I would have loved to have met Joe Delaney.

 

Finding Joe’s place was dumb luck, really. Most of my attention had been given to the spectacularly rocky coastline of western Nova Scotia. I spotted the hand-lettered sign on the landward side of the road. It bore a cartoonlike head and the legend “Masque Acadie,” and saw what looked like a hundred or so scarecrows staging a demonstration in a field.

 

These are the sorts of things one should not resist.

 

“Back in 1984, my father tried raising a garden here, but the animals, the deer and the rabbits, ate everything up,” said his daughter, Ethel, who had opened a take-out diner and souvenir shop in a converted mobile home at the site of her father’s creation. “So, some neighbors said to my father, why do not you build some scarecrows and keep them away? So, he had some junk sitting around, so he made three, each about six feet tall.”

 

Joe used old clothes, Halloween masks, strips of bright plastic, and a lot of imagination.

 

The morning after the scarecrows went up, two tour buses and several cars stopped while Joe was tending his garden. Some people came out, told him they really liked the scarecrows, and took pictures.

 

“By the end of the summer, he had a dozen scarecrows,” said Ethel.

 

I poked around the little gift shop, and bought a tiny cup of coffee from her. She handed me the change. Ethel said she and Paul opened the little business two years after the tourists started showing up.

 

She wore a lot of makeup, with her eyebrows outlined carefully, the heavy black lines of the pencil leaving an oblong hollow. Ethel was an expressive speaker, and her eyebrows moved a lot. It was hard not to stare.

 

A couple of cars stopped. The people got out, took a few snapshots, dropped a few coins in the collection box that had a little sign saying the money was for the upkeep of Joe’s scarecrows, and drove away. I thought about buying some scarecrow postcards, but changed my mind. I am very cheap.

 

“The year after, he had 30 scarecrows, and the tourists kept coming,” said Ethel, her eyebrows sending semaphore signals of their own. “He had a little workshop out in the back, in the old bus, where he kept making more.”

 

Joe had died of lung cancer about two years earlier, Ethel said.

 

“He was doing real good right up until the end,” said Ethel, in accented English that told me she was more accustomed to French. “Then he got sick and we took him to the ‘ospital, and in just a little while ‘e was gone.”

 

In front of Ethel’s little take-out was one of those bright-colored windmill things, a propeller to catch breeze attached to a mechanism that made a little wooden silhouette of a woodsman make chopping motions with an ax. The blade kept hitting against the novelty’s frame. A stiff breeze blew in from the shore on the other side of the road. The little lumberjack chopped in a frenzy, a little toy maniac in the wind.

 

The same year that Ethel’s take-out went in; a vandal struck one night, destroying all but one of Joe’s scarecrows, whom Joe had named Rory. Ethel, her eyebrows rigid with indignation, said she knows who did it, but has no proof.

 

“It was a man who lives down the road, he left a bar that night after he got drunk and got in a fight. He comes in here sometimes, and I just look at him,” she said.

 

Joe wrote an account of the vandalism as though written by Rory as an eyewitness. The piece was published in one of the area newspapers. After it ran, a lot of people gave Joe money and old clothes so he could recreate his scarecrows. Today, there are about 100.

 

“We put’em away in the winter and bring’em back out in the spring,” Ethel and her eyebrows said. “We try to keep’em looking nice for people.”

 

The collection of U.S. president scarecrows looked a little tattered, but then, so does the office. There were scarecrows sawing logs, scarecrows playing fiddles. Most of them, however, stood in the traditional scarecrow pose, legs spread slightly, arms straight out at the sides, heads staring straight ahead or, sometimes tilted back, staring at the heavens. These latter looked as though they were either praying intensely, or asking God, “Why me?”

 

There were no scarecrows created to look like God providing answers, though there were a couple that looked like they could be televangelists.

 

Somewhere along the way, Ethel said, Joe forgot about the garden. He wasn’t around to ask why he simply kept making scarecrows, even to the exclusion of the garden they were designed to protect. Ethel, her eyebrows arching with pride, said her father’s scarecrows draw 20,000 to 30,000 tourists a year.

