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 killed 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 will be 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 with school shooting drills going 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 make it 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.

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.

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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