Carl Wernicke

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People across Northwest Florida breathed a sigh of relief last week when the first rains in recent memory swept in to ease what had become a serious drought. This week’s rains brought more comfort.

They also reminded us that no matter how powerful and sophisticated we think of ourselves as a society, we share something with past civilizations: we remain at the mercy of the weather, which of course is a function of the climate.

And there are no shortages of reminders these days, both here and elsewhere, of just how powerfully nature dictates to us.

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As an old editorial writer, I’m accustomed to offering criticism. But the necessary flip side of criticism is to offer praise when you think something is done properly. Anyway, some time ago I offered the opinion that planners working on fixing decades-old traffic problems on Pensacola Beach were stuck in the mud. They avoided addressing the fundamental problems by tinkering ineffectively around the edges.

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Last weekend I visited the clean energy festival downtown. I met the owner of a Tesla, the innovative electric car. He giddily described a phone app that opens his garage, starts the car and backs it out into the driveway.

But just wait, he said. Soon the car will be able to drive him to work, then head out on its own to work for Uber all day before returning to ferry him home.

That points to the economic challenge facing our new president.

We are facing a rapid acceleration of a current trend: the replacement of human workers with machines.

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In selling our house this year, my wife and I went through what has become a cottage industry for baby boomers: downsizing.

We moved from a 2,300-square-foot home to our current rental, with 1,300 square feet. Getting from one to the other required getting rid of a lot of stuff, despite the help of two storage units.

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Like many Pensacolians who visit Europe, or a big city like New York, we were struck on a recent vacation in Spain by the vibrancy of the downtown scene, throughout the day and into the night. In Granada and, especially, Barcelona, the energy of the nightly street life seems extraordinary.

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  My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Spain and Morocco, and as always upon returning I was struck by the differences between there and here.

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  Over the summer I was lucky enough to volunteer with University of West Florida archeologists to assist with the ongoing effort to uncover the settlement of Don Tristan de Luna.

Luna attempted to establish a permanent Spanish colony in Pensacola in 1559, which if it had succeeded would have been the first permanent European settlement in what is now known as North America. The effort failed by 1561, mainly from the bad luck of being hit by a hurricane before the ships in the expedition had been fully unloaded.

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  Some years ago it became clear to me that many people do not realize that the moon, just like the sun, rises and sets. For many of you this might sound questionable, but I can assure you that it is true.

The first time I encountered someone who professed to not realize that the moon rose and set, I thought I had found an outlier, someone who for some reason had missed this easily observable natural phenomenon.

But over several years I was surprised to meet a number of people who said that not only had they never watched a moonrise, they hadn’t realized that it did.

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  Early one morning this week, coffee cup in hand, I walked down to Santa Rosa Sound from our home on Pensacola Beach and noticed something. For the first time since spring the morning breeze carried a chill, a hint of the coming fall rather than the warm breath of what has been a hot summer.

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  Years ago I was at a snacks counter in a local mall to get some cashews. They were priced by the quarter pound, but I only wanted a taste. Seeing the electronic digital scale on the counter, I asked the clerk for a tenth of a pound.

The 20-something clerk looked blankly at me, then said, I don’t know what that is. Swallowing my shock, I pointed to the scale, said set it to point one, and enter the price per pound. She did, I got my nuts, and wandered off worrying about the fate of the Republic.

I’m starting to worry again.

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  So far as I can tell, younger generations that grew up with the Internet seem to accept ubiquitous marketing as part of life. Tell them that the real point of all those free apps on their phone is about tracking their habits and selling the information to marketers, and they look at you with an expression that says, OK, and …?

It’s just how their world is put together.

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We were on the back deck of our house on Pensacola Beach last week when the Blue Angels brought Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss home for his last sunset pass over Santa Rosa Island, Perdido Key and downtown Pensacola.

It was a striking scene, a lone F/A-18 in the vivid colors of the Blue Angels, tight on the wing of Fat Albert, the C-130 support aircraft that is itself an iconic symbol of the team.

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Over many years as a newspaper reporter and editor, I developed a pretty good eye for evaluating what was or was not reasonable. To mix metaphors here, you could say I got good at giving things the sniff test.

This proved really valuable during the years when I edited letters to the editor at the Pensacola News Journal. I quickly learned that facts mean different things to different people. Or, as Mark Twain put it, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

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On Jan. 14, 1989, I was awakened at my Pensacola Beach home by a call from my city editor at the Pensacola News Journal. The Bay Bridge had been rammed by a tug boat, an event forever to be known as the day the ship hit the span.

Fortunately for the News Journal, I was on the other side of the bridge from the PNJ, and he wanted me to take a look from there.

So I drove into Gulf Breeze and found that, yep, the bridge was definitely closed.

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Having lived almost all of my life in Northwest Florida, I can’t really speak to how it is to live in other places. But the variety of lifescapes offered by this area must be hard to beat.

That is underscored by our recent move from rural Garcon Point to urbanized Pensacola Beach. The culture shock could hardly be overstated.

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