 

That’s a lot of coffee, meat pies, muffins, and postcards.

 

But I am not certain. Sure, that’s what keeps Paul and Ethel solvent, but I do not think money was Joe’s first consideration. I looked at the little photo Ethel kept of him, standing out by his workshop. There was a definite impishness in those eyes. I think Joe just kept building scarecrows and putting them out, just to see how many tourists he could lure in. I have a funny feeling he went to his grave bemused at the public’s apparently endless appetite for cute.

 

I finished my coffee, and threw the thimble-sized styrene cup into the trash. Ethel thanked me. Her eyebrows seemed to have dozed off.

 

“Come back and see us again,” she said.

 

I climbed into my van. The crazed lumberjack was taking a breather. A woman over among the scarecrows excitedly asked her husband, he of the white patent leather shoes and matching belt, to take a picture of her standing next to Ronald Reagan. I started the engine and left. A guy can only take so much culture in one dose.

 

==================================

It was not a very large cemetery, tucked away between the back end of a large brick church and a row of some houses that had seen better days.

 

There were no grand mausoleums, no pigeon-anointed angels atop granite columns, waving their swords and managing to look at the same time fierce and slightly distracted, as though they had just wondered where they had put their car keys.

 

This was a narrow rectangle of graves, 30 or 40 of them, of men, women and children buried during the years between the American Revolution and two decades before the American Civil War.

 

The church of which these sheep had been the flock had long ago moved to larger and more grandiose quarters a few blocks away. It has since changed its name. The old building is gone. All that remains are the stones, and the whispers of the names they bore.

 

I was there, as usual, because there was bad news. A number of the headstones seem to have been broken, cast down shattered on the grass the night before my visit by person or persons unknown.

 

Probably the latter. Thugs like that rarely act alone, as they need one another to crank their courage up.

 

Plainly, this was not the first time it had happened. While many of the broken surfaces shone white and new, as many more were old, weathered. It seems that these dead have been an affront to someone for a very long time.

 

It is hard to imagine why. The victims were all, by now, a thin stratum of darker soil in the surrounding clay and shale. On the stones, most of their names had been eroded by time and weather into vague ciphers. On some, the names were plain, but the dates, those points on the continuum between which the stories of their lives unfolded, were obliterated.

 

On those that are legible, the dates gave a much more careful accounting of that time than we are used to in the late 20th century. Joseph Heagy, we learn, for example, died in 1844, having lived exactly 63 years, seven months, and 17 days.

 

Another stone gives a hint of what may have been a wrenching story. Mary, wife of Ludnik, died on Sept. 14 of 1804. Ludnik, still at her side, died two days later.

 

These are people, I thought as I walked in the perfect autumn day, who lived in the tumult between the birth of the nation and the times that nearly tore it apart. It was a time of high passion, but they and their passions were by now dust and whispers. So why the anger? Why the fractured markers?

 

I stopped and looked again over the field of fallen stones, amused at myself. This had nothing to do with the vanished remains, or the people who had once worn the names etched in the marble and shale. Here, I had assumed the culprits had a reason. I had assumed that the spate of vandalism had been the result of something reasoned through, a solution to a problem.

 

Silly me.

 

This was, I reminded myself, a simple skirmish between order and chaos.

 

It was a fight between life and the vast, endless darkness on either side of it.

 

I suppose there is no better reminder of that final blackness than a tombstone, standing there solid, part of which bore the inscription “The Last Brick Wall you will ever hit.” Maybe that is where the anger comes from, a sudden despair that your brief moments above ground will mean nothing and your end even less.

 

I tucked my notebook in my hip pocket and stowed my pen, walking back toward my car. My anger at the vandalism had not abated, but alongside had grown a little understanding, and perhaps a little sympathy. The idea that you do not matter and will not be missed when you go is a painful one, I know.

 

If kicking over memorials to the forgotten dead is the best idea you can come up with as a stance against that great, crushing anonymity, you had better get used to being a nobody.

Angels in Stone

October 12, 2016

 

Of Angels in the Stone

Adapted from a column published in the Gettysburg Times on Dec. 2, 1989.

 

The man was not old, but weathered, like a well-used hoe.

