Carl Wernicke

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.

His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home on Pensacola Beach and watching sports, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union.

Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.

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!

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?

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.


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.


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.


William Faulkner famously said that the “past is not dead, it’s not even past.” It’s somewhat of a contradiction. In one sense, you can only live in the present, it’s the only moment you have. But every lived moment immediately recedes into the past.

In looking up this quote, I was led to an essay on Faulkner by Sartre, analyzing Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” who wrote that it is man who messed up the distinction between past and present by inventing the clock and the calendar.



 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.


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.

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.

 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.

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.

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.

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.

No matter where you live, there are scenes that paint the picture of what makes your home what it is. Northwest Florida certainly has its share of scene-setters that put our own stamp on the world.

My wife and I saw one recently behind a house on the north shore of Santa Rosa Island.

A good day is when you learn something new. Or, as you get older, learn something over again. Sort of like rereading a good book, which is doubly rewarding when you can’t remember what happened from reading it the first time.

Anyway, last week I relearned two things: the value of a library card, and the reassuring fact that there are good people out there.

It’s happened to you. It’s probably happening more and more these days. Your cell phone rings. It’s a number you don’t recognize.  

Yes, you learned long ago to not answer calls from any number you didn’t recognize with an out of town area code. But now, it’s often an 8-5-0 area code, even the same first three numbers as your number, one of the newest tricks.

You think it might be the pharmacy, or the plumber you called. So, you answer.

All too often today, these calls turn out to be marketers or scammers. The FCC lists robocalls as its top consumer complaint.

Although the news these days tends to be depressing, there is good news if you know where to look. And one of those items is the resurgence of the book, both the electronic version and the old-fashioned kind printed on paper.

Two related articles got me to thinking recently, something that these days can be hazardous to your mental health. But, generally, I think that thinking is a good thing, so I decided to follow my neural pathways and see where it led.

Today I’m returning to a topic I have talked about before.  Based on further experience, it’s important enough to remain a constant topic of discussion.

And that is the use of cell phones while driving.

Since moving to East Hill, riding my bike has become a primary form of transportation. During our year on Pensacola Beach I rode bikes a lot, but mainly for exercise. I did ride to stores and restaurants, but the trips were usually short, given the layout of the beach. And, an important point, the beach bike path minimized riding on major roads.


In the 1960s, a little known group of local fishermen, worried about severe pollution affecting the waters they fished in, formed a group called the Bream Fishermen Association. Formally chartered in 1970, over the last 40-plus years BFA volunteers have doggedly and tirelessly measured water quality across Northwest Florida and South Alabama. Adhering to strict scientific standards, the group has built a documented record accepted by the state of Florida for inclusion in its own database.