All posts by Ryan Anderson

Adult Happy Meal Rollout Leaves Much to Grimace About

Earlier this month, the fine folks at McDonald’s rolled out a Happy Meal aimed at adults called the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box in honor of the company that they partnered with to bring the vision to life.

In full disclosure, during my adult life I have ordered many Happy Meals. I could lie and say that those Happy Meals were all ordered as research for this column, but the reality is that ever since my undergrad days at the University of Central Florida I have enjoyed an occasional Happy Meal.

Motivations for getting a Happy Meal range from when just wanting a quick and cheap snack, to wanting to feel a little like a kid again with a chocolate milk and some tiny fries.

During my adult life I have ordered many Happy Meals. I could lie and say that those Happy Meals were all ordered as research for this column, but the reality is that ever since my undergrad days at UCF, I have enjoyed an occasional Happy Meal. Recently, the people at McDonalds decided that they had had enough with the kid stuff to the point of rolling out an adult version of the happy meal with more food and freakier looking toys.
Photo R. Anderson

So, I really never saw the need to differentiate between a kid’s version of a Happy Meal and an adult version.

After all, at the end of the day, a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger no matter how you wrap it in yellow paper.

The people at McDonald’s however do see a need to target different demographics with their boxed meals as evidenced by the 2001 rollout of the Mighty Kids Meal. For those who may not recall, the Mighty Kids Meal was for those discerning youth who considered themselves too old for a Happy Meal, yet not quite ready to take the plunge and order off of the adult menu just yet.

Which brings us smack dab to the waning months of 2022 and the rollout of an adult version of a Happy Meal.

Putting my Ad/PR minor from UCF to use, while also proving that I did more than just eat Happy Meals as an undergrad, (I also took part in all you can eat pork Tuesdays at Sonny’s).

Still, undergraduate eating habits aside, I can imagine what the brain trust at McHeadquarters was thinking as they brought the idea of an adult Happy Meal to life.

Wearing my marketing hat for a bit, I am guessing one of the interns came to a meeting McCafe iced coffee in hand and said, “you know, the last couple of years have been like a real-life poop emoji, we should do something to make our customers feel better, while also increasing profits during the third quarter.”

Then, an older, wiser Generation X marketing person stood up, wiped the cheeseburgers crumbs off of their tie and likely said, “back when I was young, I often found my happy place inside a cardboard box filled with a hamburger, French fries and a toy. We should try to recreate that magic again, but fill them with toys for adults instead.”

Of course, in certain circles the term “adult toys” has an entirely different meaning, but that is beside the point. The point is, on paper the idea of an adult Happy Meal seemed like a can’t fail slam dunk dripping with nostalgia and carbs crammed inside a cardboard box.

Sadly, the reality of the rollout was anything but smooth.

The McDonalds near the Johnson Space Center recently relocated and left its McPlayplace behind. For years, McDonalds has been on a mission to try to seem more adult as the playgrounds that were once a staple of the stores have been replaced with coffee bars and dual drive thru lanes. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before they would try to lean on both nostalgia and practicality with an Adult Happy Meal that tried to honor the past, but with less germ-infested ball pits. Unfortunately, as the old space saying goes, “Houston we’ve had a problem.”
Photo R. Anderson

For starters, the four-eyed version of classic characters from the Ronald McDonald McUniverse made me grimace like someone had hamburglared away a piece of my childhood. I was so not lovin’ it.

If the ice cream machine was ever working at my local McDonald’s, it would take many a McFlurry to try to erase the image out of my mind of the four eyed version of classic characters.

While I can accept that the original concept of Grimace included two sets of arms, I am still trying to get over the fact that a McDonald’s manager made waves last year when he stated that Grimace was designed to be an enormous taste bud.

How dare they tarnish my memories of the jolly purple sidekick further by turning him into a four-eyed purple vision of horror making people think they are seeing double. I don’t even get me started on the nightmares that a four-eyed clown can induce.