He had come into the office of the concrete plant where I worked to buy sand for a project “back to the house.”

He dug the money for his purchase out of a ragged leather wallet that he must have bought when Ike was still in office. I think some of the money had been in there that long, too.

“How much?” he asked.

I put down the book I had been reading. I have forgotten the title, but it was about human evolution. The volume lay open on the computer console in front of me.

On the page, a row of skulls stared vacantly outward, with the cranium belonging to the oldest member of the human family discovered to that point on one side, and modern man’s vaulted white dome on the other, with assorted way stops lined up between.

It was one of those rainy days, late in the Georgia summer, when business was slow, and there was time to talk, to do things at an idle pace. We weren’t busy anyway; several days of rain had turned the Georgia clay into something like pudding. I had sent most of the drivers home.

I looked up the price of that particular grade of sand, added the tax and gave him the total. He counted out the exact amount, digging in his bib overalls for the change. He leaned against the door-frame and lit up a cigarette.

“Wet,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I replied, “not much going on.”

He was as dry as beef jerky, impervious to the rain. The daylight pouring in through the office window wrapped around him in the same way that lamplight embraces wood that has been carved into shape and oiled.

His eyes drifted to the book, the skulls looking back from the page like the portraits of family members in an old home.

“That there about evolution?” he asked, giving the first letter the sound of a long “e.”

“Uh oh,” I thought, nodding in assent.

“You believe in that there?”

“Yessir, I do,” I answered. “Do you?”

“Surely do not,” he said, new steel rising in his voice. “I believe unto the Lord, and unto His Word.”

I was a little more than halfway through my university study, and a little bit more than half arrogant. I knew things. I believed in things that I could see and feel and smell.

“Look here,” I said. “You see those pictures there. Those are skulls, real ones. A long time ago there was meat on those skulls, and brains in them. Something or someone lived in there. Do you believe that?”

“Yessir, I believe that. They’re real, all right.”

I stood and picked up the book, excited. Perhaps I was going to make a convert. Perhaps, having stepped into the swampy world of Religion Vs. Science, I may have managed to win an argument.

Silly me.

I pointed out to him what little I thought I knew for certain regarding the evolution of human and pre-human anatomy. I talked about progressively larger brain cavities, different jaw structures, flatter faces, flipping pages in the book as I spoke. I felt flushed with power.

“So, can’t you see that there seems to be a definite progression in these, from the oldest to the modern?”

He agreed that it seemed to be so.

“Do not you agree, then, that these creatures were real, and that they may possibly have been our ancestors?”

“No sir, I can’t accept that,” he said, the gray light from outside enhancing the lines and angles of his craggy face. “They are not ours.”

He took a long drag off his cigarette. The smoke hung around his head, something else obscuring the air between us.

“Well, if they are not our forebears,” I said, a little exasperated, “who are they? What are these bones?”

“They are the bones of fallen angels,” he said.

The air rushed out of my lungs, the way it does when one unexpectedly steps waist-deep into frigid water.

I think about that man now and then, with his measuring eyes and his hard hands. Sometimes I see him in my mind as clearly as I saw him in that doorway all those years ago.

I think about him sometimes when I am plodding my way through court records, preparing to cover the trial of accused rapists, child molesters, murderers and drug dealers.

We are influenced by thousands of unseen forces, my more-or-less educated mind tells me. We are the products of our environment, of our heritage, social and genetic. We create our own Hells.

The man in the doorway stares through smoke. “I believe unto The Lord, and unto His Word,” he says.

Like anyone else, I want the world to make sense. Things can be explained, dissected, explored, named. Give me a thing I can name and the name will make most of the fear disappear like smoke.

I say this sometimes with the assurance of the man in the doorway, a man worn by toil and as set in his convictions as a post is set in the ground.

And sometimes I say it with the shrill bravado of a small boy whistling his way through a dark graveyard.

Usually, reason wins. But now and then I find myself in an interview across a table from someone who seems made of wood, shaped from something no longer living, dead in some sense that goes beyond sensibility.

