered by my Amazon Prime account as well as Walmart.

I am no stranger to delivery. Amazon and other retailers have forged a well-worn path to my door. Throughout the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic I ordered all of my staples using the free delivery offered by my Amazon Prime account as well as Walmart.
Photo R. Anderson

During one such order from Walmart, I was shocked to discover that my order arrived, not in a box, but in a shopping bag.

This single shopping bag alerted me to the fact that I could have things delivered directly from the store down the road without actually having to find pants, find my car, and make the three-mile drive to the store and back.

In the pre-COVID years, affectionately known as the before times, I would have bristled at waiting around to have someone deliver something directly to my door two hours after I ordered it. “Wait two hours, for something I can get within 30 minutes? That is crazy talk,” I would likely have said.

As restrictions enacted during COVID-19 are lifted, many people try to pretend the past two plus years were merely a fever dream, or as Ebeneezer Scrooge would say, “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

But despite protesting in Dickensonian verse, COVID-19 was not a fever dream, or crumb of tasty smoked Gouda. While some things will no doubt return to the way they were before, COVID-19 forever altered the landscape of the world. Trying to pretend like the past two plus years did not happen does a huge disservice to all of the people who lost their lives to the disease, and to the efforts of those who would around the clock to ensure that we had tools to minimize the amount of people who die in the future.

As noted before, COVID-19 provided society with a chance to unite and emerge as a stronger world through a Coronassance where lessens learned from battling a common foe could have made us a stronger society. The post COVID-19 world could have ushered in new freedoms and flexibilities for workers who showed that one does not need to sit in a cubicle breathing recycled air and drinking stale coffee to be productive. As part of the Coronassance, people would learn to be more patient and kind to each other after baring witness to the fragility of all they held near and dear.

Instead, COVID-19 served to further divide society while hastening the rise of tribalism and finger pointing. Additionally, many companies where employees successfully worked remotely are now telling their employees to come back to the office or find a new job. Worse still, instead of people being kinder to each other, if anything fuses are shorter and people are more likely to engage in road rage and other violent acts against complete strangers.

Years from now, when future societies read about this time in the history books, assuming governors in certain states still allow history books to be read in schools, I wonder what they will think of the wasted opportunity we had to make a better society for those who come after us.

Ever since I discovered free direct from store delivery, I have become more discerning about what I feel like going to the store to get as this delivery of a single container of cat litter shows. While I am thankful to live in a society where such a delivery system exists, I often wonder whether I should just make the three-mile drive to the store myself.
Photo R. Anderson

In some ways, I am guilty of giving into the laziness COVID-19 provided as a recent order from Walmart showed. I ordered 10 items on a Wednesday night and scheduled them to arrive direct from the store three miles down the road the next morning.

Could I have driven the three miles to get the items? Totally. But, since I did not feel like putting on my shorts and battling three miles of traffic and a slight detour due to construction, I figured I could wait a few hours to get my permanent markers, allergy medicine, windshield washer fluid, and cat litter.

I am extremely grateful to live in a society where I can sit on my butt and have things brought to me. However, I will admit that I often fear we are slowly turning into the society portrayed in the Pixar movie WALL-E where everything is done for us and we just doom scroll social media all day blind to the real issues around us. But that is a column for another day. Today’s column is about the double-edged sword of direct from store delivery.

The post COVID-19 world reminds me a lot of the Pixar movie WALL-E where everything is done for us and we just doom scroll social media all day blind to the real issues around us.
Photo R. Anderson

When the morning after arrived, I was excited to get a text notification telling me that my order had arrived from its fraught journey three-miles down the road. My happiness soon turned to confusion and disbelief when I opened the door to discover that only my Sharpie marker had been delivered. The rest of the order arrived 30 minutes later.

I can only hope that the first driver who delivered a single Sharpie marker to my door had other stops to make after me. Otherwise, it seems a bit of a waste to have someone drive from the store to merely deliver a single marker, while another driver was just a few minutes behind with the rest of the order.

At the end of the day, I got all of my items. So, I guess I should not worry about how many drivers it took to deliver 10 items to my door. Although, I will definitely question whether I should just take the step of putting on my going outside pants and making the three-mile trek myself next time. That can be my small contribution to the Coronassance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head back to the store for something I forgot to order.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: May the Fourth Be With You and Play Ball

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we travel back to a column written long, long ago, in a Gigaplex far, far away on May 3, 2014. In this column, we covered the unofficial holiday of Star Wars Day in the pre-Disney+ era of Baby Yoda. As you await the release of Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as the return of the aforementioned Baby Yoda, please enjoy this column on how the world of baseball celebrates Star Wars Day and as always, May the Fourth be with you.


This Sunday is May 4th. In many Ballparks in galaxies both near and far, far away teams will be celebrating in blockbuster ways in honor of a little science fiction franchise that first hit the global scene before most of the current professional ballplayers were even born.

For those who may not be aware, May 4th is known as Star Wars Day due to a pun surrounding a popular phrase found in the films.

That phrase of course is “May the force be with you,” which can easily translate to “May the fourth be with you.”

For years baseball teams have celebrated May 4th in the Ballpark, but how many times can you really dust off that storm trooper costume to throw out the first pitch before it gets a feeling of been there done that?

With teams looking for creative and new ways to celebrate Star Wars Day it was only a matter of time until May the Fourth was celebrated on a Minor League Baseball diamond in the form of players wearing Wookie jerseys.

Each year, Swatson, the Sugarland Skeeters mascot went all out for Star Wars Day. Through the years, Swatson was dressed as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sadly, Swatson, like many mascots before for him, as been sent to pasture due to a changing of ownership and name change of the Skeeters. While he may be gone, thankfully I still have the memories, and the photos.
Photo R. Anderson

The Wookie awakening occurred last year when the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A Affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, celebrated both May the fourth and May the fifth wearing jerseys that looked like a Wookie complete with utility belt.

