Carl Wernicke

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We recently traveled to Canada, about 60 miles north of Toronto. We stayed in a resort that offers skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, golf, hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

We were near Barrie, a lakefront town of about 130,000 people. The area is rural, agricultural and tourist, with shorelines on Lake Ontario.

We could have been in the U.S.; they drive like we do, there is just about every chain restaurant and big box store you can name., and the people are friendly.

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With the coming of spring, the home building boom across Pensacola remains in full force. But human houses are not the only construction underway. Birds have been busily building their own nests.

And as with human construction, it doesn’t always go smoothly.

My wife and I collect bagged leaves to use for compost and mulch. The end of March and early April feature roadsides littered – in a good way – with bags stuffed with leaves raked up by homeowners ready to trade in their rakes for lawnmowers.

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I’ve been happy to see the debate over the Taco Bell planned for Cervantes Street in East Hill. Just as with renewed interest in the development of downtown’s west side, and a surprisingly effective challenge to county development plans in Beulah, residents have reawakened to their ability to influence their community’s direction.

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Those of a certain age remember the enthusiastic TV ads for gadgets developed by a wondrous company called Ronco. These amazing, not available in stores products did everything from catch fish to remove those stubborn stains on clothing.

Some probably did work, but probably not for long. The materials were often inferior, and the problem s you needed solved didn’t need to be solved that often.

However, the ads did offer a new form of entertainment on TV, and brought us the ultimate marketing slogan: But wait – there’s more!

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A major weakness of our culture is our reluctance to talk about death. Given that it’s the ultimate destination for all of us, that’s a serious weakness. It leaves too many people grappling with their most fundamental fears all alone.

Fortunately, in recent years this taboo has loosened. One result is some excellent advice about the last word on all of us: our obituary. And that advice is that we all ought to write our own. After all, who knows what other people will say about us when we are gone?

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An undeniable impact of the Internet is how it reveals more about who we are, and what human society is like, than anyone could have predicted.

On the positive side we see Go Fund Me-type efforts, where people donate money to support causes or help individuals, or invest in small businesses starting up or trying to expand. They do this because they get their own reward from helping other people. It’s heartwarming.

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One of the mixed blessings of growing old is that you have seen a lot. And while it is almost always an exaggeration to say you have seen it all, well, I think I have now seen it all.

In his New Year’s Eve homily, Pope Francis, never one to shy away from taking on our most egregious sins, addressed one of the most prevalent: bad drivers.

I’m with him.

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It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact of the Internet on our lives. It came to life toward the final third of my career at the News Journal, and I very quickly went from never having used it to wondering how I was able to do my job without it.

Perhaps the biggest impact is how it has exposed us to each other, in ways both good and bad. For instance, many of us have been disheartened to discover how deep racism and other forms of prejudice remain in this country as people have felt emboldened to come out online.

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 Listeners of these commentaries, and readers of my past newspaper columns, can be forgiven for wondering if I am a technophobe. Because I have issued a long list of complaints about modern technology.

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We recently traveled to Vietnam, and to say life is different there is an understatement. Even as you run into McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC along the way, as American culture continues its regrettable conquest of the world.

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I generally avoid using the word “hate” given its strong connotations. But as WUWF  listeners and readers of my former News Journal column know, I really do hate  litter. I hate it so much that I have spent hundreds of hours picking up litter on roadsides, the beach and from creekbeds.

Littering just strikes me as such a waste. When I lived on Garcon Point I couldn’t understand why people trashed Mary Kitchens Road, which is otherwise a pretty little country road marked by trees, wildflowers and horse barns.

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 Some years ago, small decorated, mailbox-like structures began to spring up in front of homes in our area, especially East Hill. Called free or sharing libraries, they were designed for people to share books.

It was a simple concept. Someone would put one up on the street in front of their house and stock it with books. Passersby were free to take a book or leave a book for others. The designs are as varied as the preferences of the builders, but usually include a glass front, and of course a hinged door to allow access while protecting the contents from rain.

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When it comes to movies and books, there are two kinds of people: those who like to reread, or rewatch their favorites, and those who prefer something new. Personally, I fall into the read or watch it again group.

Now, it might seem silly for this divide to occur. I mean, people who like tennis wouldn’t put the racket down forever after one game. And steak lovers would never finish a great ribeye and declare edamame the next frontier.

Of course, I enjoyed my one and only skydiving adventure, but one time jumping out of a perfectly good airplane was enough.

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Anthropologists have long been fascinated with the evolution of mankind, both physically and culturally. In the past this largely depended on reading the historical record. But today we have entered the era of evolution as a forced march, driven hard by what could be the most insidious horror ever unleashed on humanity:

The cell phone.

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Recently I came across a fascinating article on the discovery in France of spectacular ruins. Developers working on a new subdivision uncovered an ancient Roman suburb that was remarkably preserved.

According to The New York Times article, the ruins included shops for metalworking, grocery stores, a warehouse full of wine jugs, a couple of houses with expensive floor mosaics and more.

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