Category Archives: Views

Study Suggests Southern Depression

Home | A Traveling Arkansan | Study Suggests Southern Depression

Sitton suggests getting off your arse and seeing Southern beauty to break those blues. You could go someplace like Abrams Falls. (photo by Glynn Wilson)
Sitton suggests getting off your arse and seeing Southern beauty to break those blues. You could go someplace like Abrams Falls. (photo by Glynn Wilson)
The annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranks eight Southern states among the bottom 10, with West Virginians taking 50th for the fourth year in a row.

West Virginians were the least likely to be thriving, as was the case in 2011. Also, West Virginians had the worst emotional health in the nation and were more likely to report being diagnosed with depression than residents of any other state.

Residents in West Virginia also had the lowest score on the Physical Health Index, which includes having the highest percentage of obese residents in the nation.

I suggest getting off your arse and seeing Southern beauty to break those blues. You could go someplace like Abrams Falls if you’re in Tennessee. Or you could find someplace closer to home.

As I finish my time in Southeast Arkansas, I plan to knock out my bucket list. Check back to see you can find beauty all over our country, but especially in the South. If you’re sad or unhealthy, folks, you just ain’t trying.

Show Your Support of The Southerner Journal

Home | Southern Scene | Show Your Support of The Southerner Journal
Leroy Sitton reads his newspaper, with the top just low enough to see the flat-screen TV on the wall. I’ll always remember dad this way.

MONTICELLO — If you haven’t noticed, this blog represents a labor of love about a region we’ve inhabited the majority of our lives.

Sure, you see blog ads on the side and we may get pennies on the dollar if you click through them. You can contribute directly through PayPal, which makes the best way to support investigative journalism.

But what if you don’t have any money to spare? So what can you do to help, patient reader?

You’ll notice the “Around the South” section features someone reading a newspaper. We show this as a tribute to all of those years folks got their “facts” from trusted newsprint. Some still do, though many are going digital.

If you’d like to appear in The Southerner Journal on your birthday, send us a picture of you reading a newspaper. Better yet, make a pic of you next to a computer screen, iPad or cellphone with The Southerner Journal. Send the photo, your name and birth date to sitron45 at gmail dot com (making sure to write it like an email address) with the subject heading: Southerner Read.

We’ll do our best to use your picture on your birthday if it arrives in time. Just another way of saying THANKS! for continuing to come back for an Independent take on the South in the 21st century.

Moving Down the Road, Acknowledging Debts

Home | A Traveling Arkansan | Moving Down the Road, Acknowledging Debts

SOMEWHERE ON I-81, Va. — Tell your mama, tell your paw … We’re heading back to Arkansas.

Due to transporting three dogs and two humans and the problems finding accommodations with Wifi along the way, the news links may or may not be posted tomorrow. If not, visit our sister site, The Locust Fork News-Journal. But look for us to return as soon as technology provides.

You may have noticed the photos of people reading with the news links. This idea came from reading Mr. SEC, the definitive site to read everything you wanted to know about Southeast Conference football and basketball. You may occasionally find sports-related material here, but we plan to concentrate on bringing you other aspects of the South.

As a tease of sorts, I expect to receive photos of the group who stood for the Pine Bluff soldier once I get home. If that comes through, expect to see them as soon as I can post them.


How Much Heat Can We Take Before We Attack Global Warming?

Home | Environment | How Much Heat Can We Take Before We Attack Global Warming?

How to Save the Planet and Fix the Economy Too

The Big Picture

Just how hot does it have to get before the people of the United States finally acknowledge that global warming is happening? When are we going to stop arguing about it and start doing something to at least slow it down from getting even hotter?

We have known about this for at least a couple of decades. The science was settled on this back in the 1990s when I wrote a doctoral dissertation about media coverage of global warming.

There is no doubt that humans are causing the warming of the planet with our insatiable demand for electric power from the burning of fossil fuels, which causes greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere and trap heat around the planet.

What will it take to convince the corporations that profit from electric power generated by the burning of coal, natural gas and oil? What will it take to convince the Republicans? What will it take to convince the Christians?

Once again this summer, temperatures have soared over the 100 mark in the United States and around the globe, setting more records, just as we have seen over the past 20 years. From Philadelphia and New York, to Louisville, Kentucky and Birmingham, Alabama and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the heat baked the landscape like a plague.