Thankfully, the team opted away from the faux hair version of the jersey and instead went with a more diamond appropriate version where the fur is implied.

Not to be outdone the Kane County Cougars, the Chicago Cubs Class A affiliate, went Wookie wild this year with a double dose of furry jerseys on May 2 and an encore planned for August 30.

While players dressing up as Wookie is a fairly new Ballpark trend it is not the first time that a Wookie, or at least an actor who played a Wookie, has been at a Minor League Ballpark.

During a May 1, 2010 game between the Oklahoma City Red Hawks and the New Orleans Zephers Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Wookie extraordinaire Chewbacca, threw out the first pitch as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of the original Star Wars film.

While Wookie jerseys have a certain been there done that feel to them after two years on the field, a pair of Minor League teams are upping their game this year when it comes to honoring characters from the Star Wars stable.

While Lance Berkman gets the visiting villain treatment during a past Star Wars Night at Minute Maid Park a complete team will turn into Darth Vader this year.
Photo R. Anderson

The Durham Bulls, Class Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays will celebrate May the fourth in R2 D2 uniforms while the Milwaukee Brewers Single-A affiliate Wisconsin Timber Rattlers will sport Darth Vader jerseys.

It seems that if a team is going to the trouble of wearing Darth Vader jerseys they should invite James Earl Jones, the man behind the voice of Vader, to announce the players.

Of course, with James Earl Jones playing a pivotal role in Field of Dreams it seems even more appropriate to have his booming voice over the Ballpark public address system.

That truly would be a field of dreams to see James Earl Jones announcing a game with players dressed up as Darth Vader.

Players are not the only ones who get into the May the fourth festivities. Often times fans dust off their finest galactic duds to head to the Ballpark.

While I have never dressed up as Boba Fett, I have attended games where ushers were dressed like Princess Leia. I have also been at games where the opposing players were made to look like Darth Vader and other villains on the Jumbo Tron.

It is all done in good fun and is kind of cool to see the worlds of film and baseball combine in such an entertaining way.

With Star Wars Day around the corner the search is on for the perfect shirt to mark the occasion.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, hot dogs, and post game pyrotechnics, it doesn’t get much better than that.

These may not be the droids you are looking for, but it certainly makes for a fun night at the Ballpark.

With many more Star Wars films in the works it is unlikely that the May the fourth phenomena will die down any time soon so it is best to just embrace it in the spirit of fun it is intended.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can still make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. And May the fourth be with you.

Copyright 2022 R Anderson

Providers of the “First Rough Draft of History” Facing Extinction in Many Communities

Former Washington Post publisher Phil Graham said newspapers provide “the first rough draft of history.”

When major events occur, journalists are among the first on the scene providing eyewitness accounts. The 2022 war in Ukraine provides a haunting example of the benefit journalists provide by reporting facts as history unfolds. Through written stories, photos, audio accounts, and videos, journalists are capturing the horrors of what war looks like, while broadcasting it for the world to see in real time.

The practice of American journalists reporting from a war became common place during the American Civil War. Pictures from the battlefield along with eyewitness accounts were front and center in many 19th century newspapers. The access of journalists to the battlefields allowed readers to witness the true scope of war.

The trend of embedded reporters on the front lines continued through World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and countless other conflicts. As the technology journalists used in the field changed, so did the type of information they captured and the speed in which they delivered it.

While the wars mentioned above were already in the rear-view mirror by the time I was born, I can still vividly remember the “Boys of Baghdad,” Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman broadcasting live on CNN when the first missiles of Operation Desert Storm were fired. For the first time, Americans were seeing live video in the middle of a war zone.

I still vividly remember the “Boys of Baghdad,” Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman broadcasting live on CNN when the first missiles of Operation Desert Storm were fired. That broadcast was a shot across the bow for what wartime journalism could be and was just as important to the field as the first-time photographers went to the battlefields of the U/S/ Civil War.
Photo R. Anderson

While I always enjoyed writing, I caught the journalism bug in seventh grade. As an aspiring journalist in middle and high school, I listened to historic broadcasts from Edward R. Murrow, Dan Rather and others as they explained what they were witnessing on various battlefields. I hung on every word from those broadcasts and transcripts and thought how great it was that reporters were willing to risk their lives in order to cover a story.

Those reports from Baghdad, as well as the reports the preceded it, and the ones that have followed in the years since, show the value journalists provide in times of war. Journalist also play a vital role in times of peace. Unfortunately, in many communities, journalists work to remain the ones writing that first draft of history, despite growing cracks in the Teflon armor worn by the fourth estate.

Journalists are facing increasing attacks from fomented bases of uninformed people calling anything that does not fit their narrow world view to be “fake news” reported by “enemies of the people.”

Some of this ire from the public can be traced back to the words of a single man throwing red trucker hats into a crowd with the zeal of a trainer throwing raw chicken into a pool of alligators just to watch the chaos as the reptiles fight each other for every scrap of meat. Another source of the growing disconnect between journalists and the public can be traced to the rise of news deserts in communities across the country.

The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina defines a news desert as, “a community, either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level.”

Although the journalistic standard of freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, a lack of freedom from debt is crushing many newspapers. Revenue from advertising and subscribers form the lifeblood of many local newspapers. Increased competition from social media and other digital sources shrinks that revenue stream as people find news for free from sources other than the local newspaper.

When I was growing up my dream journalism job was to be on the space beat for Florida Today and work out of their press site at KSC. In 2015, the building that I had wanted to work at for so long no longer bore the newspaper’s name.
Photo R. Anderson

As the resources needed to sustain a thriving newspaper dry up, a news desert is formed. In a news desert, communities are forced to rely on less credible news sources such as social media posts from anonymous sources, or worse still, foreign actors trying to sow division.

