Wednesday, November 14, 2012


 Today, the world let slip one of the most interesting men I have ever met. Around dinner time, Frank R Warta (my mother's father) left the realm of the living.

 I received a call from my mom, who in turn sent my aunt on leave from the Academy to go and bear witness to the event. She spoke through the choke of tears, saying that he died moments after having his picture taken by my aunt.

 After we said our "I love you's" and "goodbyes", my mom texted me that picture. He looked very peaceful, like the war against time, stubbornness and his own ailments had come to an end. His rosary around his neck, he had always been a good Catholic (so much so that it often steered many of his offspring away from the denomination) and had always dragged me to mass at a young age so that I could watch him sing, his loud bass voice drowning out everyone else. You couldn't help but smile with amusement when this happened.

 Everything I knew about farming, trains, cows and the Civil War, I learned from him. We used to walk across rows of plants, vegetables and what seemed at the time (remember, I was very small) to be endless fields of everything. I would ride his giant Saint Bernards like horses, and accompany him to battlefields all over Tennessee and Kentucky. I got my first taste of liquor from him- I remember we were watching Rambo II, and I was preoccupied with a Lego set. He handed me his glass of brandy, put it to my lips and I slept amazingly well that night. I still remember that booming laugh every time I would cough after drinking.

 He loved farm equipment. He collected scale models of tractors and olde-time milk trucks. He reeked of Old Spice. He was not above using the belt.

 However, I remember him in better ways than that. You see, my family is quite large and spread out. You could say we form like a dandelion then scatter into the wind when the time comes. It's no surprise I have such a restless nature- my mom was one of 13 kids, constantly on the move. I have yet to meet all of my aunts and uncles, cousins and such.

 With a family this big, the attrition rate can be rather high. People come and go, marry and divorce, live and die. You don't love them any less than any other family. If anything, I think we celebrate our lives a little more than most because we are so spread out. It takes a strong bond to be so close, yet so far apart. We're the kind of family that may skip a funeral, but won't miss a birth. Life begins at zero hour, and we love it. When you die, well.. your life isn't in that body anymore. It would be like burying your goldfish bowl when your fish died. The body is just a vessel, and the spirit of the ones we love reside in all of us.

 I will miss you, Pa. You were always one of the most interesting and restless people I have ever had the honor of being mentored by. Seriously, if this guy goes to heaven, he's going to sell beachfront property in hell. If he has to hang out in purgatory for a bit, he'll probably work out a couple business ventures with the people waiting alongside him. He was just that good.

Someday, I hope to be a "Pa", too. Until then, I will just keep you alive, towering beside me in a tobacco field in Masonville, Kentucky.

Your Grandson,


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

History Repeats (Unedited Edition)

Andy Wolf

 In light of recent upheavals around the world, especially the anti-American fury that has swept the Middle East in response to the anti-Islamic film ("The Innocence of Muslims"), as well as a war in Afghanistan and US ally Israel showing their teeth in the middle east, it is easy to see that American influence is everywhere. The United States of the 21st century is very much along the lines of the old adage, “Love me, hate me- you're still thinking about me.” As the first world hyper-power, we have seen our country rise to unprecedented heights in some respects while falling dreadfully short in others.

These recent events in the east are nothing new. In the late 70’s/early 80’s, Jimmy Carter was president, the economy was suffering and an embassy was taken over in Iran by religious extremists. Israel participated in the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars, The post-Glasnost Soviet Union was undergoing cultural changes, with public approval of the Afghanistan War at an all-time low. Gas prices were high, and the American people were generally oblivious or apathetic to the world around them.

Who knew paying attention to history would pay off?

I was originally going to write about how the United States simultaneously embraces and shuns it’s self-appointed role as “World Police” and how that indecisiveness makes the actions fairly ineffective, leading to a “damned if we do, damned if we don't” kind of situation we consistently find ourselves in when it comes to world affairs.

I’m not gonna do that. Here’s why.

Everything I mentioned above is part of a cycle. It happens over and over, and endless waltz if you will. Everything we do falls into the same rut and carves out the same pattern, each time on a bigger scale. Think of it like the little trickle of water that eventually created the Grand Canyon.