Still, the design of the toys did not dissuade people from wanting them. People descended upon McDonald’s like a swarm of angry murder hornets seeking sweet nectar from an endangered cactus flower.

So many people came, that the worker bees at McDonald’s took to social media to implore them to stop coming to the restaurants because making all of those adult Happy Meals was creating a hardship for them.

Long ago, I decided that I enjoyed eating food too much to ever work in a restaurant. I wanted to remain blissfully ignorant about what was or wasn’t done to my food between the time I ordered it, and the time I ate it.

So, I do not have a frame of reference related to the complaints from the staff of McDonald’s pertaining to the workload that the promotion caused them.

Still, when your job is literally to make food, and someone orders something off of your menu, you don’t get to blame the customer, or say don’t order something because it is hard to make.

That would be like me saying, “writing is hard, so don’t read my words, in order that I don’t have to string them into sentences anymore.”

My job is to write and give people something to read.

A restaurant’s job is to make food people can eat.

A fast-food restaurant’s job is to make the food rapidly.

Of course, part of the disdain from the workforce involves certain people over indulging and making huge orders. Many of these orders come from collectors hoping to stock up on the toys in order to sell them on secondary market sites.

And even as Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery once told Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek that he was sitting on a gold mine, I never got a Happy Meal because I thought the toy inside would fund my retirement. I got the Happy Meal because I wanted it.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

To get a glimpse of how ga ga gy people can go for McSwag, consider the cautionary tale of the Beanie Baby craze of the mid to late 1990s. Never one to miss a craze, McDonald’s placed mini Beanie Babies in Happy Meals.

People were so confident that Beanie Babies would fund their dreams that they stockpiled them with plans of selling them for huge profits later.

Never one to miss out on a craze, McDonald’s placed mini beanie babies in Happy Meals in the late 1990s. People were so confident that the Beanie Baby would fund their dreams that they stockpiled them with plans of selling them for huge profits later. This lone beanie baby from that era has been collecting dust on various shelves in my office for over 20 years and others like it are currently listed online for an average of $5 which could barely buy a Happy Meal yet alone fund an entire retirement.
Photo R. Anderson

As was the case with many crazes that came before and after, the Beanie Babies bubble burst.

Fast forward from the nineties to the 21st century and we see another example of good intentions going awry under the arches of gold.

Back in 2010, McDonald’s recalled 12 million Shrek movie character drinking glasses because the paint on the glasses contained the toxic metal cadmium.

Of course, the recall only made the demand for the bootleg glasses distributed pre-recall even more valuable.

I would not be doing my job as a respected journalist if I did not pause for a moment and say, in the spirit of don’t try this at home, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, aka OSHHA, states that exposure to cadmium can lead to a variety of adverse health effects including cancer. Acute inhalation exposure (high levels over a short period of time) to cadmium can result in flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, and muscle pain) and can damage the lungs. Chronic exposure (low level over an extended period of time) can result in kidney, bone and lung disease.

With that in mind, I suppose the current shortage of retro four-eyed McToys does prevent people from getting ill from any adverse chemicals in their construction. After all, you cannot get sick if you don’t touch it. (Excuse me while I pause for a brief interlude to picture MC Hammer dancing and saying, “You Can’t Touch this.”)

To be fair, I am in no way suggesting that the current slate of toys is dangerous or cancer causing. I am sure that the Ronald McBrain Trust learned their lesson from the Shrek glasses and only source their toys and food from organically and ethically sourced vendors who are dedicated to environmental stewardship.

I cannot speak for their food being good for the environment based on the many tales of decades old French fries being found virtually in the same condition as the day they were deep fried in flavor juice.

However, McDonald’s announced in 2021 that they plan to drastically reduce their use of plastic by2025 by replacing the 1 billion children’s toys they sell annually with cardboard or recycled plant-based plastics.

That brings us back to the current four-eyed slap in my childhood’s face that is the new re-imagination of classic characters from the McUniverse.