At least 30 deaths were blamed on the heat, including nine in Maryland and 10 in Chicago, while officials said the heat caused highways to buckle in Illinois and Wisconsin. Thousands of mid-Atlantic residents remained without power for more than a week from deadly summer storms and extreme heat, including 120,000 in West Virginia and some 8,000 in the suburbs around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In the Washington area, Pepco asked customers to conserve power, saying the heat was stressing the system.

This heat wave and an accompanying drought — and freak storms and massive power outages — will continue to spread over the next couple of months. But the Republicans in Congress and the states would rather try to defeat President Obama at the polls by lying to and exploiting their conservative constituencies than to tell people the truth.

Corporations like Southern Company, which controls Alabama Power and Georgia Power, would rather spend their money on campaign contributions to Republicans who oppose doing anything about global warming — or air pollution and water pollution for that matter — than to get onboard and try to help reverse the warming of the planet and the inevitable changes in climate.

As for the Christians, who tend to vote Republican, they just seem to figure that when the entire planet catches on fire, some god will snatch them out of the flames and save them and take them to another planet in the universe where they can live in what they call “heaven,” while the rest of us burn.

I’ve often wondered if these Christians, like our not so esteemed governor of Alabama Robert Bentley, really believe there are separate planets in the universe reserved for the white Christians and the black Christians? Is there another planet set aside for the brown Christians and the yellow Christians?

Since scientists have not found a suitable new planet to house any of us yet — or a way to travel there — would it not behoove us to try to slow down the warming of the planet, the melting of solar ice caps and the rising seas until we might find such a place?

Or is god a space alien like the Mormons believe? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Let’s elect a Mormon for president and put off doing anything about global warming for another eight years and see what happens. Morons.

If the U.S. Supreme Court had not handed George W. Bush the presidency in the year 2000, we could be a long way down the road of doing something about this by now. But no, we just have to keep on having a silly argument that drags on for years and serves no purpose except to make a few people richer, while the rest of our lives just continue to get worse.

Now I know a lot of people on the left, including a lot of environmentalists, are no fans of President Obama. But if everybody does not get onboard and prevent the election of the Massachusetts Mormon Mitt Romney to the White House in November, we may see the world end as we know it in our lifetimes.

At least science and merit are back to some extent in the federal government, although we’ve got a long way to go to get rid of all the bureaucrats Dick Cheney hired. Maybe we can do that in a second Obama term.

Otherwise, we might as well fool ourselves like the Maya did by committing human sacrifices and polluting their own water supply. Oh, but we learned this week that the Maya calendar doesn’t end on Dec. 21, 2012. Maybe it ends by the end of Romney’s second term? Let’s ask Nostradamus why don’t we?

Or, perhaps it’s time to stop fouling our own nest and to take responsibility for conserving this planet so there can be future generations.

If we would make up our minds to get on with a program to change this warming trend, it would not cost us jobs or hurt the economy. In fact, fixing the power plants we have and building new, cleaner ones would create millions of new high paying union jobs and save the economy.

And while we’re are it, if we really wanted to fix the economy, there are two other things we could do right away — if we could find the political will. Get rid of the ridiculous Cold War trade restrictions on Cuba, and legalize marijuana. Trade with Cuba could save the Southern states from economic ruin, and the taxes we could collect on pot would immediately save us a billion dollars on law enforcement and eliminate the budget deficit overnight.

I’ve got it. Why don’t we end the war on drugs and start a war on global warming? Would that help people understand?

We can do these things. But not if we cower to the corporations, listen to the Christians — or elect Republicans. We must first face reality in our politics.

The South Mourns 20th Century Icon

Home | A Traveling Arkansan | The South Mourns 20th Century Icon

OLNEY, Md. – The South — and the world — mourns today following news of Andy Griffith’s demise.

The 86-year-old came into our homes more than half a century on this newfangled contraption called TV. He made us laugh, a LOT, and brought the down-home goodness of Mayberry into the American conscious.

Sure, Andy Griffith played roles other than Andy Taylor, but no other role suited him so.


I started watching “The Andy Griffith Show” when my mom married my dad, Leroy Sitton, in 1977. Dad worked for the Arkansas State Police. I’m – still – a redhead. And Ronny Howard actually knew to spell his name with a “y.” It all rolled from there. In hindsight, I’m only surprised that it took until the 8th grade for Patrick Grogan to nickname me “Opie.”

Although I didn’t live in Mayberry, I learned a lot from watching Sheriff Taylor and the gang.

Watching Aunt Bee arrive to help with Opie in “The New Housekeeper” showed me acceptance may be hard, but love can overcome anything.

Watching the citizens of Mayberry’s hostility to a fella who knew everything about them in “Stranger in Town” showed me folks have NO IDEA about the long reach of media, which is particularly relevant in these days of facebook and twitter.

Watching Barney Fife take over as sheriff in “Andy Saves Barney’s Morale” showed me absolute power can corrupt absolutely.

I could go on, but I’m sure you have your favorite episodes.

Surprisingly, television allowed Griffith to portray a single dad in an era where single parents were frowned upon. By the time I came around, single dad-hood wasn’t a big deal as we received daily doses of “Family Affair.”


Otis puts himself back into his kennel.
The show made such an impact on me, we named our dog Otis after Mayberry’s town drunk. At first glance, this might seem to be a slight. But what else could we name the dog after he continually put himself in his kennel whenever he messed up?


Sunday would have been dad’s 74th birthday. In a way, I find it fitting that Andy Griffith died the week that marks dad’s birthday, my folk’s anniversary and the nation’s Independence Day.

The only way it would be more fitting would have been for “Ang” to pass on July 4th. But then again, he never was one to hog the spotlight.

We’ll miss you, sir.


Editor’s Note: A previous version left out the word “on” when discussing the reader’s favorite episodes and also contained an AP style error. All apologies.

Tom Campbell: A Witness To History

Home | Featured Guest Writer | Tom Campbell: A Witness To History

(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in our sister publication, The Locust Fork blog.)


Guest Column
by Tom Campbell

NEW YORK — Few people ever have a chance to be arms’ length from greatness. As a lifelong fan of Alabama football, I feel lucky to know that I’ve been a witness to an event that will become a part of Alabama’s fabled history.

To have had such an opportunity twice is remarkable. On both occasions, I tried to burn each detail into my memory because I knew the events before me were celebrating a legacy of pride and greatness.

Two celebrations of excellence of historic proportions for the storied University of Alabama football program will endure in my memory.

Tom Campbell
Mark Ingram will carry the Heisman experience for the rest of his life

Over 25 years ago, as my last official act as student body president at the University of Alabama, I attended the funeral of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. As sad as Bryant’s funeral and grave site procession were, the Alabama family celebrated a man whose impact upon his players, coaches, university and fans proved immeasurable.

Economic times were hard then, and folks rallied around the prowess and class surrounding the football institution Coach Bryant built. During a time when people were losing a lot — jobs, bonuses, homes — Alabama football offered fans in the community something to be proud of and helped people feel like winners. Despite the celebratory remembrance of Bryant’s life and career, this event nevertheless marked an end.

Now, decades later, in the midst of a terrible economic climate, I had the opportunity to observe another event crucial to the history of Alabama’s football program as a special assignment reporter for the Locust Fork News Journal. However, this celebration, at the announcement of the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, marked a new beginning rather than an end.
Before the announcement of the Heisman winner, the press was treated to a banquet dinner in Times Square. Surrounded by the five finalists, their esteemed coaches and a legion of legendary figures from football history, I felt like the room was filled with electricity and promise. Pluck and grit and winning attitudes really had made a difference in the lives of these young men and their proud coaches, and I was inspired to see the culmination of a football season filled with talent, drive and teamwork.

In each of the five young finalists, Tebow, Ingram, McCoy, Gearhardt and Suh, I saw student athletes brought to this level not only by their physical prowess but also by the humility and class that comes with winning character. Each finalist was being celebrated for personal greatness. Each young man was supremely self-confident. But to a man they exuded gratitude for their God-given talent and appreciation for the coaches, programs and teammates who allowed them to shine. None appeared to express an air of entitlement or arrogance.

Of particular interest to me personally, was of course Mark Ingram. The Flint, Michigan, native turned Alabama standout sat before me with poise and polish. This young man had a brilliant turnout in what may well be a National Championship season, and it was easy for me to forget that just a few miles east of Times Square, Ingram’s father awaited transfer to prison — that Ingram achieved this accomplishment amidst personal turmoil and hardship.

Equally hard to believe was the fact that Ingram has achieved this honor as a sophomore. I wondered if he would follow Tim Tebow as the second Heisman winner to earn that distinction as a sophomore.

Tom Campbell
Alabama’s Nick Saban winks as if he knows a secret after Ingram dodges a question about the Heisman Curse

Before the result was announced, the pride Coach Nick Saban exuded for his player proved infectious, and I found myself forgetting my journalistic objective for attending the Heisman banquet in the first place as I hoped to hear those two words revealed, “Mark Ingram.”

Would this be one more mark of greatness for the University of Alabama football program? Would Ingram prove himself a formidable opponent on the national stage? Would Saban continue to create his own legacy at Bama, marked as much by the quality of the character of his players as their domination on the football field? Would their affiliation with the University of Alabama continue to be a rallying point of pride and celebration for fans in a time of financial difficulty for many in our state?

And the answer was yes.

Mark Ingram was awarded the Heisman — a storybook beginning for what surely will prove to be a heralded football career.

And I was fortunate enough to witness another legendary chapter in the story of the Alabama football program.

Roll Tide!

Passing on the Knowledge

Home | A Traveling Arkansan | Passing on the Knowledge

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — It looks like I’m going to help my wife start a blog about being an ecovore. Stay tuned for updates!

Perpetual Notions: The Future of Journalism and The Republic

Home | Media | Perpetual Notions: The Future of Journalism and The Republic
(photo by Sitton)

MONTICELLO, Ark. — I just took a survey administered by Free Press. I give you my answers here if you want to see what I think about the future of journalism and the Republic.

I suggest you take the survey yourself to tell the FTC what type of media you need to make informed decisions about important events while you’ve still got the chance, before corporate media overwhelms the discussion and further diminishes the voices affecting the political process.

You’ve only got until Nov. 6. After all, you don’t want Sitton’s views to dominate the discussion, do ya?

How is the Internet changing the way you consume news and information? (How has it affected your ability to access high-quality local, national and international news? Will greater competition among media outlets support new forms of journalism?)

The Internet provides access to high-quality national and international news at the click of a button. It’s easy to cross-check information by accessing multiple sites. By gathering more than one version of the news, I get closer to the truth of the matter. Read more: Perpetual Notions: The Future of Journalism and The Republic

Celebrating National Parks’ Week

Home | A Traveling Arkansan | Celebrating National Parks’ Week
Fall in the Smokies

MONTICELLO, Ark. — All apologies for the lack of posts in September. But as promised, a cross-post from my personal blog when it relates to the South.

For those wondering, this week’s celebrating the U.S. National Parks and Ken Burns’ documentary showing on PBS. After staying West for most of the week, it’s time to turn attention to the Eastern United States.

The Great Smoky Mountains hold a special place in my heart for many reasons, some of which I will describe. I first remember visiting the Smokies at the age of 5, about the time my parents were going through a divorce. Mama and Papa took me on a tour of the Southeast in hopes of getting my mind off the events at home. For the most part, it did.

First frost, Great Smoky Mountains

It’s amazing that 35 years later, I still remember some of the things I saw, e.g. I remember seeing people outside of their cars trying to get pictures of the black bears. Granted, some of this memory has been muddled as Tanya told me about her dad trying to take a picture of a black bear and getting closer and closer until he realized he was way, way TOO close.

Much clearer, I remember coming into the North Carolina side of the Smokies. A caged bear amused tourists by drinking soda pop from a bottle. I’ll never forget how sad it seemed to see such a magnificent animal behind bars when I’d just seen other bears in the “wild.”

Smokies' Stream -- This picture once appeared in The Southerner as part of our Secret Vistas.
Smokies’ Stream — This picture once appeared in The Southerner as part of our Secret Vistas.

I also remember meeting Chief Fish (at least that’s what he told me his name was) and getting a picture. When I returned to the area a quarter of a century later, I asked about Chief Fish and was told that he had moved away to start a road-paving business. I don’t hold that against him, but I wonder if he got tired of being a curiosity. I know I will never forget him.

I moved to Eastern Tennessee in the late 1990s to work on my doctorate at the University of Tennessee. While there, I took a bunch of trips to the Great Smoky Mountains to clear my mind. It was a special haven, especially after one of the most severe break-ups I encountered in my lifetime. I don’t recommend having personal angst as a reason to see it, but the beauty puts things into perspective.

I turned the camera eye on the Smokies to provide pictures for Scenic Vistas, a special feature in The Southerner online magazine that we started while I was in graduate school. The picture at the bottom of this post and the river picture to the left both came from that period.

One of the best places in the Smokies must be Cades Cove, a nice circular drive that takes you past some of the original settlers’ outposts and pastoral scenes, including this one of deer in the field.

Cades Cove drive
Cades Cove drive

One of the funniest things about the Great Smoky Mountains that I heard actually came from a conversation with a North Carolina resident while I was visiting Boone. She noted the “Flor-idiots” would come up to see the scenery and stop in the middle of the roads, causing traffic jams (at the very least) and occasionally being a health hazard to those not smart enough to get out of the road.

But really, who can blame them when you see sights such as this (below)? Once again, I plan to add a section to my home page of photos from across the nation … but that takes time and right now, time is taken. Soon? I hope. Until then, hope you enjoy what’s shown here, but better yet, get out and see it for yourself. It makes me proud that our government set land aside for future generations to enjoy without having to be wealthy individuals. Truly, it’s one of the best things our government has ever done.


For more views of our National Parks, visit Transfixed to see a National Park of the Day for each day of National Parks’ Week.

NOTE: Updated 22 Feb 13 to fix broken links.

Signs of the Times

Home | A Traveling Arkansan | Signs of the Times
Justified — This sign seems planned to remind North Carolina motorists why it should remain standing during tough economic times.

Perpetual Notions
by Ronald Sitton

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Aug. 3) — You see them every day on your way to and from work, the grocery store, the library, the pool, the folks … but you might not “notice” them except for the occasional message.

In the late 1990s, “Got Milk?” grabbed the attention of passing American motorists before becoming a world-wide campaign. Without knowing the actual returns on investment, it seems the milk industry fared much better than the pork industry’s “The Other White Meat” and “Beef – It’s what’s for dinner” (note: the beef billboards apparently spawned a PETA/vegetarian response).

Around the nation, recession billboards ask Americans to lighten up. Some of you may remember the racy Calvin Klein ads of the late ’80s, but apparently the company’s newest billboards even messes with New Yorkers. Someone found the time to make a Web site commemorating crazy and funny billboards for the bored to enjoy. But not all billboards are funny:

It’s hard to understand the logic behind the use of some billboards.

File Photo
Priorities — Stop to see where the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker might be, but what about where Louis Jordan was? (File Photo)

In Kevin Clark’s documentary “Is You Is: A Louis Jordan Story,” Arkansongs dee-jay Stephen Koch tells of childhood expectations of seeing a statue of the legendary Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame honoree noting his hometown of Brinkley, Ark.

Instead he found a lot of promotion for the re-discovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker — but not one billboard tells passing travelers about Jordan. Wouldn’t it be better to attract as many travelers as possible during tough economic times, especially when located on a busy Interstate?

Perhaps even crazier: billboards on I-40 westbound promote investment opportunities in Brinkley … right after you pass the Brinkley exit with the next exit nowhere in sight.

Of course now, it’s not enough to have a static sign breaking the scenic view as you drive America’s highways and byways. Electronic and digital billboards are becoming all the rage. Even the FBI understands how useful they can be with the ability to update as needed. Are they safe? The federal Highway Administration sure seems to think so, especially when they sit in congested areas that give drivers time to sit and watch them.

Some claim business forays into social media represent nothing more than electronic billboards, but somebody’s watching. And just when you thought it was safe to go out in the water again … amphibious billboards! What’s next? Billboards in space?

But billboards aren’t just for business anymore.

GOD, Politics and Education

I’ll never forget driving to Knoxville from Clinton, Tenn., and seeing:

“That ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ thing … I meant that.” – God

Apparently, a non-denominational anonymous donor started that campaign. Halfway across the world, the Church of Singapore ran these to get more people to attend church on Sunday.

Some would say religion wouldn’t be religion if there wasn’t some controversy. You expect atheists to question God’s existence, but what about this campaign to “challenge the mindset of a new generation of church goers”? I prefer the approach of The Foundation for Life, whose “Pass It On” series hits really hard.

When it comes to politics, sometimes it’s tough to tell who’s selling what. Read more: Signs of the Times

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