In times like those, I sometimes see him again, drawing fire to his mouth, speaking through smoke, in the doorway to a world where angels could fall bereft of God to crash into the cold stones of the world, and I wonder which one of us has found the best answer.

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.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

http://rockthecapital.com

 

 

By T. W. Burger

There he was, throwing everything out of whack.

He roamed from room to room, weaving erratically, and chaos followed him. Desks sat empty, pens and pencils lay willy-nilly where they had been dropped. Computers hummed vacantly to themselves. Electric typewriters buzzed, abandoned.

There was a kid in the courthouse.

I do not mean the slack-jawed nitwits with their hats on backwards, the ones I usually see up before one of the county’s judges. I mean a rug-rat, a cookie-cruncher, a toddler.

Cute as a bug’s ear, too.

Not that I’m an expert. I have always shied away from having kids. Too selfish, I suppose. Now and then, like when I saw this little guy bonking around inside a couple of courthouse row offices, I get this wistful feeling that, gee, wouldn’t it be nice…..

When that happens, I go visit someone who has teenagers and it goes away.

But there is a thing that happens whenever anybody brings a little one into the courthouse. I call it PMS, or Persistent Mommy Syndrome. (Boy, will I catch hell for this.) Most of the employees in the row offices are women. Anybody brings a tyke there had better be good at sharing.

Everything stops.

Everybody comes over and pokes and coos. The reactions from the kids vary, but I think most of them respond like this one did: Bafflement followed by “died and gone to heaven.”

I watched, frankly, with something approaching envy. Virtually every woman in the place had to take her turn holding the little guy, bouncing him up and down and generally marveling at him.

The kid, of course, was just eating this up.

I made some wisecrack. One of the women suggested I was jealous.

“Somebody did the same thing to you when you were this little and cute,” she said.

Yeah. So how come it doesn’t happen now that I can appreciate it more?

Do not answer that question.

Years from now, as a grown man, this guy will wonder why it is that every time he walks past a courthouse he gets a big smile on his face.

If I were another kind of writer, now would be the time where this column would dutifully grouse and grumble about all those “man-hours” (an interesting term, all things considered) “wasted” fussing over some kid while the paperwork languished, boxes unchecked, corners unstapled, triplicate copies unfiled.

Sorry. You have the wrong guy. The paperwork can wait. Personally, I think the world could use more people with PMS. Maybe if more kids got that kind of attention, I wouldn’t be seeing so many of them standing before the fierce gaze of a judge.

 

© 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.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

http://rockthecapital.com

 

Something Wrong with the Math

September 25, 2012

I have a good friend, an economist by training, and the former head of a hedge fund, who is always giving me grief about my liberal economic views.

I like this guy. We usually get together a couple of times when our vacations in Maine coincide and we sit down over seafood dinners and laugh our heads off about things.

By unspoken agreement, we don’t talk about politics and economics and stuff like that because our conversations could easily turn into food fights. I’d lose  because I eat more than he does and I’d run out of ammo sooner.

On Facebook, however, Bob is sometimes driven to near apoplexy by my opinions. (Sometimes that’s because, in my enthusiasm, I sometimes forward postings that are not factually accurate. It drives me crazy when I do that, and I feel really stupid afterward.)

That said I have to say that the charts and graphs and figures that Bob posts are very likely correct; He’s good at math, apparently; my own math skills double when I’m barefoot.

My problem is that I can’t help but think that somehow we’ve taken math and conjured it into a tool of oppression.

Let me see if I can explain.

The way we’ve been figuring our economic structure for the past several hundreds of years, it always ends up with a sliver of the population having jars full of cookies, while the larger portion, having created the avenue for those cookies to get in the jars, wind up with crumbs. Or less.

Recently we’ve heard a lot of noise about those on unemployment, Social Security, Medicare, and other programs being a burden to the society and to all those decent, hard-working people who comprise it. But aren’t most of the people who are at least partially supported by those programs also part of that class of decent, hard-working people who paid for those programs?

Oh, sure: There are welfare cheats, and the unemployed who try to extend their Unemployment Compensation benefits as long as possible before really looking for a job. Just as there are people who vote without being eligible (four in Pennsylvania, where I live, in the recorded history of the Commonwealth, I believe.)

First we have to ask 0urselves if the numbers of people who game the system are of sufficient number to be more than a nuisance. I can’t think that anyone would seriously shut down or cripple those programs because there are cheats. The real answer is to tighten rules and enforcement to stem the seepage.

It doesn’t help that we have a party in the U.S. who, in the same breath, will complain about high unemployment and suggest that those on UC and Welfare “should just get a job.”

Right. There seems to a failure at play, either of thought or heart. Incidentally, minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Do the math. Don’t forget to take out taxes. Just sayin’.

And why don’t we hear more about the people at the other end of the spectrum, whose own wealth is, if not caused, then augmented because they know how to game the system. Nobody argues that being able to hide one’s money from the taxman in the Cayman Islands is illegal … it’s not. But is it right? That’s a question the answer to which is more tenuous.

It seems to me that the folks who floated to the top pay loud lip-service to the work ethic while looking down their collective nose at those of us who actually have to do it.

What the hell is going on here? We are well on our way to being a feudal nation of serfs and royals; we are not the wealthiest nation in the world –not even close. Our infant mortality rate is shameful, as are our scores in literacy, math and science. How else to explain the fact that a high percentage of people in the United States believe in the Biblical theory of creation and deny the scientific explanations discovered first put together  Charles Darwin?

I can tell you, from nearly 30 years of covering school districts, that their board memberships included significant number of well-meaning and frustrated board members who nevertheless were less-well educated than the students whose tutelage was their ultimate responsibility.

No, paragraph above is not off-track. Funding for public schools has dwindled steadily, and a lot of subjects are either not touched upon or merely skimmed. It all comes down to money. Public schools in wealthy areas and tony private schools are doing a much better job. The relatively new science of ecology applies to just about everything: Just as causing the extinction of one species can cause devastation to an entire ecosystem, so can pinching off the blood supply to something as important as the care and feeding of a large portion of a culture’s inhabitants.

So, my friend can fume all he wants. I still believe we’ve somehow been putting square pegs in round holes, and too many of us have been trying to convince the rest of us that it’s a good fit.

A math whose vectors result in most of the wealth clogging the heights while those below, including workers with so-called “good jobs,” struggle to choose between owning a home or eating well, or between having healthcare or getting more than a threadbare basic education for their children, or choosing between a second or third job and having somebody home when those kids come home from school -– is simply insufficient.

 

Ghosts in the River

January 1, 2012

Ghosts on the River

Three days before the year’s end, and the weather had turned suddenly colder.

Scattered fat snowflakes darted through the scrub oaks clinging to the steep banks of the Shenango River in western Pennsylvania, a 100-mile long tributary of the Beaver that eventually flows into the Mississippi River.

Shenango means “pretty one.”

My brother, David, and I joked that if we believed in ghosts, our mother’s would be down there on the marshes along of the Shenango, gigging frogs with her dad, a rough, hard-drinking steelworker.

At our feet, on the heights above the river, were the headstones of our mother and father. Dad was buried there in 1981, Mom just a little more than a year ago.

Neither of their lives or deaths was particularly easy. But all that’s done, now.

Water, flowing water, has always held me fascinated. I grew up in northeast Georgia, along the Oconee, whose name is a corruption of the Creek word meaning “born from water.”

The Oconee’s waters tumble down over the fall line to join the Ocmulgee to become the Altamaha and finally the Atlantic.

I now live in southern Pennsylvania along Marsh Creek, which joins with Rock Creek to become the Monacacy, which flows into the Potomac. The heights between Marsh and Rock creeks were the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. Bullets and other martial debris show up in the farm field behind our house.

The thing about rivers and creeks is that they seem from moment to moment to be fixtures, but in truth they are never the same. Blink and you missed something, something that will find its way to the eternal time-sink of the sea. So they are at once symbols of opportunities lost and of hope. That’s how I think of it, anyway.

David still lives a short walk from Born from Water.

We don’t get here often. It’s a long haul for me, and a longer one for him. Visits to our mother’s sister bring us back, and we always make the trek to Riverside Cemetery. I don’t know how often we would get back if not for her.

This is our first trip back since Mom’s ashes were interred over Dad’s grave.

I will not speak for David, but I usually spend an hour or so sitting on Grandpa George’s headstone, gazing over the tops of my parents’ stones, down toward the river.

I am not there for them. There’s nothing beneath the assorted Burger and Miller stones but ash and the odd discarded mechanical parts, the odd bone or set of dentures.

I go there to address memories, good, bad, indifferent, sometimes surprising, things I had forgotten. I speak, sometimes out loud, about this or that. Long ago, there was not a little anger, as I worked through things as I aged.

I’m in my sixties now. The anger is gone, dispersed by understanding, nubbed by weariness, and sometimes by no longer giving a damn. There were ordinary people, flawed, beat down and badgered by their own past. Who am I to be angry?

I leaned against the big oak above the graves. The wind was picking up, the flakes coming more heavily.

In a few weeks The Pretty One will be frozen over. In the old days, there were spots where you could drive a car over it. In recent decades, the winters have been thinner, meaner, somehow.

David and I climbed back into the car and wove our way through the steel-town blackened gothic stones and back into the end-of-the-year bustle of town, leaving The Pretty One counting down the moments to winter.

A Queasy Bit of Genius

December 2, 2011

By T.W. Burger

I have to admit that a teeny part of me thinks there is somebody absolutely brilliant behind all this.

 

Americans destroying what it is to be American in order to protect America from people who would destroy what it is to be American.

 

I mean, WOW. It’s like MAD magazine on crystal meth.

 

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate, which, I’m beginning to think, may be the terrorist organization we really need to worry about, voted to keep in place a controversial section of the defense spending bill that would allow the indefinite detention of any terrorism suspect, including American citizens.

 

I can really see the attraction, to be honest. There are, plain and simple, really scary people out there. Some of them are just plain crazy, and some of them are crazy but think they are acting on behalf of Allah, or Jesus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for all we know. Like it or not, they’re out there, walking around, watching the world through the warped lenses of their assorted lunacies, and perfectly happy to go to glory on behalf of their own delusions, if they can just take some of us – preferably a whole lot of us – along for the ride.

 

Well, that’s the picture that’s hung on the side of legislation like this, anyway, a poster to convince us that we must do everything in our power to quell the threat against us.

 

No matter the cost.

 

That last part is not even in the fine print. It is not even mentioned.

 

Of course, we are really pretty vague about whom that threat actually comes from. The terror-of-the-moment is anybody who worships Allah, and there are some good reasons for that. On the other hand, back in World War II, We The People locked up a lot of innocent folks – 110,000 Japanese-Americans and about 16,000 German-born citizens and immigrants for much the same reason we want to lock up people who go to the wrong place of worship on the suspicion that they may be jihadists.

 

Of those Germans, perhaps one in 10 was members of the Nazi Party. Eight were actually suspected of espionage.

 

Eight.

 

I spent an afternoon walking around what was left of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in Southern California some years back. It had just been handed over to the National Park Service, but nothing had been done to pretty it up. I was OK until I found the cemetery. A number of the graves were very small, only a few feet long, with toys, trinkets, and folded blankets placed over them, by people, perhaps, who are not simply shrugging their internment off as a temporary inconvenience.

 

Guess what happened to their jobs and property while they were gone.

 

In any case, the long internment of so many without due process, based in large part on the way they looked or talked or cooked their sausage has been a matter of some shame to the U.S. Apparently, it has not be so much of a shame that we have been cured of heading in that direction again.

 

Perhaps the fact that our detention camps are not, strictly speaking, on American soil helps make our updated detentions seem more humane, or at least less un-American.

 

Sixteen Democrats, among them Pennsylvania’s own Robert Casey, joined the usual foam-at-the-mouth crowd to vote against amending the legislation to remove the section on authorizing indefinite detention. It gave me the same sensation I had when I once was convinced there was a snake in my sleeping bag.

 

To be sure, there are not very many people locked up at the nominally illegal military prison in Guantanamo. At last count, there were perhaps 170 or so people who are adjudged to be too dangerous to let go, but who for one reason or another cannot be tried under whatever legal rules they are still sticking to down there.