This is not to say that all social media is bad, or that all local newspapers are 100 percent fair and balanced. However, when all someone consumes is information from social media, the recipe for a rise in misinformation and partisan division is formed.

The continued reduction of credible news would not only impact the journalists who would lose their jobs. The loss of credible news sources would have lasting impacts on the people who rely on newspapers as a means to gain a better understanding of their place in the world.

Having covered many school board and city council meetings in my day, the thought of having those meetings take place without a journalist in the room where it happened to bring government activity to light is a very troubling thought. Democratic participation suffers without credible news outlets within communities.

As a practicing journalist with over 30 years of experience, the subject of news deserts is something I follow with growing concern. Of the 10 newspapers I have worked for, only two remain in operation. The two surviving newspapers have enacted extreme cost cutting measures by relocating to smaller offices, reducing the number of days they print, reducing the width and number of pages of the printed paper, laying off the majority of their staff, and moving their printing operations to remote sites shared with other publications.

According to some published reports, the number of newsroom employees declined 51 percent between 2008 and 2019, going from around 71,000 newsroom staff to 35,000. Additionally, 1,800 communities have become news deserts during that time frame.

I remain confident journalism as a profession will remain in some form even if all of the newspapers in the world cease operating. However, the rapid rate of newspaper closings is a troubling trend that must be addressed.

If local journalism fails, the news landscape will likely become even more elite and globally focused. The issues of local concern will fester in the darkness. The haves, like the Washington Post and New York Times will continue to thrive and attract a highly engaged and educated readership. The have nots, will watch their news sources continue to whither and ultimately die.

With fewer newspapers covering communities, citizens will be forced to rely on less reputable news sources on social media. If that happens, the tide of misinformation will turn into a tsunami flooding the space where facts once stood. Claiming as some do, that deeply partisan news is better than no news, is a dangerous path to take. That line of thinking will only lead to further divisions along political and socioeconomical lines as people only read and listen to items they agree with.

The old saying of you get what you pay for rings true, if people decide to pay nothing for local news, then they should be prepared for a scenario where local news ceases to exist. If that happens, there is one less guard speaking truth to power and informing the public of the comings and goings within their communities. Worse still, no one will be around to capture history’s first rough draft.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time reread some of my Edward R. Murrow books. And to all of the journalists out there battling against the tide of news deserts, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, “good night and good luck.”

Editor’s Note: A state by state breakdown of news deserts and other local journalism facts being tracked by the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media is located at

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Bumper Stickers, Like Fortune Cookies, Can Guide Us on Our Path

Ah, the bumper sticker. That adhesive little piece of vinyl that provides endless opportunities to customize one’s ride.

By most accounts, bumper stickers have been around almost as long as there have been bumpers.

Some bumper stickers are meant to make us laugh.

Some bumper stickers are meant to inform people about a cause near and dear to the driver’s heart.

Some bumper stickers are even meant to serve as bragging rights for someone’s child who may have made an honor roll, or be part of a band.

Once upon a time, bumper stickers for radio stations were even used in the hopes that the driver would be spotted by a radio station employee and win a prize for their loyalty to said station.

Whatever the message being told, in most cases, someone made a conscience decision to buy the bumper sticker, and then place it somewhere on their car for the world to see.

Of course, sometimes a bumper sticker can silently guide one’s path without ever finding its way onto a bumper.

Such is the case of a humble piece of vinyl advertising that I picked up during a trip to the store with my aunt, grandmother and mom nearly 40 years ago. That piece of vinyl is a University of Florida (UF) bumper sticker.

Nearly 40 years ago, I picked up this bumper sticker at the end of a register at a five and dime store in Florida having no clue the role it would play in my life in the decades that followed.
Photo R. Anderson

Had I known at the time what that bumper sticker would lead me to, I likely would have made a bigger deal about it the day I got it.

Instead, the bumper sticker that I plucked from the Pic N’ Save Drugs register has quietly nudged me along from its place on a bookshelf in my life-long dream of becoming a Florida Gator.

To be fair, I did not pick up the bumper sticker because I thought I was setting my collegiate future in stone. Instead, I most likely thought that the colors were cool, or perhaps I just liked that it was free.

Back then, younger me loved to grab every brochure and other marketing material that I found. So, it very well could be that I was merely continuing that trend when I saw the stack of bumper stickers on the register.

Even though it would be nearly a decade before I would have a bumper to put the sticker on, and even more years after that before I would need to pick a college, for whatever reason, on that day I grabbed the bumper sticker and never looked back.

To me, that bumper sticker was more than just some mass-produced marketing collateral advertising a radio station, a drug store and a college football team on one 3” by 6” mosaic.

In the first seven to eight years of my life I was not really aware of college football. But thanks to that bumper sticker, I now had a college football team to root for and would spend many Saturdays in the fall glued to the television set watching the Jefferson Pilot Sports broadcasts of the Gators. Once Steve Spurrier brought the Fun n’ Gun to town, my fandom of the Gators went to a whole new level.

Thanks to a chance encounter with a bumper sticker, I spent many Saturdays glued to the television watching the Jefferson Pilot Sports broadcasts of Florida Gator football games. Once Steve Spurrier brought the Fun n’ Gun to town, my fandom of the Gators went to a whole new level.
Photo R. Anderson

As I grew older and started to become interested in journalism, the bumper sticker reminded me that the University of Florida had a really good journalism program and alumni like Bob Vila and Bob Ross.

Local media personalities I followed in Orlando were also Gator alum, which made me think that if I wanted to be a serious journalist in Florida I best become a Gator.

Ultimately, despite touring the campus with my parents and being thrilled that the College of Journalism and Communications was across the street from the football stadium, my undergrad collegiate career did not end up in Gainesville.

Instead, I stayed close to home and went to a two-year community college 20-minutes from home, before enrolling at the University of Central Florida (UCF), which I could literally see from my parents’ house.