9/11, the outrage and quagmired wars that followed, the “world police” argument, economic downturn and fairly unreliable global trends are not far off from say, the late 1800s to early 1900s. The USS Maine exploded, spiraling the United States into the Spanish-American War, which - while ending fairly similarly to modern conflicts- showed the strength and weaknesses of American foreign policy. What about “gunboat diplomacy”, the idea of being an omnipresent force around the world in order to spread national influence? That is certainly nothing new. President Herbert Hoover was in office when the Great Depression began. He was upstaged by Franklin Roosevelt, an anti-imperialist who liked many elements of collectivism, who used upbeat music and campaign slogans, blamed Hoover for everything and took a lot of personal power (and more terms than any other president) and leeway to make his dreams realities, be it for the better or worse of society. (Luckily, World War II came his way). All of these things are eerily familiar and that occurred to me as I researched for this article.

I guess the point I am trying to make is, it doesn’t really matter how we feel about the United States being the world police. Super Powers rise and fall, and history repeats itself, pretty much every 30-40 years. To know what happens next in the story, you need only thumb back a few pages.

I don’t know, maybe this job has made me a little cynical. Maybe I’m just tired of watching re-runs make breaking news on CNN. But no matter how you look at it, one very big trend is brought to the forefront- as much as I disagree with some of the needless wars we fight and the humanitarian aid that often goes wasted on countries who neither deserve nor have any desire to improve (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc), we are “damned if we do”- criticized for having the farthest reaching influence and “damned if we dont” - because if we don’t use that influence, another faction will, such as Russia, China or even something as scattered as radical idealism.
I guess in short, America is no longer a kid. America is an adult now, who has to face adult responsibilities that don’t always make sense or end up in her favor, regardless of what she does. Still, history will repeat itself and on a much larger scale. As the world gets smaller, so does the elbow room.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Generation Clueless

Clueless: The Average College Student Is Oblivious To World Affairs and Politics Andy Wolf Of all the things people should be cognizant of, World Events and Politics should be at the top of the list, and for obvious reason. Tensions in one country raises the price of fuel in another. Economic success and strain on one hemisphere of the globe determine what is a priority on the other hemisphere. Even something so simple as a Youtube video or a cartoon can incite violent reaction, costing lives in the process. Everything around us is in a perpetual state of motion, yet the average American twenty-something is absolutely deaf, blind (and by that logic, dumb) to the ever-changing environment we live in. In a recent survey conducted at APSU*, approximately 100 students of various genders and ethnicities were interviewed and asked who their State Representative and Senators were. Less than 5% knew the answer. Upon further questioning, 25% could name the three branches of Government in the United States. Less than 5% could locate Afghanistan (down to the region) on a blank map. Finally, the students were asked what Selective Service was. Ten percent knew what it was. However, 40% knew who the current host line up was on The X-Factor, 74% could name the 3 main characters from the Twilight books/film and a whopping 93% could recognize a photo of Snooki from Jersey Shore. Folks, we are in the midst of troubled times. The economy is suffering, we’re still at war, and the global stage is becoming increasingly unstable. Yet our nation’s greatest asset- it’s youth- are frighteningly unaware of the happenings in a world that they will lead, sooner than later. We are so easily swayed by rhetoric without checking the facts for ourselves, we openly accept things at face value. This generation doesn’t really have to think for itself, it would much rather operate as a social hivemind. Unfortunately, as it is with computers the GIGO rule applies: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Not unlike computers, this generation unquestioningly processes the most nonsensical of input data ("garbage in") and produces nonsensical output ("garbage out") as a result. We are not computers. We are sentient, free-thinking human beings. There are no parameters, no directives and no hivemind. If you want to sit on the sidelines and blissfully ignore what is going on around you, then you have no grounds to complain when the fantasy world you have created for yourself comes crashing down. In the 21st century, ignorance and misinformation is control. Feelings reign supreme over facts, and the complex task of picking future world leaders has been reduced to catchy phrases and who can put the most propaganda on youtube or dazzle you with celebrity endorsements. People complain about the way their country is going, yet they won’t go out and vote. They know more about the inner workings of Reality TV than the inner workings of their own Government and society. They are poor, yet they opt to stay home instead of look for any sort of work. They shout “yolo”, yet spend their entire mediocre lives on a Twitter or Facebook account. They “follow”, but they do not lead.They complain about the problems that plague their society, yet they do nothing. They are the problem. The most dangerous weapon against society is a combination of ignorance and apathy. During my research, I was jokingly asked if I was collecting data for some sort of coming “Zombie Apocalypse”. I smiled, but then shook my head in dismay as I looked at my results. “No, but pretty damn close.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry One (Unedited)

Posted Last Week in The All-State Here at The All-State, I have a love-hate relationship with reporting the news and voicing opinions. I try to keep facts above feelings because this is a news organization, not a political action group.

Of all the topics that divide this nation (let alone campuses and even my household), firearms and gun control is probably one of the most divisive and controversial. Being sort of a subject matter expert within the ranks of our agency (as not only a former combat soldier, but a small-arms instructor and the only person on staff who has used a weapon defensively), I was no stranger to this argument, but no eager participant, either.

Both sides of this debate range from the extreme and politically-biased (National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign) to the average individual with an opinion. Both hold considerable power, some more than others.

Recently, there have been a rash of shootings reported in the news (Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin to name the most recent) and even our own campus has been hit with a few stray rounds from a shooting in mid-August (however, when you factor the geographical location of the campus to the lower-income and crime-infested neighborhoods adjacent, it is surprising this doesn’t happen more often).  

As far as media coverage goes: of all the (rare) mass shootings that occur, nearly 100% are reported. Conversely, in cases where firearms are used in self defense to stop crimes from occurring, the media rarely covers the incident on such a broad scale, such as the 14 year old Arizona boy who protected his three siblings from an armed home invasion by using his father’s pistol.

However, we don’t get that kind of information. The most exposure the average (unarmed) American has to firearms is from Hollywood or Video Games, which often paint them in a bad light. People are afraid of them. Fear is a politician’s favorite ammunition. With enough hysteria, a politician can walk a legislation into law with little resistance (and little effect. the “Assault Weapons Ban” had little effect on reducing gun crime, not to mention it mostly placed restrictions on weapon parts that “looked” intimidating, but had little or no hindrance to the operation of said weapon).

Gun laws are already fairly restrictive. From “purchase to permit” (meaning the purchase of a handgun to the ability to legally carry it concealed) in the State of Tennessee, a total of two thorough State and Federal background checks are conducted. In addition, the applicant must also have never had a Felony, no DUI within the past 10 years, fallen short of child support or been found mentally defective by a Judge. These are just a handful of the 17 requirements that must be met before Tennesseans can even consider applying for an eight-hour defensive carry class, in which they must not only learn how to safely handle their firearm, but understand the laws about using force as well as prove on a range that they are capable of accurately using that force. The process is long, expensive and your Carry Permit is subject to being revoked at any time if you do something that causes you to no longer meet the initial requirements.

The fact of the matter is, most legal gun owners are law-abiding citizens who understand that self-defense is a human right, and do what they can to even their odds against an attacker. Criminals do not care about getting permits, gun free zones or legally obtaining a firearm. If we take firearms from the law-abiding, only criminals and Government agencies would have them. I have lived in countries where firearms are banned. Crime still goes up, because citizens have no deterrent against criminals and criminals don’t care. The Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was not a disgruntled individual. He legally purchased those firearms, that much is true. As effective as the FBI's NICS background check system is at preventing the legal transfer of firearms into the hands of felons or other unsavory individuals, a few fish will always make their way through the nets (often due to poor reporting of the individual’s character by health officials and family members, not the firearms dealer or Background Check services). Banning firearms or ammunition wouldn't have stopped Holmes: he is a deranged psychopath who was determined to carry this plan out in advance and would have obtained those weapons and the ammunition for his rampage, no matter what. The guy even made homemade flash-bangs and wired his apartment with IEDs that would have killed anyone who went inside. There was no getting around this guy. People knew he was deranged: his own mother wasn't all that surprised he carried it out. Had an individual been armed in that theater, this might have been prevented. I can’t personally guarantee it, but there is no denying that it would have changed the odds.

This argument could go on and on; I simply do not have enough paper in this office to sufficiently post every fact or argument I have obtained in my month-long hard research on this topic.

Despite all this, I think we lose sight on what the Second Amendment is really for. Why can we purchase and keep guns?

Regardless of how my pro and anti-gun colleagues think out there, the Second Amendment is not there so you can own 20 AR-15s or carry a pistol on your person “just because you can”.
It isn't so criminals can run rampant with stolen/illegally purchased weapons and commit crimes. The second amendment is there because it protects the people from the worst criminal of all - the Government. So long as we live in an armed society - one armed as well (if not in quality at least in quantity) as the Government it is forced to remember that the second amendment is the explicit right of the people to rebel if the Government no longer represents the will of the majority.

In closing, gun culture is undeniably part of the fabric that makes up American life. Say what you want about them; they aren’t going anywhere. The problem lies not in the object, but in the operator. Improve society and you won’t need restrictive gun laws.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight (and fear) Rises

Yesterday afternoon, I was informed of the tragic shooting at the premier of the latest in the Dark Knight series of films in Aurora, Colorado. My fiancee, shocked that I wasn't aware of the situation, presented me with a challenge: to go see the movie.
"People are afraid to go". she said. "That's stupid. We should go in their memory".

 I am going to be frank here when I say that at that moment, I was beaming ear to ear with pride in my wife-to-be. "Yeah," I responded, "Let's not let fear win."

 Now as we all know, she and I differ on what is probably the largest divisive topic of debate between us: Gun Control. She is pro, I am (mostly) against. Now this doesn't make me right, her wrong or vice-versa. We just have different individual views and respect for the other. That is what makes America great, right?

 However, last night and this morning had a different twist than I would have expected. Instead of appropriating blame or talking about our individual beliefs, we instead talked about the mind of the killer. This was a refreshing pace, not only due to the fact that the last few weeks have been rather tense due to outside influences, but that this is what I always loved about being around her.

 We talked about the killer's motives. We tried to figure out what we could about his psychological makeup given what limited information we had due to the general grain of salt you have to take regarding any early news reports these days. We concluded that this man was not a sane individual and that he definitely had gone above and beyond the average "rampage" shooter.

 Folks, this whole situation is unfortunate. There is no other word for it except "tragedy".

Now, being a young journalist, I strive to get both sides of the story. I checked with the two most extremist groups I could think of when it comes to gun control: The Brady Campaign and the NRA. The NRA's statement was the a-typical apologies and the Brady Campaign found no shortage to fire up the emotion train on this one (however, given their goals, who can blame them?)
However, common sense dictates that when you want to see how opposing camps feel, it is better to get the opinions of the individual members of organizations rather than the organization itself.

 The NRA members did what was expected of them: they got defensive, some in the worst way. Instead of focusing on the issue, they began the counter-blame game: everything from Obama to The Brady Campaign, spouting off about how the end is near. The Brady folks also had their share of accusations from legal firearms ownership to how the NRA was to blame all the way down to screaming about making ammunition too expensive to buy and claiming the end had already come. It was two sides of the same extremist coin and I can't help but wonder if they really know how similar they are.

So I asked a simple question- in person via email with colleagues and even on the Brady Campaign Facebook (which was promptly deleted, by the way- so much for free speech):

"Why didn't anyone shoot back?"

This might come across as a disrespectful question (believe me, there was backlash within seconds), but it was a genuine and respectful inquiry. Why didn't anyone shoot back? 

 Since 2003, the state of Colorado alone has issued over 130,000 conceal carry permits for law-abiding handgun owners who passed multiple background checks as well as classroom and range-qualification. The odds of someone carrying a concealed handgun (legally) is slim, but not that slim. 

 Here in Tennessee, I expected some sort of crazy "retroactively reactive" at the local theater here in the mall. You know, police everywhere, pat-downs of suspicious individuals, the works. However, I was surprised to find not cops, but Stormtroopers:
Due to the nature of one individual's profession, I have omitted a face.

Observe Exhibits A-D:
Ex A and B: two trustworthy, law-abiding people that I know personally (who just happen to be duking it out in this photo)
Ex C: Stormtrooper
Ex: D a loaded, semi-automatic pistol.

 Remember, this was taken at a mall, and there are small children, families and even a mall security guard in the background (armed with.. good intentions). Nobody is panicking, nobody is on a rampage and SWAT is not going through the door with a flash-bang grenade and submachine guns.

 This is a fairly common sight here. In fact, had I not pointed it out, you probably would not have noticed. This well-built, tattooed man is a decorated combat-wounded veteran, yet he would be the first person someone would imagine to go on a rampage. He has no felonies, no DUIs, no assault charges. He can't, otherwise he would lose his right to carry.

He wasn't the only armed individual in the mall that day. Many came out, some undoubtedly with his idea of showing that the average citizen would not stand for aggression of the illegal nature. I can guarantee you there were at least two weapons in the mall this evening and I am okay with that.

The Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was not a disgruntled individual. He legally purchased those firearms, that much is true. As effective as the FBI's NICS background check system is at preventing the legal transfer of firearms into the hands of felons or other unsavory individuals, a few fish will always make their way through the nets. Banning firearms or ammunition wouldn't have stopped Holmes: he is a deranged psychopath who was determined to carry this plan out in advance and would have obtained those weapons and the ammunition for his rampage, no matter what. The guy even made homemade flash-bangs and wired his apartment with IEDs that would have killed anyone who went inside. There was no getting around this guy. People knew he was deranged: his own mother wasn't all that surprised he carried it out. 

 In light of any tragedy, I can't help but notice the first thing to happen is the inevitable blame game. Who's fault is it? What can we do to stop it? 

 Now personally, I don't like the 100 round drums for rifles. However, of all the drums purchased, less than 1%  of those drums have ever been used in a massacre or crime and those with innocent intent are free to purchase them. Not that it would have mattered. Had it been a 5, 20 or 30 round magazine, it only takes a second to reload. Even a non semi-automatic rifle or handgun can be reloaded efficiently with practice. This guy was going to go through with this, even if he had to use a knife, a rock and a homemade bomb. Ironically, the incident occurred in a "Gun-Free Zone", where most mass-shootings occur. Not that he didn't expect opposition, the man wore body armor. However, I can speak firsthand from experience, that body armor does not make you bulletproof.

 Suzanna Hupp, a victim of the 1991 Luby's Cafeteria Massacre and former Texas House of Representatives Member, said it best: armed citizens could have stopped this before it escalated to the toll it reached. Sure, they could have made the situation worse (I've come to terms with the fact that in protecting myself or my loved ones, I may be shot by Police, who by the way on a national average only hit 1/3 of what they shoot at), but it surely would have evened the odds.

 Now all conspiracies aside (not even 48 hours, and I've heard everything from religion, to the joker, to the UN Small Arms treaty and Obama's re-election), I would say the best thing we Americans can do right now is not be afraid. This man obviously wanted to strike fear in the hearts of people. Let's not give him that. If you wanted to see the movie, go see it. It was amazing and very relevant to current events. Don't give into the fear, don't give into the hysteria. By all means, If you don't believe in guns, then keep calm and carry on. If you do, keep calm and carry one. This is a country of citizens, free to make decisions about their own lives and live with them (for now), but I digress. So in the words of an infinitely awesome man:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, May 11, 2012

Time To Get Up (An American Dawn)

 If you were to listen in on any conversation going on in America today, odds are that if you listened long enough you'd hear someone mention how hard times are for Americans. Turn on your television, I guarantee you will see scrolling letters and talking heads bombarding you with negativity and statistics.

 At four-thirty this morning, I awoke well-rested from my six-hour slumber to absolute silence in a dimly moonlit bedroom. It was moments like this, I thought, thank God the cable is shut off. 

 Now, that being said, I want to share something with you that I did see on television (Youtube, actually) that affected me in a positive and quite possibly inspirational manner.

 I don't care how you may feel about Dodge trucks, that is a good commercial.

Fact is, we are hurting. In an age of convenience, we have been inconvenienced. People are out of work. Homes are foreclosing, and the prices of gas, ammo and food rise and fall on the fluttering breeze of whimsical speculation. Things just plain suck.
However, there is no sense in just lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself. 

Time to get up.

As I type this, the warm orange glow of a new American dawn seeps through the window and over my shoulder. The sun rises today, with endless possibility and opportunities in store. Yes, I have bills to pay. Yes, I have taken pay cuts. Yes, I am out of work for the time being. My cupboards aren't full, nor is my gas tank or my wallet. 
However, at this moment, none of that matters.

 Where there is work to be done, there is satisfaction in a job well done. There is notice taken by others when one exhibits good work ethic. I have never been above any job in my life. As it stands, I want to be a Police Officer. Until that happens, I don't mind working on campus, going to school or selling and repairing firearms. I love these things. Not because they are particularly my favorite things to do; no, I find the greatest satisfaction in doing things right, the way I would want it if I were the one standing on the other side of the counter.

I'm not where I imagined I would be. I'm not where I truly want to be. But I have food in my stomach, my bills are paid and I can truly say that I work hard to earn every cent and praise.

Sometimes I feel we get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget that the greatest satisfaction in the world can be found through hard work and helping others. We get so caught up in Facebook and Television, wrapping ourselves into this ideal little world full of mirrors that more or less reflect on aspects of ourselves. The greatest things in the world are bigger than ourselves and until we recognize that, we are doomed to self pity and a narcissistic shell of a lifestyle we have brought upon ourselves.

I come home filthy every night, yet my conscience is clean.

Good Morning, America. Time To Get Up. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

And We're Up! (Quarter of a Century)

Ya know, it's funny how things sneak up on you.

As of dinner time last night, I was twenty-five years old.

 Funny thing is It didn't really mean a lot to me, - I'd been getting progressively older for as long as I remember-  but as the sun set over the woodline, I ceased chopping wood, securing my Kurkri to my belt and hoisting the logs and pine branches up to my chest for the trip home. As usual, Savannah (my German Shepherd/Daughter) happily trotted alongside me keeping me safe from snakes who may ambush us. 
The crickets were out as we kicked in the wooden gate and placed the wood into the old semi truck wheel rim, stuffing the pine and paper shreds underneath, sparking and airing embers until they came ablaze on their own.

The fire burned bright and hot as I waited on my friends to come out and visit, expecting food and fire and entertainment. One by one, the would-be-guests sent via text, type or telephone their excuses as to why they couldn't attend the little fireside soiree. Alas, I squatted down next to my pup, leaned into my entrenching tool and watched the fire burn and cackle into embers under the night sky. The moon shone, the crickets sang, the birds husshedly spoke among each other. Coyotes hawlled (wolves howl, coyotes attempt to do it but fail). All in this , my Savannah never left my side. She remained, her ears up and alert. It was at that moment that all of it hit me.

You see, I knew that despite everything that had transpired in my life, I essentially had to return home and turn 25 to figure out at least an inkling of where I stand in this world. I have been brought up from nothing and nobody to life as a travelling somebody living in luxury only to throw it all away to instead scurry through the slums of third world hellholes, military barracks, a few apartments here and there and then.. this. Back to the trailer from whence I came.

I'm 25 years old now. This year will be the first year I can actually be able to vote. I received a call from a localish Police Agency that I did well on testing and will be moving on to the next round. My love for writing remains strong and while living out here might cost me a little more, it teaches me now what it taught me years ago. Clarity. Finding peace. Learning that while I always have a sidearm on my hip, that I never wish to use it, and that I have a gift for language and empathy that I would much rather utilize, resolve the issue and be on my way, possibly with a new friend.. Someday I will teach my children to have one hand open and ready to shake, and another behind your back. I used to have a saying when someone knocked on my door: "Sweet Tea or Shotgun" . Still rings true, you know. Courtesy always has Caution on his side, you just don't know it. 

Quarter of a century in, and here we are. Hang on. I don't even know where we're going.