 

OK, so these are arguably really bad people. I’m sure they honestly hate us. If they didn’t hate us when they were thrown into that hot, humid dog-run years and years ago, they do now. Maybe it’s hard for some of us to feel sympathy.

 

But think about it.

 

The renewed authorization would make it possible, LEGALLY possible, to snap you up and haul you away for as long as they want, even for the remainder of your natural life, without ever allowing you to be charged, to have your day in court, without ever speaking to a civilian attorney. And all because somebody somewhere with the right title on his or her door decided you were a threat to national security, based on an informant, an astrological forecast, or the reading of chicken guts. Doesn’t matter. A paper gets signed and you are gone.

 

There are people who like this bill, obviously, who think it’s just the thing for combating the newest crop of boogie-beings that haunt our dreams.

 

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it contains the “indefinite detention” language in it, and hooray for him. The really stupid thing about it is that throngs of people who hate anything as long as Obama is for it, would, when not drinking that particular Kool-Aid, be whooping his praises for standing up for the Constitution that is supposed to protect us from this kind of tail-tucked hogwash.

 

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© 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:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

 

It’s always SOMETHING

November 5, 2011

Some days, I wonder why any of us bother to get up in the morning.

It’s not as though we don’t have enough to worry about, what with the economy in a shambles in just about every place that has an economy. And of course there’s politics, speaking of shambles, with a president on one side whose opinion polls put him somewhere in the neighborhood of a fart in church, and the opposition party offering up a field of candidates who come off as a bad hybrid of Keystone Cops and extras from Night of the Living Dead.

With all this in the air, I go online to read some nature news, thinking that will get me out of the mind-set that the world as we know it is coming to an end.

Big Mistake.

On one website, I learn that a piece of ice twice the size of Philadelphia is cracking off from the Antarctic ice shelf. The crack so far is about 20 miles long and up to 200 feet deep, and growing at a rate of nearly seven feet per day.

And it’s not even caused by “global warming.” I forget just now what the scientific term for the effect is, but it basically means “s**t happens.”

The whole thing is supposed to break off and start drifting around in the open sea later this year or early next year. Earth on the rocks, shaken, not stirred.

Nobody seems all that concerned. Maybe I shouldn’t be either. On the other hand, having a chunk of ice the size of a small South American nation bobbing around in the ocean just doesn’t sound like good news. Twice the size of Philly? At least it will be cleaner.

And then there’s the asteroid.

The news outlets describe it as an “aircraft carrier-sized asteroid, a little over four football fields in diameter.” It will pass by our little old home planet, closer to us than the moon.

And the moon is only about 250,000 miles away.

That sounds like a far piece, but in astronomic terms, that’s like having a bullet pass by your head close enough that you can hear it buzz.

It’s supposed to pass us by this coming Tuesday. Just so you know.

NASA, known for calling the catastrophic explosion of a Delta 2 rocket as “an anomaly,” has classified the asteroid as a “potentially hazardous object.”

There was a time when if NASA said it would be a near miss, I’d relax. But not too long ago, the space agency aimed a satellite at Mars and missed the whole freaking planet, so, yeah, I’m gonna chew my nails just a little bit.

If this asteroid hits, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will bust things up pretty well. It would make a 4,000 megaton blast, (nearly 20,000 times the force of the bomb that fried Nagasaki), a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. If it hits the ocean, it could cause a tsunami 70 feet high. The tsunamis that hit Japan earlier this year were no more than a third that high.

One of the wire service stories said “Encounters of objects this large this close to our planet won’t happen again until the year 2028…” That one will be a wee bit closer than this one. Wonderful.

I closed the laptop and turned on CNN, only to see some goon in a suit dodging questions on his candidacy. I flipped over to the USA Network to an NCIS re-run. Give me over-the-top violence and improbable stunts any day. It beats watching a planet on the rocks and under fire, and anyway, I’d rather see the bad guys get blown away than elected.

Is America out of ideas?

February 7, 2011

(An earlier version of this column ran on RockTheCapital.com)

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.

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© 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:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/