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Last year was filled with disease and political shenanigans. Judging from the first two weeks, 2021 is one like we’ve never had before. Much of our time and treasure will be related to last year’s president, COVID-19, the failure of nations and a global scramble trying to adjust to conditions caused by disease and political events we never imagined. Historians will have a lot to write about.

The 2020 horrors were not just in our valley, or in Utah, or our United States. They were worldwide. We can only guess what our world will be like when we bring coronavirus under control (and we will). It’s safe to say that our Earth and people who live on it will never be the same. Our new year challenge is to educate people to understand and improve our changing world.

Last year’s memories are not very good, but I will keep one memory and pass it on to my grandchildren. I saw something that no living person had ever seen before.

At sundown on December 21, Jenny and I stepped out our front door and saw a large, single bright “star” above the Wellsville Mountains. The planets Jupiter and Saturn had aligned on that Monday evening, making it appear they were a large single star in the sky.

Before that evening no living person had seen the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions. The last one was in 2000. But it and most other conjunctions are not visible to earthlings. Our 2020 Jupiter-Saturn conjunction was the first observable to humans since 1226. Some people think it was the Christmas Star, but humans chipped images of what appears to be eclipses on rocks long before Jesus came on the scene.

Messages chipped on rocks were made to communicate with people alive. They were “newspapers” for those living. They became history books for those of us who came after them. Because we do not know the individuals who wrote them, when or why their stories were written, and very little about the writers, we are left to wonder who and why.

Newspapers or newsstones have been important parts of human existence for a very long time. For most of my adult life I have started my day skimming through a newspaper to see how the weather and the world would be that day. After supper, I read the opinion page, in depth articles and looked at ads.

My tie to newspapers started with my maternal grandfather, George Hasty, who bartered vegetables from his garden for a local weekly paper written, printed and distributed by the owner of a simple hand press. The “news” was local gossip and included weather forecasts based on the signs of the Zodiac.

When Dad got a job on a Depression-era make-work project, Mother subscribed to the county’s weekly newspaper, the Burnet Bulletin. When I reached high school, I read the daily Austin American newspaper in the library.

It wasn’t until I was drafted into the Army that I discovered the vast network of newspapers. Papers from Washington, New York and London influenced people all over the world. Many hours reading papers from different nations convinced me Texas was not the center of the world.

When I returned to civilian life, no one delivered daily papers in the rural area where we lived. I bought a daily paper, usually the Austin American , every time I went to town.

The fall after I finished my Army hitch I enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College, married Jenny, became manager of a local radio station and subscribed to the San Marcos Daily Record. The radio gave me two minutes of summary “news” every hour. The newspaper helped me become part of the community. I learned newspapers were not just for reporting news, but were primary tools for building and maintaining community.

For the past 70 years, I have had a newspaper available to me almost every day. Here in the United States we subscribed to the college daily, the local daily and the daily paper published in the state capital. Overseas we subscribed to the major national daily and local papers to help us become part of our hosts’ world.

Newspapers, as I have known them, will be no more. Our local newspaper publishes a paper issue three times a week, most other papers only once weekly. All can be read online any time, any day for anyone with the equipment to get the “paper” off the internet. Most people get their “news” on something they call a telephone. With a flick of the thumb newsseakers find “news” that pleases them.

Recently, hoards of people invading our national capital to reverse results of the voters showed us that reading, listening or even seeing only stuff one agrees with is fatal — for our people and our country. Our most urgent and difficult task is to get humans to understand our world and the people who share it.

That requires teaching facts, not just the things people want to believe. It starts with adults of most species showing the young how to survive. It gets more complex with us humans, but homo sapiens’ future depends on education, not beliefs.

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