You can have your four-eyed Ronald, Grimace and Hamburglar. As for me, I shall continue to honor the two-eyed versions of the classic characters with all of the saturated fatty goodness I remember. Although I suppose the next adult themed Happy Meal might be the Doogie Howser retro glucose monitor and EKG kit at this rate.

Sometimes one just needs to leave well enough alone and not try to keep reinventing the wheel, or try to be hip. People don’t go to McDonald’s to be hip. They go there for a quick and somewhat inexpensive meal that occasionally comes in a box with a toy and a milk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to put on my protective gloves so I can dust my cadmium laced Shrek glasses.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Yet Another “Storm of the Century” Reignites Great Debate

As parts of Florida and South Carolina continue their recovery efforts following the destructive path of Hurricane Ian, a debate rages about the effects that bigger and more frequent storms will have on everyday life.

No, I am not talking about the debate regarding whether warmer temperatures brought about by climate change means more powerful storms are here to stay. The answer to that is clearly yes, they do. The earth is getting warmer and storms and natural disasters will get bigger and more destructive if nothing is done to reduce the impacts of global warming and climate change. But that is a column for another day.

The debate I am referring to is the debate over the role sport plays in a disaster.

Much of my career in journalism has involved sports. When I wasn’t working as a sports reporter or editor, I served as both an intern and a director in collegiate Sports Information. I have a whole website devoted to my thoughts on baseball. I even have a Master of Science degree in Sport Management. So, needless to say, sports are something that I have a passion for.

Unfortunately, in recent years that passion has started to dim as I grow increasingly tired of the profit at all costs model implored by many sports leagues.

As some readers may recall, the issue of greed over player and spectator health is something that I wrote extensively about during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Time and time again, examples arise where the need to host a sporting event seems to win out over common sense and decency in reading the room.

After delaying the game twice as Hurricane Ian approached, the University of Central Florida hosted SMU this evening while residents of nearby neighborhoods continued their lengthy recovery from storm related flooding and other damage.
Photo R. Anderson

Tonight, my undergraduate alma mater the University of Central Florida hosts Southern Methodist University in a football game that was first slated to be played on Saturday but was rescheduled twice due to Ian.

Likewise, one of my graduate alma maters, the University of Florida, played a rescheduled game of their own on Sunday against Eastern Washington.

While both the UF and UCF stadiums did not suffer major damage, I have no doubt that the games would have been played somewhere even if the stadiums had been destroyed by Ian’s wrath. After all, the show must go on to keep the millions of dollars of revenue flowing.

While UCF’s stadium was declared ready to play, many of the neighborhoods surrounding campus, including my aunt and uncle’s neighborhood, were still dealing with the aftermath of flooding. In many cases, it will take days for the water in some neighborhoods to recede since there is so much water it literally has nowhere to go.

This brings up the debate of whether it is wise to encourage thousands of people to drive to an area that is still engaged in storm cleanup mode just to watch a football game.

Were I still working in a collegiate Sports Information Office and faced with a to play, or not to play, decision, I would be one of the few, if only people, saying that the optics of playing a game while so many people were suffering were not good.

Classes at the University of Florida and other schools in Florida were cancelled ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ian. As a result, the Gators game in the Swamp against Eastern Washington slipped from Saturday to Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

Speaking of optics, Florida State University gave away up to for tickets per family to in-state hurricane evacuees for their game against Wake Forest Saturday.

In making the announcement, FSU’s assistant athletic director of ticket operations and service told a local reporter that part of the motivation behind the giveaway for evacuees was to “give them a good experience at a time when they are already experiencing a lot of loss and sadness.”

While I like to think that it was meant as a gesture of goodwill, my sports marketing brain thinks that FSU athletics just wanted to try to make the stadium look less empty on TV; since at the time the ticket giveaway was announced around 13,000 tickets remained unsold.

When I was growing up in Florida, hurricanes meant some wind and some rain, but rarely did they mean widespread flooding that lasted for days. Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, building codes were enhanced to provide better protection against the wind.

Unlike in Texas, where they seem to build their house out of sticks and straw, most modern homes in Florida are constructed using cinder blocks with straps tying the roof to the walls.

Of course, building a structure to survive Category 5 winds does nothing to protect it when the agent of destruction is multiple feet of water brought about by storm surge and freshwater flooding from torrential amounts of rain.

While the climate change deniers can stick their heads in the sand and scream, “fake storm” all they want, recent years have shown that today’s hurricanes are different from our grandparents’ storms. Ignoring them is not going to make them go away.

Hurricane Ian is expected to be declared the biggest natural disaster in Florida history. That is saying quite a lot, since there have been many disastrous storms to hit the Sunshine State.

As Hurricane Ian trained its wrath on the southwest coast of Florida, one of my initial thoughts was, “oh no, there are so many ballparks in the path of the storm I hope they survive.”

Charlotte Sports Park, the Spring Training home of the Tampa Bay Rays is just one of the many ballparks that were in the cross hairs of Hurricane Ian.
Photo R. Anderson

While it is certainly true that a bulk of the Grapefruit League Spring Training ballparks stretch from Clearwater to Fort Myers, I am somewhat ashamed that my first thought of seeing the storm heading towards the west coast of Florida was I hope the ballparks make it.

My grandparents used to live on Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach. I would hope that if they were still alive, my reaction to the approaching storm would have been concern for their safety and not for the safety of some empty ballparks.

At the time of this writing, I am not aware of any damage to the ballparks along the path of the storm. However, I am confident that if any of the ballparks were damaged, the teams and cities impacted will move heaven and earth to ensure that they are up and running come February. After all, the games must go on.

That is part of my growing struggle with the sport business. Even when Spring Training rolls around in four months, many of the people who work in those ballparks from the ticket takers to the concession stand workers likely will still be dealing with some impacts from Hurricane Ian.

While I would hope that the Major League Baseball teams that employ those seasonal workers will have some sort of assistance plan in place, I can see a scenario where impacted workers are left to fend for themselves.

Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, a great deal was made about the calming effect the return of baseball had on the country. President George W. Bush famously went to Yankee Stadium and threw out the first pitch declaring that it was okay to play ball while the nation was still in mourning.

I don’t dispute the fact that sports can be a good diversion.

My issue is when the diversion becomes the main focus and other issues are ignored.

To be fair, most of the country was not impacted by Hurricane Ian so people might think, “why should they miss out on getting to watch sports, if their homes didn’t blow away or flood?”

That sort of narrow minded approach is part of the problem that seems ripe to tear society apart.

There will be other “Storms of the Century” in the coming years. Of that, I am sure.

What I am not as sure about is whether people will take the necessary steps to be better prepared and try to lessen the impacts, or if they will just continue to whine about the inconvenience of having their sporting event delayed by a few days.

There are no easy answers. The more time I spend working in sports, the more disenchanted I become with the priorities some leagues seem to have of putting profits over people.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to reread some chapters on sports ethics.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Rice University and NASA Honor the Moment We Chose to Go to the Moon and Do the Other Things

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered his Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort to land an American on the moon by the end of the decade. In the years that followed, Kennedy’s address became known as the “We choose to go to the Moon” speech.

Sadly, President Kennedy did not live to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take humankind’s first steps on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, roughly five months before the end of the decade laid out in JFK’s speech.

While JFK’s life was taken a little over a year after his address, his words have lived on as an example of what people are capable of when they seek to answer a call to overcome what many see as impossible odds.

Rice University, in collaboration with NASA, celebrated the 60th Anniversary of JFK’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice Stadium on September 12, 2022.
Photo R. Anderson

Earlier this week I had the honor of attending a celebration of the 60th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon speech” at Rice University.

I was not alive when JFK made his speech. However, as a third-generation aerospace worker, his words, and the actions they triggered in the decades that followed, have been a part of my life in one way or another for as long as I can remember. As such, I consider myself fortunate to have been a small part of the celebration of such a historical moment.

Growing up in Florida, I never imagined I would have reason to step foot on the Rice University campus. However, once I moved to Texas shortly after graduating college, I had the opportunity to cover a high school football playoff game at Rice Stadium while working as a sports editor for a Houston area newspaper. I was even offered a job to work at Rice at one point, but chose to go in a different direction.

While the field turf has changed since the days when a Super Bowl was played, and a “moonshot” speech were given, each time I set foot inside the stadium I still felt the magnitude of being somewhere that had experienced its share of historical moments.

While the field turf has changed since the days when a Super Bowl was played, and a “moonshot” speech were given inside the stadium, each time I set foot inside the stadium I still felt the magnitude of being somewhere that had experienced its share of historical moments. Photo R. Anderson

Despite those previous trips inside Rice Stadium, nothing really prepared me for the realization that I would be inside the stadium listening to a recording of JFK’s we choose to go to the moon speech exactly 60 years after it was given.

Walking up to the stadium I was greeted by a larger than life mural of JFK on the stadium’s upper deck. Seeing the mural, the magnitude of the event started to sink in.

Once inside the stadium, I had the opportunity to chat with former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Serving as NASA Administrator during the presidency of Donald Trump, Bridenstine played a large role in spearheading the current effort to return to the moon known as the Artemis Program.

It was a bit surreal to be talking about the future moon efforts with a former NASA Administrator while at an event celebrating the kickoff of lunar ambitions from 60 years earlier.

As an aside, my conversation with Administrator Bridenstine was a much less awkward experience than the time a former Space Shuttle Program Manager started chatting with me while we were both standing at adjoining urinals for a Space Shuttle anniversary event.

Just like when the speech was first delivered, it was hot inside Rice Stadium as former astronaut, turned senator, turned current NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson pointed out in his remarks. Although the triple digit on field feels like temperature definitely dampened some armpits, it could not dampen  the magnitude of the event.

Along with various elected officials and VIPs, thousands of middle and high school students were on hand for the festivities in a measured attempt to inspire the next generation of students to take giant leaps for human kind.
Photo R. Anderson

Along with various elected officials and VIPs, thousands of middle and high school students were on hand for the festivities in a measured attempt to inspire the next generation of students to take giant leaps for human kind.

In a symbolic passing of the torch, the current students were joined by many Rice Alumni who were in the stadium 60-years earlier for the original speech.

As was the case in JFK’s time, America is once again looking towards a return to the moon. If all goes well, the next human steps on the moon will be made by the end of the current decade.

In support of the current return to the moon effort, as I write this, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, complete with an Orion capsule, is currently sitting on a launchpad at the space center that bears President Kennedy’s name. The SLS is awaiting a go for launch once issues with leaking hydrogen valves are safely resolved.

In support of the current return to the moon effort, as I write this, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, complete with an Orion capsule, is currently sitting on a launchpad at the space center that bears President Kennedy’s name.
Photo R. Anderson

Once SLS and the Artemis Program launch their uncrewed test mission, they will go to the moon and back to test various systems on the vehicle. About a year after Artemis 1, a second mission conveniently called Artemis 2 will take humans around the moon.

If all goes to plan on the first two missions, by 2025 Americans may once again put boots on the ground of the lunar surface during the Artemis 3 mission.

As someone who worked on the Orion Program during its early days, and has longed hoped to be alive when humans were on the moon, I am certainly rooting for Artemis to succeed in returning humans to the moon.

Of course, as the pesky and recurrent hydrogen leaks have shown, so much has to go right for a successful mission to the moon to occur. As John F. Kennedy so eloquently stated 60 years ago, “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

In addition to being at the 60th Anniversary event at Rice this week, in 2019 I was fortunate to be at the Kennedy Space Center to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the famous first steps on the moon by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11.

As someone fascinated by aerospace history, I have always been amazed by the small steps and giant leaps of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle Programs. I am equally enthralled by the current efforts of companies like SpaceX to build and operate commercial vehicles.

Unfortunately, as an agency reliant of yearly funding and congressional whims, the best laid plans of NASA men and women can often fall victim to budget cuts and shifting presidential priorities.

There is not a single group that is at fault for the fact that December 19, 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the last human steps on the moon. It can be said that SLS is a victim of a funding model that has not really changed much in over 60 years.

President Richard Nixon cancelled the Apollo Program to make way for the Space Shuttle Program.

Following the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, President George W. Bush announced the end of Space Shuttle Program, and the rising of the Constellation Program.

President Barack Obama ended Constellation, but saved Orion, while looking towards commercial companies to handle low earth orbit missions.

One can argue the politics and the excuses for why it has been over 50 years since humans last left footprints in the dusty lunar soil until the cow jumps over the moon.

The reasons don’t matter. What does matter is doing everything possible to ensure that it is not another 50 years before humans return to the moon.

Many people reading this may not be alive when the 100th anniversary of JFK’s speech at Rice rolls around. For that matter, depending on how people address sea level rise between now and then, Rice University itself may be under water.

Many people reading this may not be alive when the 100th anniversary of JFK’s speech at Rice rolls around.

For that matter, depending on how people address rising sea levels between now and then, Rice University itself may be under water along with Kennedy Space Center.

While I enjoy celebrating anniversaries of past human spaceflight accomplishments, it is time for some new milestones to be created that can be celebrated in another 50 to 60 years.

Humans must continue to build on the vision first outlined by a young idealistic president on a sweltering hot summer day 60-years ago inside a football stadium in Houston, TX.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to answer the age-old question of why did Rice play Texas?

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

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

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 https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Space Cowboys and Commanders Leave Much to be Desired

Recently, two teams I have a lengthy history of supporting decided to change their names.

That fact alone is not that surprising. In recent years, teams changing their names has been a rather common occurrence with the reasoning behind the name changes running the gambit from bowing to pressure from outside forces, to wanting to freshen a brand to sell more merch.

In keeping with that tried-and-true model, in the latest example of the name game, one team changed their name due to outside pressure from groups who considered their old name to be offensive, and the other team changed their name for what can likely be called a money grab to force their fans to buy new merchandise and to put their special seal on a new asset.

In both cases, the new names left me feeling less than excited to continue rooting for either team.

The first example of rebranding gone bad is the Sugar Land Skeeters becoming the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

If the team really wanted to pay homage to the Sugar Land past, they could have gone with calling the team the Imperials in honor of the rich history of Sugar Land as a producer of Imperial sugar. Instead they decided to play the role of the Joker.
Photo R. Anderson

Because when I think of a great name for a Minor League Baseball team I think, “hey let’s find a title from the Steve Miller Band’s catalog and go with that.” I suppose it could have been worse and they could have called them Maurice.

But all tributes to the Joker aside, Skeeters was a name that reflected the fact that this side of Texas is ground zero for the blood sucking insects.

The rebranding trying to tie the Space Cowboys to actual aerospace workers and the “old west” history of a Houston suburb just falls flat on so many levels.

If the team really wanted to pay homage to the Sugar Land past, they could have gone with calling the team the Imperials in honor of the rich history of Sugar Land as a producer of Imperial sugar.

Better still, they could have left well enough alone and built on the legacy of the Sugar Land Skeeters instead of feeling the need to create a new brand.

In many of my marketing and management classes the value of building on an existing brand was front and center in lessons on what good marketeers do.

Instead, of following those tried and true principles the team decided to rebrand mirror the Astros lest we forget that they are an affiliate of the Major League cheaters.

In addition to a really lame new name, one of my favorite mascots, Swatson, is being sent on an imaginary trip around the world with another former Skeeters mascot named Moe and being replaced by a blue space dog. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t the sidekick of a space cowboy be a space horse and not a space dog?

In addition to a really lame new name, one of my favorite mascots, Swatson, is being sent on an imaginary trip around the world with another former Skeeters mascot named Moe and being replaced by a blue space dog. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t the sidekick of a space cowboy be a space horse and not a space dog?
Photo R. Anderson

I mean I get that dogs are man’s best friend and all that, but a horse, or a cow, really would have sold the whole space cowboy theme a bit more unless the space dog is meant to corral all of the sheep into buying into the new name.

As part of the rebrand launch back stories were written for the new mascot as well as detailed descriptions of how the team colors and logo were designed. When a marketer has to spend several paragraphs justifying their actions one really has to question their own buy-in on the project.

Talk about the pompatus of self-righteousness.

Shortly after the news broke that the Houston Astros bought the Skeeters, I wrote a column noting that they would likely take something I considered special and turn it into something fit for a metal trash can, and in a little over a year they did just that.

Sorry Space Cowboys but this is one fan who will not be joining you on your new quest to get money from the citizens of Space City. I would rather cling to my good memories of Swatson and the Skeeters while taking my money and running away from your rebrand.

The second example of rebranding gone bad is the Washington Football Team becoming the Washington Commanders.

As noted before in several other columns, I was born outside of Washington D.C. and was a fan of the burgundy and gold from a very young age. I even have the Hogs nose to prove it.

While I will certainly concede that the team needed to move past their use of Native American branding, the Commanders just makes me think of a bad G.I. Joe cover band.

It also creates the issue that one usually would have a single Commander in Chief versus multiple Commanders. Or as the old saying goes, too many chefs ruin the soup.

I am not alone in thinking that the Commanders name fails to capture the imagination. Former players and fans alike have not been afraid to unleash the full fury of their displeasure about the new name on various social media platforms.

One of the early leaked new names for the Washington Football Team was the Red Wolves. Unfortunately for proponents of that name, the trademark was already owned by Arkansas State University.
Photo R. Anderson

I get that the team needed to find a name that they could trademark and make money off of. One of the early favorites for a new name was the Washington Red Wolves which would have allowed fans to keep singing a certain song by replacing the word “skins” with the word “wolves.”

Sadly, for that football team in Washington, Arkansas State University already held the trademark for Red Wolves. So, any thoughts of singing Hail to the Red Wolves in D.C. were quickly dashed.

I get that the Red Wolves fell out of the pack of potential names, but are we to believe that after nearly three years of trying to find a name that was not offensive and could be trademarked, the only options was Commanders?

The anticlimactic reveal of Commanders follows the news last year of the Cleveland Indians becoming the Cleveland Guardians which is another name that falls short.

As I noted last year in a column about the Guardians, there was already a team in Cleveland named the Guardians. So, not only did the Cleveland Indians brain trust come up with a less than stunning name based on some monuments on a bridge, they did not even do enough research to realize that the name was already in use in their own town.

One certainly hopes that after three years of searching the Washington Football Team at least verified that there wasn’t already a Washington Commanders franchise in town.

I realize that there are likely people who think that the Space Cowboys and Commanders are good team names. Some of those people may even not be employed by the two franchises that chose those names.

But for me and my time and money, I am not planning to give any thought to the Space Cowboys or the Commanders, since they are doing me wrong, doing me wrong.

Thanks for the memories, Swatson. I will always remember the times we shared at the Ballpark before the Astros came and ruined everything. Stay Gold Swatson. You will be missed.
Photo R. Anderson

I am not ruling out a return to the Ballpark in Sugar Land since my desire to see live baseball will likely overcome my disdain for the Space Cowboys name and a desire to not give any money to anything owned by the Astros.

But, if I do return to Constellation Field, I will either be wearing my Skeeters gear, or showing support for the Round Rock Express or Albuquerque Isotopes.

As far as the Commanders go, I will remember the glory days of my youth in a Maryland suburb where I led the Super Bowl cheers in elementary school. Those are enough Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey all the time memories without tarnishing them by going commando for the Commanders.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to listen to the Steve Miller Band.

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