When the Gators won the National Football Championship during my junior year at UCF, I was briefly bummed that I had not been there to take part. In my mind, I would have been a sports reporter for the UF student newspaper and have spent many days interviewing Coach Spurrier about the finer points of the Fun n’ Gun offense.

Instead, I was at UCF blazing a course that I would not have otherwise had. At UCF, I was able to start and run my own newspaper, which is something I would likely not have gotten to do at UF.

I was also able to see UCF grow from a small commuter university trapped in the shadow of the three dominant Florida schools, to the largest university in the country in terms of enrollment and one that routinely best those three “legacy” Florida universities in academics and athletics.

While my undergrad studies did not involve interviewing the ‘Head Ball Coach,” at UCF, I interned in the Sports Information Office and played a vital role in the school’s transition to compete in the highest level of collegiate athletics.

I do not regret choosing UCF over UF one single bit. I am proud of my UCF degree and all of the friends, memories, and experiences that came out of it. I am also proud of my years of service in supporting UCF alumni causes as both a donor and a board member. That will never change.

Still, that bumper sticker remained on my shelf reminding me that, although I did not get my undergrad degree at UF, I could always try to get a graduate degree from there.

After moving to Texas, I even applied a few times for various online programs at UF, but life always seemed to get in the way and I never followed through with enrolling.

Despite not being a UF student, I remained a fan of UF athletics and cheered loudly whenever the Gators were on television. On special occasions, I even enjoyed the Gators in chocolate chip cookie cake form.
Photo R. Anderson

Despite not being a UF student, I remained a fan of UF athletics and cheered loudly whenever the Gators were on television.

Afterall, my fandom of the Gators had about a 10-year head start on my fandom of the Knights thanks to that bumper sticker.

So, I resigned myself to the fact that I would likely never be a real Gator, in the same way that Pinocchio likely thought that as hard as he wanted it to be so, he would never be a real boy.

But Jiminy Cricket, that bumper sticker still had me wishing on that Gator star whenever I would dust it on my shelf.

Dreams are a funny thing; they don’t really have an expiration date as long as one continues to believe in them.

So, despite getting a Masters Degree in Sport Management from HBU during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, my dream to be a Florida Gator continued to burn deep inside me. So, I decided to apply to UF once more.

Today, is the first day of class for me as a student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. It has been a long and winding road to get here, but I am here nonetheless and could not be more excited.
Photo R. Anderson

And while I had hoped to start in 2021, today, is the first day of class for me as a student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

It has been a long and winding road to get here, but I am here nonetheless and could not be more excited.

As I stare at the bumper sticker that started it all for me so long ago from its new frame on my wall, I have but one thought which is, “man, I am so glad that it wasn’t a Florida State University bumper sticker at the end of that Pic n’ Save register.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some schoolwork to get to, and in the words of that life altering bumper sticker, “Go Gators!”

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane one Story at a Time

Recently, I decided that I needed to create an online portfolio to feature some highlights of my journalistic career.

Okay, so I actually decided years ago that I should upgrade my file system from retaining photocopies of articles I’d written in three-ring binders, to displaying them in an online portfolio, but recently I made the decision to stop procrastinating and finally get it done.

Trying to decide what to highlight from a lengthy career can be a monumental task no matter which side one tries to attack it from as I discovered shortly after kicking off the portfolio project.

After years of procrastination, I have finally decided to crack open the dusty black binders under my desk and build an online portfolio highlighting my journalistic career.
Photo R. Anderson

In the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, the main character, who for simplicity’s sake is conveniently named Mr. Holland, sets out to write his definitive opus that sums up his entire career in one magical musical number.

While I have not yet entered the territory of trying to build a Mr. Holland’s Opus style career spanning master work, I must admit I can see the exit to Opus town from my desk, and if I hold my ear against the window, I am pretty sure that I can hear some faint sounds of oboes and French horns off in the distance.

What I first envisioned to take no more than a weekend to build has definitely multiplied and taken a life of its own as I now try to meet my revised goal of unveiling the portfolio by the end of the year.

Along the way, sprinkled in with the frustration of trying to choose the perfect background color for each section of the portfolio, I have been taken on a journey down memory lane by rediscovering some old stories that quite honestly I had forgotten about.

While there may have once been a time when I remembered every single story I had written, the truth is that as the number of years and number of stories grows one simply cannot remember every single article and feature story.

There are also a few stories that are not worth remembering. The want to forget stories usually involved an editor telling me to go interview so and so at such and such company because they just bought a quarter page ad in the paper.

My inner journalistic compass always hated those pay per play style stories, so they are ones I have tried very hard to forget. Thankfully there are only a handful of those type of stories in my archive.

Another discovery I made while digging deep into my archive is the realization that somewhere along the way between the time when many of the older articles were written and now, I quietly morphed from the young curious reporter fresh out of Journalism school who was determined to change the world for the better with my writing, to the older and wiser reporter going back to Journalism school and still determined to use my God given talents to make a difference in the world through my writing.

Or to put it in Big Head Todd and the Monsters language, “Rise and fall turn the wheel ’cause all life is Is really just a circle.”

Whether they are stored in dusty attics, in three-ring binders under a desk, on microfiche, or in online portfolios, newspaper articles capture a very definitive moment in time acting like a time capsule. It is easy to go back and read the articles and think that things remained constant like a proverbial snow globe capturing a single scene for all eternity.

And while some things may still be the same as they ever were, one cannot help but accept the fact that the hands of time are constantly turning and the people and events from the story did not cease existing once their essence was captured in print.

While many stories merely reflect a moment in time, sometimes an interview subject leaves a mark long after the story has gone to print as was the case with a story I wrote back when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida. I had the chance to interview a 75-year-old great grandfather named, Elmer Kundinger, who was returning to school after what he called a “50-year Spring Break.”

Back when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida, I had the chance to interview a 75-year-old great grandfather named, Elmer Kundinger, who was returning to school after what he called a “50-year Spring Break.” When I decided to go back to school to get my Master’s degree after a 20-year break, I thought about Elmer.
Photo R. Anderson

When our paths crossed, Elmer and I were in decidedly different phases of our lives, but in the years since that interview Elmer was one of those stories that I would often think about.

In fact, when I decided to go back to school to get my Master’s degree after a 20-year break, I thought about Elmer.

Back in 1995 when I asked him what motivated him to return to school after a 50-year hiatus Elmer responded by saying, “this is just a personal satisfaction goal that I have set aside for myself, and fortunately what the mind thinks about sometimes is what happens.”

At the end of our time together Elmer noted that “Some of the happiest moments of my life are going on right this second. Everything is really coming up roses. All I have to do now is stay alive.”

When I went searching to see what Elmer was up to shortly after my own return to school, I had feared that I would find his obituary, but was happy to see that he was now 101 years old and had even gone back and gotten a second degree since the time I had last spoken with him.

That is part of the magic of journalism, and in particular feature writing. Every single person has a story to tell that his just waiting to be discovered.

On the silver screen in 1995, Mr. Holland wanted to write his Opus to put a coda on his life and sum up all of his accomplishments with an epic orchestral number.

Meanwhile, at the same time on the campus of a college in Orlando, FL. in the real world, Elmer Kundinger showed that one is never too old to start new things, or to complete lifelong goals.

Personally, I would much rather live like Elmer always looking for new opportunities and ways to find enrichment and to enrich others instead of taking a self-centered Mr. Holland approach of thinking I can rest on my laurels if I create a single masterwork.

For me, creating a portfolio is a reminder of what I have already done and a way to reconnect with some old memories from interviews gone by while also leaving room for all of the things I am still yet to do.
Photo R. Anderson

For me, creating a portfolio is a reminder of what I have already done and a way to reconnect with some old memories from interviews gone by while also leaving room for all of the things I am still yet to do.

There are so many stories left to write and new adventures to be had.

One might go so far as to say that the future is so bright I gotta wear shades.

Completing my online portfolio and continuing to bring stories to life is my own “personal satisfaction goal.”

Whatever your own goal may be, I wish you success in achieving it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to finding stories to add to my online portfolio after I tell the person outside my window to stop playing the oboe so loudly.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Pearl Harbor at 80: Fewer and Fewer Heroes Left Alive to Tell Tale of Infamous Day

Tomorrow, December 7, marks the 80th Anniversary of a Day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said would be a day that would, “live in infamy.”

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 America’s naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by aircraft and submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Sadly as each year passes fewer and fewer men and women from that courageous and infamous day are alive to tell the story of what they experienced.

Pearl Harbor still serves as a United States Naval institution over 60 years after being the site of one of the worst attacks on U.S. Naval resources in a single day.
Photo R. Anderson

My grandfather, Howard Kirby, was at Pearl Harbor. He was one of the lucky ones who survived the attack. After a few other close calls he was able to return to his family at the end of the war.

While my grandfather was a survivor of the attack, more than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded on that December morning at Pearl Harbor.

The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more. It also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, and one mine layer. Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged.

Each year the Wings over Houston Airshow includes “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which is a reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a way to try to show what the attack was like.

As impressive as the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” show is, I know it is nothing compared to what that actual Sunday morning would have been like for those young men and women who forever had their lives changed.

Sadly, my grandfather died when I was five-years-old so I was too young to know the questions an older version of myself would have loved to have asked him about what he saw and experienced on the day that Pearl was attacked.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground.
Photo R. Anderson

The attack, on the “Day that will live in infamy” ultimately changed the United States forever as well and led to America’s entrance into World War II.

In the years following the attack several books and movies have been released that have posed the question of whether the attack could have been prevented, or at least better defended against, if more advanced warning had been given.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and as with any event fingers of blame are often pointed afterwards.

While I certainly believe in learning from history so as not to repeat its mistakes, I am also a firm believer in honoring those who sacrificed instead of blaming the blame game.

In the spirit of honoring the fallen, many of whom were buried with their sunken ships, memorials have been built to remember the day and its events.

The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.

The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memorial is that of the USS Utah, a battleship that was attacked and sunk in the attack. A memorial to honor the crew of the USS Utah was dedicated on the northwest shore of Ford Island, near the ship’s wreck, in 1972. The ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Pearl Harbor as a teenager and also saw the valley where the attacking planes made their assault.

While both areas are quiet and peaceful now they still bear the scars from the attack that occurred over 80 years ago.

As the sands of time continue through the hour glass, each day there are fewer and fewer people still alive that were at the attack. One news report I saw stated that only 40 Pearl Harbor survivors would be in attendance for this year’s memorial service.

While part of the reasoning behind the low turnout could be attributed to people not wanting to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sad reality is every day more and more World War II veterans are dying.

There will come a day in the not too distant future where all of the members of the greatest generation are gone. When the last of those brave men and women who fought to save the world from fascism and mad men hellbent of world domination it is up to those of us who remain alive to tell their stories and ensure that the world never succumbs to the evil forces that so many sacrificed and died to keep away from our shores as well as shores across the globe.

But while there are still veterans of World War II among us take time to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

The recent death of former United States Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole, who overcame life threatening injuries in World War II, brought home in a very public way the idea that we are nearing a time where World War II veterans will no longer be around to tell their stories. Dole, pictured here during a 1998 speech at the University of Central Florida, died in his sleep at the age of 98-years-old, and will lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol on December 9, 2021.
Photo R. Anderson

Much like the veterans of World War I, and the Revolutionary War, the veterans of World War II will live on long after they are gone through the memorials and the written account of what they experienced as they are passed down from generation to generation.

I have visited battlefields and memorials from one end of the country to the other and each one tells a story of bravery that helped shape the country into what it is today.

It is through these memorials and National Parks that the Nation’s story is told to future generations as a way to ensure that the history of America is preserved.

These memorials should also serve to show us that when things looked their darkest brave men and women answered the call and united together towards a common goal and purpose. We could certainly use some of that unity and resolve towards a common goal in place of all of the division and selfishness certain segments of society seem to feed on these days.

I just hope it does not take something as horrible as a world war to bring people back together and realize we are all in this together.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready to put my flag at half mast.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

College Football set to Kick off during a COVID-19 Pandemic for Second Straight Year

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

I used that line in a column last September to describe the absurdity of trying to play football during a global COVID-19 pandemic.

When I wrote those words, and the 1,000 plus other words in that column, I never dreamed that a year later we would be basically back in the same spot.

In 2021, just as in 2020, we are still dealing with raging COVID-19 outbreaks. People are still denying science. Governors are still saying vaccine and masks mandates infringe on one’s freedom to spread the virus to others. Plus, so much more bologna that I really thought we would be done with by now.

Instead of using last year as a rallying cry to do everything we could to send COVID-19 packing, here we are with an even more potent variant of COVID-19, and even less restrictions on activities that could help slow the spread of the disease.

The horse is definitely out of the barn when it comes to COVID-19 denialism. Speaking of horses, some people now would rather take a horse deworming medication, that does nothing to prevent or treat COVID-19, instead of taking a fully approved vaccine that can prevent infection, hospitalization and death in most cases. I guess horse dewormer is the 2021 version of 2020’s advice from a fan of red trucker hats to ingest bleach like a cleaning.

The fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) once again had to send a common sense tweet out reminding people not to take horse medicine a year after tweeting not to ingest bleach shows just how out of touch from reality some parts of society are.
Graphic R. Anderson

The fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) once again had to send a common sense tweet out reminding people not to take horse medicine a year after tweeting not to ingest bleach shows just how out of touch from reality some parts of society are.

I really wonder what type of person decides that they would rather get a horse paste at the local feed store instead of rolling up their sleeve and getting a vaccine.

I picture the conversation going something like this:

Chet: Hey Bob, did you see that anonymous post on Facebook the other day about the benefits of horse deworming cream to fight that fake virus?

Bob: I did. I am giving it a try since I can’t seem to shine this light down my throat like a cleaning. I’m so glad we have random posts on Facebook from people with zero medical training to give us the truth, compared to those scientists who spent years studying infectious diseases and are dedicated to keeping people safe.

Chet: Agreed, see you at the completely full football stadium on Saturday for the mask burning. I will save you some nachos.

And scene.

Shame on me for giving certain segments of society more credit than they deserve. I know I should know better, but sometimes I just cannot help myself. I want to believe that society can improve, instead of just racing like lemmings towards the cliff lowering the bar as they go.

We really are trying our best to make the world outlined in the movie Idiocracy become reality.

In the movie Idiocracy an American soldier who is accidentally frozen for 500 years as part of a military experiment wakes up in a dystopian world where society has forgotten the ideals of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, justice, and human rights and instead society has embraced commercialism and instant gratification. Sound familiar? One need only watch the news for a few hours to see that in many ways we are well on our way to bringing that vision of society lampooned in the movie to life.

I have written about Idiocracy a few times before, but for anyone unfamiliar with the plot of the 2006 Mike Judge movie, it goes something like this.

An American soldier who is accidentally frozen for 500 years as part of a military experiment wakes up in a dystopian world where society has forgotten the ideals of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, justice, and human rights, and instead society has embraced commercialism and instant gratification.

Sound familiar? One need only watch the news for a few hours to see that in many ways we are well on our way to bringing that vision of society lampooned in the movie to life.

When a disruption in a state’s power supply caused by inept governmental leadership triggers a worldwide plastic wrap shortage, one has to wonder just how many degrees of Kevin Bacon we are from totally collapsing as a society.

Especially when that state that sounds like “Texas” focuses more on passing executive orders and bills to suppress masks and voting rights then actually trying to fix the flawed power grid before the next cold snap, or heat wave, once again leaves thousands of people without electricity in a state that literally pumps the natural gas out of the ground that powers many of the electric plants.

But I shall rant about the failings of the “do it on our own star state” at a later date, today my attention is focused on the gridiron as college football season kicks off this week.

As noted time and time again, I enjoy college football. Aside from being a long-time fan of the game, during my undergraduate studies I interned in a college Sports Information Office and spent many a Saturday in the press box of college football games.

Additionally, I worked for five years with a committee that was responsible for hosting three college bowl games a year.

While I enjoy college football, I do not enjoy it to the point where I want to see stadiums full of people cheering in the middle of a pandemic. I also really have zero desire to attend a watch party for a college football game in the middle of a pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

While I enjoy college football, I do not enjoy it to the point where I want to see stadiums full of people cheering in the middle of a pandemic.

I also really have zero desire to attend a watch party for a college football game in the middle of a pandemic.

Sadly, an organization I volunteer with does not share my belief that now is not the time for college watch parties and has basically said, “go have your parties, and if you have high transmission of COIVD-19 where you live, have the watch party outside.”

Because yeah, having people shouting at a football game and stuffing their faces full of nachos and other salty snacks is a great idea in the middle of a pandemic.

Navigating the latest surge of COVID-19 boils down in many ways to an individual’s risk versus reward threshold. While vaccinated people certainly can be riskier in theory compared to unvaccinated people, the simple fact remains that even vaccinated people can get breakthrough cases.

This brings me to my Dirty Harry approach to navigating COVID-19. Whenever I am thinking of going to an event, I squint really hard while gritting my teeth and recite the following mantra to myself to determine my willingness to participate in said event.

“Ryan (That’s what I call myself in my head), I know what you’re thinking. ‘Is the entire group vaccinated or not’? Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track of everyone’s vaccination status, and because this is an anti-science state, I am likely to get shot if I ask the wrong person to see a vaccine card. But being that we are talking about the Delta variant, the most contagious COVID-19 variant in the world, that is putting more people in the hospital than any other variant combined, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?”

