Just Lucky

November 26, 2009

It is Thanksgiving. I know you knew that, but I had to start somewhere.

Visions of turkeys at my grandmother’s house get stronger as the smells from the kitchen grow stronger.

We sometimes had Thanksgiving at the homes of other relatives, but I only remember the ones at Nana’s. Heaping bowls of buttery mashed potatoes, tureens of gravy, piles of fresh rolls, casseroles of one kind or another involving green vegetables and thus suitable to be ignored by boys of a certain age.

In the center, of course, would loom the turkeys.

To a kid my age, they were always enormous, a wall of poultry, steaming, savory, the epitome of temptation.

OK, this was before puberty, and my range of temptations was still fairly narrow. But still. Oh. My. God.

I am feel more fondly now of toward some of the people at that table, looking back, than I did then. For one thing, most of them are dead, and it seems unkind to feel otherwise.

It was the usual mix: Mom and Dad, my brother, my grandmother, resigned and unhappy, her own mother, sour, mean of eye and the reason for the dispirited expression in Nana’s face. Assorted other relatives filled the chairs. The older I get, the less distinct their faces become.

They were possessed of the usual hodge-podge of human frailties and strengths, drawn by accidents of birth and a circled date on the calendar to sit down at a feast of gratitude.

Thanksgiving is an ancient word, and an older concept, giving praise to whatever deity you worship for what you have been given. Not that we are required to worship a deity to be grateful. This has long troubled me as a practical atheist. I finally decided it was perfectly logical to feel gratitude for simply being lucky as hell, or at least luckier than you likely deserve.

In a little while I will close this laptop and join a dozen other people at a table groaning with two turkeys and all the accompanying glories of excess, as three dogs roam around the table like religious pilgrims, seeking epiphanies.

It does not take a flash of comprehension for me to know how very lucky I am. I have people who, mysteriously, both know and like me, despite my obvious failings. I have never known serious hunger, been homeless, or suffered many of the insults to self-respect that human culture can pile on. I am in frequent contact with truly amazing people.

Yes, I could win a big lottery. Against all common sense and my own advice, I sometimes buy a ticket, because, well, you never know. But I’m really fine without it. I’m lucky, and I know it, through no effort or grace of my own. How did it happen?

Beats the hell out of me.

Happy Thanksgiving.


© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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There has been a lot of talk lately about the decision by Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the U.S. and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, among other crimes.

The decision to try Mohammed in a civilian court instead of having him face a military tribunal has been greeted by a lot of outrage and hand-wringing. It’s dangerous, some say. It’s what the terrorists want say others, so we shouldn’t give it to them, say others. It could give the terrorists reason to attack New York again, and threaten the court, the jurors, prosecutors, etc…

My friend Bob wrote to me the other day. “I think it is absolutely insane,” he said. “If these terrorists will be tried under the U.S. criminal justice system, AND it’s been admitted they did not receive their Miranda Rights, AND both the President of the United States and the U.S. Attorney General have admitted they were “tortured,” wouldn’t any competent judge would have to immediately dismiss the case?”

I am certainly no attorney, but I’ve covered my share of court battles. I have some thoughts.

For one thing, yes, a civilian trial will be full of pitfalls. And that’s OUR fault.

The previous administration’s tendency to use the Constitution only as a list of suggestion left us with quite a dilemma.

For one thing, as to the site of the trial, legally, i.e., constitutionally, it only makes sense.

The attacks of that day, for all their scope and horror, were criminal acts, carried out by a criminal organization. Thus, our laws demand that a trial be held in the jurisdiction in which the crime took place, with a chance for Mohammed to face his accusers and have his say.

Of course, there is the worry that Al Qaeda or some other band of holy murderers will seek to avenge the people involved in the trial, or the residents of New York City.

So, we’re supposed to break our own laws because we’re afraid of the terrorists?

The whole reason they are called terrorists is that they want us to be afraid, to abandon what we stand for and do things out of fear and anger, not out of reason and law. The last thing they would want is to be treated fairly under a set of secular laws, removed from the passions of our righteous anger and their feudal, wild-eyed fundamentalism

Yes, another attack could happen. But it’s not as though any of these thugs need a new reason.

It is also not as though we have not been through all this before.

A number of terror suspects have been put on trial in the U.S., convicted and imprisoned and the world did not come to a screeching halt. With a little time on a search engine, I found seven right off the bat.

•    First, let us not forget Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, whose truck bomb destroyed a federal building in April, 1995, killing 168 people, 19 of them children. He was one of our home-grown terrorists, born and raised New York State. He attacked what he believed to be a tyrannical federal government. Tried and convicted in a civilian court, he was executed in June of 2001, less than three months before 9/11.

•    Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, one of the planners of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was tried in New York City in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Incidentally, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is his uncle.

•     Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, aka “The Blind Sheikh,” is serving a life sentence after he and nine others were convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for planning terrorist attacks on a number of civilian targets in the U.S. In 1996 he was sentenced to life in prison. At the time, he said the U.S. would certainly kill him once he was in prison. Apparently, the paperwork for his assassination in lockup got lost somewhere.

•    El Sayyid Nosair stood trial as a co-conspirator of Rahman. He too received a life sentence.

•     Richard Reid, whom we in the label-happy media named “The Shoe Bomber,” is serving a life sentence after he tried to destroy a jetliner in flight in late in  2001 by setting off explosives hidden in his shoe.

•    José Padilla, charged with planning to explode a “dirty bomb,” was convicted instead on conspiracy charges. He is serving a 17 year sentence.

•    Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the Sept. 11 conspirators and the only one who failed to board an aircraft that day, is serving a life sentence.

The feds apparently think they have enough of a slam-dunk that they can try Mohammed without falling back on his confession, which was obtained after illegal questioning under torture. More on that in a moment.

We already get tons of criminals who claim not to have been Mirandized or who say they were tortured or coerced in some way. In some cases, it may even be true. But if they can’t offer proof or corroboration in some way, those accusations do not carry a lot of weight.

In this case, Mohammed was tortured, water-boarded more than 100 times, and former Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly saying “oh, that’s not torture” won’t change that fact, or its consequences. Any competent defense attorney will bring up the torture, if the prosecution attempts to use the confession.

Mohammed, by the way, only confessed some time after the torture sessions were ended and more traditional interrogation techniques were applied.

The problem is that you can’t go screwing around with what is really a very good legal system without paying some kind of consequence.

The previous administration played fast and loose with the rules as it suited them, and now we have a real mess on our hands.

This whole matter hinges on how serious “We the People” take the Constitution, truly the foundation of what and who we are as a nation.

We are not some tribal society, in which anything goes as long as it benefits that one narrow group of people. We are distinguished by the fact that we are a nation linked and shaped by a set of codified rules, not by race, creed, or religion. If we cannot abide by our own laws, then we are little more than a very large mob.

Or, to be blunter, we would be no better than terrorists ourselves.

Bob is right. This IS a disaster, but a disaster of our own making.

But surely it is plain how we would compound that disaster to make special cases out of suspected terrorists, to set aside the rights guaranteed them under the document that defines us? To do so would be to grant them victory.

As hard as it is to think about the possibility that these guys could go free, in the greater sense I think we have no other choice than to grant them the rights we would give any other thugs whose crimes were less spectacular.

I don’t think the civilian trials of these alleged terrorists will throw a wrench into our legal system. It may be true that they walk free because We the People set aside the Constitution and took a short-cut. If that occurs, it is we who threw the wrench.

A friend asked, just this morning, asked if I realized that in a lot of countries, Mohammed would simply be paraded out into some public place and summarily shot.

Yes, I know that. That is the point. We are better than that. And the bad guys hate us for it.
© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

As many of you already know, I live in the Gettysburg area. My house sits about five miles south of the official battlefield park, scene of the famous July 1-3, 1863 fight that saw the high-water mark of the Confederacy, and the much-ballyhooed turning point of the American Civil War.

It was also a portent of great wealth for the Asian manufacturers of little toy rifles and swords with which the darling children and grandchildren of tourists pretend jolly mayhem on one another.

Of course, the battle took up a lot more space than just the 6,000-acre park. The road on which I live, for example, was the site of an encampment of troops serving under Union Gen. Abner Doubleday, who did not, legends to the contrary, invent baseball.

I am not enough of a student of history to know what Abner did in the battle, but according to a neighbor who pokes around the area with a metal detector, his troops apparently gave up sleep for the evening, preferring rather to spend their time peppering the ground with bullets, buckles, and buttons for the benefit of future relic hunters.

We get between 1.5 and 2 million tourists every year. It makes us really cagey about finding ways around town via alleys and back roads so we have a lower risk of getting behind one of our famous double-decker tour buses or some septuagenarian operating a 40-foot motor home while trying to read battlefield markers without actually stopping.

The great thing about all those tourists is that they bring their wallets with them, and when they leave, said wallets are usually a good bit lighter.

This is a good thing.

The bad thing is that we have to deal with tourists for all but the coldest months of the year. There has been, I believe, some intense research into finding a way for the tourists to simply mail their money to us, or transmit it through PayPal, but all the details haven’t been ironed out yet.

I’ll keep you posted.

These thoughts reasserted themselves recently as I sat in one of the restaurants on the tourist strip, writing in my journal and enjoying some ice cream and coffee.

Well, trying to.

Tourist season was already past its peak. Halloween was behind us, so the legions of live people looking for dead people on the battlefield were pretty well gone off to haunt other places.

Still, and mysteriously, one end of the restaurant was filled with a platoon of Confederate re-enactors in full regalia. Fortunately, they weren’t hard-core, that segment of the re-enactor universe who never wash their uniforms, out of deference to historical and olfactory exactitude, and who as a result smell like road-kill.

No, this was generally speaking a bunch of good-ole boys having a grand time with their lady friends over a hearty meal of chicken strips and bluish-ice cream sundaes. Better than hard-tack, you betcha.

They were a rowdy lot, but none more so than one fellow at the nearest table, who spoke with great animation and volume about his latest adventures in the sphere of medicine.

He sat facing me at an angle. Directly across from him, and facing away from me, was the woman who seemed to be with him. She was a substantial lass, with long, lustrous black hair and a deep and abiding passion for fried food, judging from her plate and by her, um, beamishness.

Now, I am the last person to pronounce judgment on a person’s girth, being horizontally gifted in my own right, or their choices in how they garb themselves. My favorite leisure time clothing is a sturdy set of bib overalls and bare feet, so who am I to talk?

Even so, I like to think that if I had the sort of back porch possessed by that young lady, hip-huggers might very well be the very last thing on my list of things to wear out in public.

“Hip-huggers” is perhaps not an accurate description, as these seemed more to be holding on by their fingernails.

The problem was exacerbated by a T-shirt whose reach was far from adequate.

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember just how white some white people can be.

I do believe my corner of the room was a lot brighter than it otherwise might be, for all the light being reflected my way. I felt that I had suddenly found myself in the spotlight. I would have risen and given an acceptance speech if I could have gotten a word in edgewise.

He never stopped talking. He was too loud to ignore. And the subject seemed to change every other sentence or two.

It wasn’t so bad, merely annoying, until he started talking about his colonoscopy, his dramatic re-telling of the preparatory arrangements involved, the methodologies employed in achieving the exam, and the results discovered in the process.

By the time he got to the end of the recitation and confessed that his doctor had also discovered a mother lode of hemorrhoids, (“Which I already knew,” he added), I don’t believe anyone on the north side of the Steinwehr Ave. Friendly’s had the least bit of sympathy for him.

His friends either ignored him, or pored over the brochures and notices on the bulletin board by the register…

I, fuming that my chance to concentrate on my journal-writing had been thoroughly smashed, also admitted that if I hadn’t chosen a large serving of super-chocolate fudge ice-cream, I might have gotten through the ordeal with a bit less discomfort.


© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: