There Is No App For That

August 31, 2014

By T.W. Burger

Guns are not dangerous in the same way that a sharp knife or a hammer is not dangerous.

There, I said it.

It’s the people. It’s us. We are the danger.

It’s not quite the PC thing, I know. It is quite the fashion now to rage against firearms, as though they are the embodiment of the devil himself.

I like guns. With a couple of odd and mostly inoperative exceptions, I don’t have any, but I like them. I grew up with guns. I had my first gun, a Daisy Model 25 BB gun when I was 11. (If you don’t think a BB gun can be dangerous, talk to any ER physician.) I got my first grown-up gun at about 14 or 15, a single-barrel 16 gauge shotgun, and had a number of firearms afterward.

I never once killed anyone, though I confess to have thought about it once or twice.

As far as the use of guns, well, I like to keep fantasy and reality segregated. The infamously bad movie “Red Dawn” (1984 and again in 2012) and its plucky gang of high school students defeating an invasion by the Soviet Union in the first version and a rogue unit of the North Koreans in the second made everybody feel good.

Despite what we see on TV and at the cinema, it’s not bloody likely. Witness the mess in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. It seems that absolutely everybody in those places is heavily armed. Do those places seem placid and safe? Take note, NRA.

So, guns are OK by me. Idiots and crazy people are something else. Put a gun into the hands of any member of those two classes and bad things can happen, and often do.

For example: “People just want to experience things they can’t experience elsewhere,” said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Guns Vegas. “There’s not an action movie in the past 30 years without a machine gun.”

Ghengis Cohen? Really?

Cohen was commenting on the recent death of an instructor at just such an establishment who died after a 9-year-old girl was unable to control an Uzi. The Uzi is a submachine gun that fires about 600 rounds a minute in calibers from .22 to .45. On August 25, this little girl from New Jersey was on a family adventure and got to fire a real machine gun.

The instructor, Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old combat veteran, took a bullet to the head when the girl lost control of the Uzi. He died. God only knows what psychological injuries the child will have. Some adventure, huh?

There is no way to keep everybody safe. Not in the real world, not even in our own local country, with more than 300 million people bumping into one another every day. Outlawing guns is not going to happen, and it wouldn’t solve the problem anyway. Better control of who can have a firearm is a good idea, but unlikely to be anything but a move to make us feel that at least we’re doing SOMETHING.

One is tempted to suggest that we need to improve ourselves as human beings. Personally, I think that is the only thing that will likely make any real difference. But creating better humans is beyond the reach of government. Such a leap requires introspection and genuine regard for one’s fellow humans.

Somehow, I don’t think that there’s an app for that.



© 2014 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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Is America out of ideas?

February 7, 2011

(An earlier version of this column ran on

A week ago, more or less, President Barack Obama blew in to the Penn State campus in State College and blew right out again.

He was there to ballyhoo the work being led by the institution’s researchers at the Energy Innovation Hub in Philly.

We can count our lucky stars that his rapid passage didn’t blow out all the kerosene lamps.

Back to the lamps in a moment.

The EIH project, according to the Huffington Post, will receive more than $129 million in federal funds over the next five years. You will remember that Obama talked a lot in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address about the importance of clean energy technology for creating jobs and protecting the planet.

I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath.

Simply put, Obama planned to use his visit to Happy Valley to lay out his administration’s vision for “winning the future,” a phrase that I predict will wear exceedingly thin by the time it is discarded.

One of the means by which We The People will win that future is by “investing in innovative, clean energy technologies and doubling the share of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.”

In his own response to the President’s State of the Union speech, specifically the lofty goal of doubling clean energy resources by that date, Alexander Cockburn pointed out that 2035 is five presidential terms after Obama’s last conceivable day in office, in 2016. Certainly Cockburn is correct in guessing that any president’s hold on policy is likely to be a bit tenuous after the passage of nearly a quarter century.

But I would argue that it is a bit unfair to lay the entire burden on Obama. The best ideas in the world cannot catch fire if they don’t land in the proper tinder.

A media hand-out Wednesday stated that Obama wants to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings, which suck up about 20 percent of all the energy in the country’s economy.

“Improving energy efficiency in our buildings can create jobs, save money, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make our air cleaner,” the hand-out read. The goals listed included: “Achieve a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020; Reduce companies’ and business owners’ energy bills by about $40 billion per year; and saving energy by reforming outdated incentives and challenging the private sector to act.”

Oops. What was that? “Challenging the private sector to act?”

Now, back to the kerosene lamps.

I would be willing to bet that when the “private sector” was confronted with the incandescent light bulb after Thomas Edison invented the thing in the 1870s, quite a lot of them dragged their heels, complaining about the imposition of making the switch to electricity and all that the modernization entailed. Some of them, doubtless, sat squinting in the smoky light, muttering. An ad seen on TV lately shows a woman griping about the government telling her what she can and can’t buy in the grocery store, or what light bulbs to buy. We’re going to hear a lot more grousing about it, because in September, G.E., the last manufacturer of incandescent bulbs in the U.S. shut down, putting something like 200 people out of work.

That happened in part because of an energy conservation measure passed by Congress in 2007 – during the administration of George W. Bush, by the by – that essentially banned regular old-fashioned incandescent bulbs by 2014. The idea was that the ban would spur the development of new, low-energy, low-waste light bulbs that would save a bunch of energy and greenhouse-gas emissions

Enter the new compact fluorescent, or CFLs, which were developed by American engineers way back in the 1970s. But no American manufacturer makes them, because the CFLs with their twisty glass shapes require more hand labor, so most of them get built in China. The CFL bulbs were deemed by the executives at GE and every other bulb-maker in the US to be too expensive because American workers make too much money. I’m not even going to bother digging up the compensation packages for GE executives who, I would point out, make nothing, if you take my point.

So, the fate of light bulbs in the US of A is partly a fault of the free-market system that allows top management to be given – I won’t say “earned” – huge incomes while it ships jobs overseas. But that’s only part of the problem. Look at it this way: Edison patented the first commercially feasible incandescent light bulb in 1879. The bulbs that are only just now beginning to fade away have not changed significantly in their design since then. And now, there is a new design, one that uses less power, meaning it produces fewer pollutants in creating the power for it, and produces less heat. And, like the Edison bulb, was developed here, by Americans.

But we can’t crank up enough brain power to figure out a way to keep those jobs here, and instead whine that maybe we can just keep the old bulbs? It seems that the “Can Do” attitude of Americans has turned into “Done Enough.”

That’s the real slope Obama’s dream has to climb.

The technology, I suspect, is relatively easy. Getting enough of us off our duffs to do something about it will be the real challenge.


© 2011 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:

Waiting for Batman

May 19, 2008

When Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town debuted in 1938, it was of the first Broadway plays to use hardly any stage scenery, forcing the audience to imagine the world in which the characters lived.

Wilder said, “Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind — not in things, not in ‘scenery’ … [a play] needs only five square feet of boarding and a passion to know what life means to us.” (Quote taken from the online version of Writer’s Almanac.”)

Yesterday several of us went to see Iron Man, the latest in a spate of films based on comic book heroes. Most of what I was looking on the screen was generated by a computer. The actors playing the characters stood on marks on the floor in front of a blue screen and (having, presumably, read the script) went through the motions of, oh, fighting giant robots and whatnot.

In effect, we’ve come full circle, transferring the task of imagining from the audience to the actors.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the film (Maybe “movie” is a better term. ‘Film’ is probably best used for serious intellectual cinema, pictures with complex story lines, deep emotions, and in-depth dialogues. You know….chick flicks.)

Just kidding. I like serious art films as much as the next guy. OK, maybe not THAT much, but most the time if I’m going to spend the bucks to go to a real theater and put up with all the hassle and expense that entails, it’s because I’m looking for some entertainment and escape. And I like to see the bad guys get stomped instead of elected. And I don’t want to see a lot of hand-wringing. I’m a guy. Blow something up.

On the other hand….

Now that we’ve got this whole computer graphics thing down, can we please stop relying on it so much? We get it: studios can make dinosaurs gallop down a city street and guys in leotards fly through the air. Yay. Now, how about paying attention once again to stories? To writing? To whether your actors can actually act? Stop, please, making the movie about the stunts and the whiz-bang already. Within about a minute of the beginning of Iron Man, it was pretty obvious who the main bad guy was, that he was the trusted advisor who was really a traitor, and at the end of the film there was going to be a battle royal. We knew the hero would triumph against impossible odds. And get the girl. And that the bad guy would lose because his armor was butt-ugly and Iron Man’s armor was just too cool.

Give us more depth, please. Just because we like to see stuff blow up doesn’t mean we’re idiots who can’t follow a plot or empathize with a complex character.

Thank you. Now, I’ll prepare myself for the next Batman movie.


I just love it when I am proven right. Even if the prediction takes 20 years to come true.

The ad on the Toto website promises that consumers are in for “an experience beyond words.”

They’re not kidding.

On the company’s website, it says that Toto Ltd’s Z Series Neorest toilet, offers the worlds first auto fragrance release system and stereo music system, providing different scents and music depending on the season of the year.

Did you get that, Ladies and Gentlemen? The Series Z is a toilet. A loo. A potty.

The Z series has a seat warmer that can be turned on and set to the desired temperature by, I kid you not, a remote control device.

As if we don’t already have enough remotes lying around on the coffee table. My worry would be that I might pull out the potty remote and confuse it with the one for my TV, or vice versa. That could result in a TV that unexpectedly goes directly to an All-Limbaugh network, or a toilet that produces its own crap.

You can’t make this stuff up, you know. There are rules.

The Toto is a pioneer of high-tech toilets with built-in bidets, very popular in Japan, and gaining ground here. Of course, their popularity is largely limited to those with tons of disposable income. Not surprising…they cost between $3,000 to nearly $6,000.

“The Z series features a pulsating massage spray, a power dryer, a “tornado wash” flush, and a lid that opens and closes automatically,” The BBC reports.

In 1988, when I first wrote about the Toto robopotty, I was skeptical.

I know, I sound like I’m anti-technology, but I’m not. When the Wright brothers were working on their airplane, people said “if man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings.”

I like gadgets as much as the next guy. But I don’t want them getting too personal. If man were meant to have his nether parts pampered by a flushable computer, ummmm. I dunno WHAT God would have had in mind.

Here’s what I wrote all those years ago: This device, sort of a W.C. married to a P.C., features a seat that is cleaned automatically between uses, preheated to a temperature that you tell the computer you prefer. But get this: once you have sat down and finished your business, you push a button and a little mechanical arm slips out from down there somewhere, washes your hindquarters, dries you with a blast of hot air…then touches you up with a touch of perfume-laden mist…

I worry what would happen, with age and moisture, if, deep in its little binary potty brain, it suffered the delusion that it was one of those violent computer games, where it must fight its enemy – that would be me and my perfumed fanny – to the death?

I’d sit down, do what I came to do, push the button, and WHAM! I’d be hanging from the shower rod while the porcelain pugilist waves its washer arm over its head, waiting for someone to hand it a trophy.

Well, that hasn’t happened to anybody, so far as I know.

But get this headline from the BBC news service:

Japan’s leading toilet manufacturer Toto is offering free repairs to 180,000 toilets after some of them caught fire.

The BBC reported that there have been three cases in which the device caught fire. A company spokeswoman said that no one has been injured so far.

“The fire would have been just under your buttocks,” she added, helpfully.

Toasted buns.

Well, the advertising promised an “experience beyond words.”

Printable ones, anyway.


© 2007 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.