Once I have weighed the pros and cons of an event I react accordingly.

Getting on an airplane full of masked people so I can visit family in Florida is an activity I can get behind on the Dirty Harry do I feel lucky scale.

Watching college football in person either in a stadium, or at a sports bar, just does not give me a reward that is greater than the risk. Or in Dirty Harry speak, it does not make my day.

More power to those who want to partake in such things, but at the end of the day college football is not essential to society. Furthermore, if large crowds attending games is straining the health care systems in those mostly red football loving states, then that is a huge problem.

After going fan free during the 2020 College football season, ESPN’s College Gameday kicked off the 2021 season with crowds reminiscent of the before times proving that profit trumps pandemic in the eyes of some despite more people being hospitalized from the Delta variant of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

In several states healthcare workers are walking away from their jobs in record numbers citing burnout, as well as not wanting to continue to risk their lives to take care of an unvaccinated population that thumbs their nose at science.

Other states are so full of COVID-19 patients in their ICU departments that there is no room for patients who have non-COVID emergencies requiring hospitalization.

It does not help the cause when governors ban masks mandates and instead just say that they will import more healthcare workers into the state to handle the surge within the hospitals.

That would be like someone in a sinking boat continuing to bail out water with a bucket with a hole in it instead of getting on the Coast Guard cutter that came to save them while saying, “Nope, I can’t have the federal government infringing on my freedom to stay on this sinking boat. You can keep your shiny government funded rescue craft. I’d rather just keep bailing here by myself.”

Unfortunately, that seems to be the mantra some governors are urging their citizens to follow. Don’t wear a mask, don’t get a vaccine if you feel it infringes on your rights, and if you get sick just take some gene therapy that is only available in short supply.

Or, one can always take that aforementioned horse deworming cream of course. Shudder.

The anti-mandate politicians are quick to say, “Don’t worry if your actions cause kids who are too young to get vaccinated to get sick. They would rather die free then live in a mask anyway.”

Of course, these are the same politicians who so famously said during the power grid failure that “many Texans would rather freeze to death then count on other states for their power,” or heaven forbid pay more for electricity.

I am sure there is a conspiracy theory out there somewhere in the dark corners of social media amongst the posts about the medicinal properties of horse paste that says that getting power from a blue state will either make you turn blue, or brainwash you into turning in your guns.

Seriously, are there massive radon gas leaks somewhere that are causing so many people to lose touch with common sense and realty?

The Roman emperor Nero is credited with playing the fiddle and watching Rome burn around him. I suppose the modern-day equivalent would be people choosing to watch college football, or crowd into other spaces mask-less and unvaccinated while COVID-19 burns around them.

With comparisons to Nero fiddling as Rome burned around him, college marching bands may want to add a violin section to their halftime show to portray the reality of playing football in the middle of a global pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess more college marching bands should add violins to their ranks and start playing the “Devil went down to Georgia” during halftime like the Florida State Seminoles Marching Chiefs did years ago.

Idiocracy predicated what the future would look like in 500 years. At the current rate we likely won’t have to wait that long until society totally devolves. I guess that is good in a morbid way, since at the rate we are destroying the planet there is no guarantee that the earth will even be around in 500 years.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time for another screening of Idiocracy.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

If Only MacGyvering a Solution to Life’s Problems with a Swiss Army Knife and Duct Tape Worked for Global Conflicts

As first noted in a column nearly eight years ago one of my favorite television shows growing up was MacGyver.

I enjoyed the show so much that I even dressed up as MacGyver for Halloween one year. Additionally, I have carried a Swiss Army knife that I got for Christmas in my pocket for over 35 years since, one never knows when it will be needed, as noted in my first MacGyver column back in 2013.

Inspired by my love of the television show MacGyver, Old Red has been in my pocket for over 30 years.
Photo R. Anderson

Sure, it could be easy to say that I liked MacGyver because the actor playing the title character and I shared the same haircut, last name and love of Swiss Army knives, but a better explanation for the show’s appeal was the way that difficult problems were solved using simple household items, elbow grease and brain power.

To be clear I am talking about old school Richard Dean Anderson MacGyver, and not that rebooted version of MacGyver that came out a few years back.

The show was instrumental in showing that science and brainpower could often overcome firepower so there was a positive message being presented as the Cold War was drawing to a close.

As I was watching the recent news coverage of the fall of Afghanistan, I was reminded of the Season One MacGyver episode called To be a Man. You know the one where MacGyver travels to Afghanistan and battles wits with Soviet backed forces.
Photo R. Anderson

As I was watching the recent news coverage of the fall of Afghanistan, I was reminded of the Season One MacGyver episode called To be a Man.

For those readers who may be too young to remember, before the United States tried to reshape Afghanistan, the Soviet Union gave it a go back in the 1980s.

The issue of Soviet occupied Afghanistan was addressed by Hollywood in such films as The Living Daylights, Rambo III, and Charlie Wilson’s War to name a few.

In The Living Daylights, which came out in 1987, James Bond, played for the first time by Timothy Dalton teams up with Mujahadin freedom fighters to battle the Soviets and even manages to blow up a bridge by dropping a bomb from the cargo hold of a moving airplane to help the freedom fighter escape the Soviet forces.

A year after James Bond defeated the Soviets, Hollywood once again took a swing at the conflict using another film franchise. In Rambo III, Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, heads to Afghanistan to rescue his former commander and his longtime best friend, Col. Sam Trautman, from a Soviet Army colonel.

During the mid to late 80s many shows and movies took aim at the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan for plot inspirations. One such cinematic take involved sending Rambo into the rocky countryside to rescue his former commanding officer and to prove that Rambo knew how to ride a horse. If only Adrian could have seen him. Oh wait, wrong franchise.
Photo R. Anderson

This should not be confused with the plot of Rambo II where, Rambo battles Soviet troops in Vietnam and has to rescue prisoners of war.

Back to Rambo III, our hero of uttering words with few syllables manages to rescue his mentor and help a local band of Afghan rebels fight against Soviet forces who are threatening to destroy their village.

Chalk two up for the fictional good guys.

Using the fresh lens of the 21st Century, and with the United States six-years into what would turn into a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the 2007 movie Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Forrest Gump, I mean Tom Hanks, and Julia Roberts, told the true story of how the United States came to be involved in the 20th Century conflict by siding with the Afghan people in their fight against the Soviet Union through unofficial channels.

Of the three movies, Charlie Wilson’s War is likely the best reflection of the conflict between the Soviets and the Afghan people but it lacks that certain Swiss Army inspired wit.

That is where the man, the myth, the MacGyver enters the picture.  Of course, MacGyver was in Afghanistan before Mr. Bond, James Bond and Rambo. In the 1986 episode To be a Man MacGyver finds himself on a secret mission in Afghanistan to retrieve a downed satellite before it falls into the hands of the Soviets. While on the mission, MacGyver is shot and wounded. An Afghan woman and her son risk their lives to nurse MacGyver back to health.

To repay their kindness, a wounded MacGyver must now outwit the Russian Army to complete his mission and ensure the safety of the mother and her son by helping them cross the border into Pakistan.

While MacGyver was a work of fiction, I could not help but think of how so many Afghan citizens who risked their lives to help the American forces over the past two decades now face an uncertain future as they try to seek refuge in another country to avoid being killed by the Taliban.

In fact, in each of the films and television shows from the 80s dealing with Afghanistan the Americans, and in James Bond’s case, the British were the clear good guys helping  rescue people in need. Sadly, reality is often not as noble as Hollywood scripts.

According to government officials there are plans to provide safe haven for thousands of people who worked with the United States troops over the past two decades, but the speed of the retreat and leaving of Afghanistan has many wondering whether there is enough time to get everyone out according to the timeline laid out in those plans.

As the graph above illustrates, the more things change in Afghanistan, the more they stay the same. With the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban once again are there to fill the void as the did following the retreat of Soviet forces in the late 20th Century.
Graphic R. Anderson

While there will likely be future movies that address the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, and all of bad optics that followed, one need only watch the news each night to see the accounts of so many people suffering as the vacuum left by the departure of the United States gets filled by the Taliban.

I am not going to get into the politics of whether we should have gone to Afghanistan in the first place, or if we should be leaving when we are. There will be plenty of time to cover that in the years ahead.

The United States joins a short list of world powers who tried and failed to change Afghanistan.

In the 19th Century it was the British. In the 20th Century it was the Soviet Union, aka modern-day Russia.

And, in the early 21st Century it was the United States trying to imprint a vision of a path forward on a country that seems like it does not really want outside help.

While the world continues to battle a health pandemic it is now faced with a potential expanded refugee pandemic brought about by the rapid fall of the government of Afghanistan and the return to power of the Taliban.

Although I am steering clear of the politics, and the blame game, following the departure of United States forces, I feel I must comment on the stories being floated in certain circles about the refuges from Afghanistan “invading people’s towns.”

The “they are coming for your jobs and your wives” narrative is a common response from people who are trying to sow fear about anyone who doesn’t look and talk like them.

It is not based in reality, and only shows the ignorance of the people who both peddle in such nonsense, as well as those who fall for it.

There are bad people of all races, creeds and religions, so trying to lump all refuges from any place as criminals and rapists is just flat out wrong.

In terms of knowing refugees from Afghanistan, I have some experience on that subject.

When I moved to Florida in the third grade, I met Omar. Omar’s family fled Soviet occupied Afghanistan and settled in Florida, which could not have been easy for them.

Omar was in Ms. Taylor’s class with me and was one of my best friends from third grade through high school. Omar lived a few streets over from me and was someone I spent a lot of time with.

We sat together on the school bus through middle school and freshmen year of high school. Once I started driving to school, I would often give Omar and other friends rides home.

Sadly, as is too often the case, I lost touch with Omar shortly after college.

I had many friends from many different backgrounds throughout my life and they helped share their cultures and traditions with me which in turn made me a more rounded person as a result.

Sadly, too many people seem to only want to hang out with people who look, talk and think just like them. That isolationist approach helps lead to breeding grounds of group speak and misinformation where someone on TV can claim that all refugees are bad, and the sheep will believe it without giving it a second thought.

As a quick history lesson, unless someone is 100 percent Native American, everyone living in the United States comes from an immigrant and/or refugee background. Some people’s ancestors immigrated here by choice, while others were forced to come here against their will.

Regardless of what brought them here, the simple fact remains that the United States was built by immigrants and refugees.

On the big and small screen, James Bond, Rambo, Charlie Wilson and MacGyver all fought their battles and won for the most part in under two hours.

In the current unfolding story, the quest for a crisp solution and happy ending for the good guys in the latest Afghanistan chapter seems a little cloudier and more complicated.

In a pinch, tweezers from a Swiss Army Knife can be used to fix loose screws on a pair of sunglasses. Unfortunately, they are not as good at solving geopolitical issues.
Photo R. Anderson

If only, reality was as simple as being able to solve the problems of foreign conflicts with gadgets from Q Branch, a bow and arrow and some grunted dialogue, a secret slush fund for black ops, or a Swiss Army knife and some duct tape.

If history is any indication there will likely be more outside forces that come to try to tame Afghanistan in the coming years. Of course, it seems unlikely that they will succeed where so many others have failed.

The current conditions in Afghanistan are both troubling and a tragedy, but they certainly should not have been a total surprise to any students of history. After all, those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to watch some old episodes of MacGyver after reaching out to an old friend. Where did I put that MacGyver wig anyway?

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson