By T.W. Burger

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” 
― Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

 

 

 

Huxley may be correct. I don’t know. Some remorse is easier to shed than others.

 

There is the secret son.

 

This is more painful than most of what I write.

 

It speaks more of personal failures; failed relationships, lack of responsibility, of not caring about consequences.

 

I am in full support of a woman’s choice when it comes to pregnancy. On the other hand, I won’t take any of the philosophical shortcuts that make the consequences easier to bear.

 

Just as I support scientifically based thinking on evolution, I must believe that an embryo is a human at the point of conception, or at least a human-in-the-making, a biological process that, if uninterrupted, will produce…one of us.

 

The whole business of choosing when it is no longer OK to terminate a pregnancy is more semantics than reality; at any point in that process, a human life ends. I support choice, but pretending that a human life is not interrupted in process is dishonest, I believe.

 

It is what it is.

 

All the same, I believe that is the choice to be made by the female human, the one who must do all the hard work of carrying, birthing, and, very likely, raising that child.

 

But enough philosophy.

 

I found out when my partner decades ago had a miscarriage that it was her second. I was stunned. We were supposed to be on birth-control. Our relationship was falling apart and she thought having a child would keep us together.

 

Her doctor gave me hell, until he realized that I had no idea that she had even been pregnant, had stopped taking The Pill, and didn’t know about the first miscarriage.

 

My emotions were complex. Worry for her, sadness for both of us, not a little anger as well.

 

The relationship did not survive much longer.

 

There were two abortions with two different women. I was not careful, did not use protection. Not something to be proud of, and not a case of pretending the actions were of no consequence. One of the two women, raised in a very religious household, named the dead embryo after the procedure, and often said that “they took my baby.”

 

I don’t remember the name that she gave the child.

 

I went with her to the clinic. The waiting room was full. Several of the women joked that having the procedure done gave them a “vacation” from having to have sex with their men.

 

That turned my stomach. For me, it was a very solemn event. Like an execution without a prior crime. Not a thing to be taken lightly. I became a lot more cynical about humanity that day. And about myself.

 

I was the only man there. I don’t understand that, either.

 

Around the same time, a woman with whom I had become involved became pregnant. She was married and intended to stay that way. It was the 1970s, and sex was still a playground. No thought for consequences.

 

I went by once to meet my son. He had my eyes, my ears. He had a club foot.

 

I held him and talked to him and, drawing a strange look from his mother, apologized and told him that I was happy that he had made it so far. After all, in those days the odds had been stacked against him.

 

I try to keep track of him. The last I knew, he had settled in Asheville, North Carolina. I found his house on Google Earth, a little brick bungalow at the corner of two streets in a modest neighborhood. From the satellite photos, I saw toys in the yard, a swing set in the back. I have grandchildren.

 

I have grandchildren.

 

No issue, as the Bible calls it, but a son and grandchildren and probably great-grandchildren who do not bear my name, do not know my face, or even that I exist. Yes, I have been tempted to contact him, spill the beans, because I have a selfish desire to connect.

 

But that would mean telling him that the life he has had for nearly 40 years has been a fiction in part, that the man he called Dad for all those years was not, at least biologically. I know, I am assuming some things, but any other assumptions I make would only be to make myself feel better. I don’t deserve that.

 

So, yeah, I lived through the sexual revolution, firing wildly from the hip.

 

I’m still standing. But there are bodies in my wake, and wounds I cannot heal.

 

Brave new world, indeed.

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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.

Jesus

November 8, 2015

It had been an unusually bitter argument.

 

I don’t remember the topic, it was so long ago. We had been drifting apart for years, and we were almost to the end of that process.

 

We were polar opposites, and not in the way that made us more interesting to one another. I was a blue-collar hippy, she was a military officer’s kid. I took any kind of job I could get, she always managed to avoid working anywhere. She had become deeply religious suspiciously quickly after we got together, I wavered between the occult, agnosticism, and downright atheism. She wanted kids. I did not.

 

Post argument, I was lying on my belly on the brass double bed, fuming and staring at the chipped plaster wall.

 

She sat upright, pillows piled behind her, reading her Bible.

 

As I lay there mired in that acidic anger, she suddenly gasped out loud.

 

I switched immediately to protective mode. It just works that way.

 

“What is it, what’s wrong?” I asked.

 

It’s him, she said.

 

“Him who?” I asked, honestly puzzled.

 

“Jesus,” she said, in an ecstatic voice.

 

I lay silent for a while. Then:

 

“Where?”

 

He is standing at the foot of the bed, she explained.

 

By now, I am studying the pale blue walls with great attention. As I saw it, there were only two possible options.

 

One: There was nothing at the foot of the bed but air, and my significant other was nuts.

 

Two: Jesus was standing at the foot of my brass bed and I was in deep doo-doo.

 

It was quite the quandary.

 

I didn’t want to know the answer, to be honest.

 

Understand, that when I am nervous I have a tendency to say the first wisecrack that comes to mind. My knee-jerk reaction is to defuse the situation and get everybody to relax.

 

It really never works, but I do it anyway.

 

Being an atheist who has just been told that the Son of God is standing at the foot of the bed is probably the very definition of a nervous situation.

 

So, I said what could have been the worst possible thing ever.

 

DO YOU TWO WANT TO BE ALONE?

 

I have to remark that her command of the saltier parts of the English vocabulary was stellar for a churchy girl.

 

She excoriated me with little grace but a whole lot of enthusiasm. I mean back seven generations and all the way out to my 3rd cousins, whoever they are.

 

And, for the record, Jesus was not standing at the foot of the bed. But I slept on the couch that night anyway.

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.

Logan

January 16, 2011

The email came through over my phone as I was driving home from an assignment Wednesday night. Logan was dead.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sat there for a few minutes.

Logan was just 20, the son of a good friend from a lifetime ago, one of those friends you keep, and feel close to, even if you rarely ever see them.

David and I became friends while we were both at the University of Georgia, back in the 70s. He studied marketing and communications. I didn’t really study much of anything. We had a lot of good times together, and what bad times there might have been never mattered.

David and Logan came and visited us in Gettysburg six years ago. Logan was 14, and had taken an interest in the Amish, and the trip gave the two of them some quality father-and-son time on the long drive north from Atlanta.

The four of us piled into my van and were off to the back roads of Lancaster County. We tried to avoid the touristy places. We had a great time. Somewhere, I have photos. It was a good enough time that I realized what I had missed, never raising a son.

Logan went to military school, then high school and started college. He was a member of the swim and lacrosse teams and coached another swim team. He was also a wrestler. His Facebook page shows him, fit and buff, in high-energy hijinks with lots of friends, and being cozied up to by an enviable number of attractive young women.

And then, about a year and a half ago, Logan wasn’t feeling well. He went into the hospital for some tests. The diagnosis was leukemia.

Logan and his family fought the disease like Apaches, relentlessly seeking blood and marrow donors, doing everything they could. I think it was almost enough.

On Logan’s Facebook page is one photo very different from the others. He is standing outside, holding the German shepherd puppy he got in October, when the docs told him that his cancer was gone. He looked like a concentration camp survivor. I kept flicking from that photo to the earlier ones, unbelieving. Surely that’s not the same person?

But it was, and he was cancer-free and on his way to recovery, even beginning to eat solid food.

And then, five days before Christmas, Logan and his family learned that the cancer was back. This time, there were no more treatment options. Everything that could have been done had been done. Logan went home to his mother’s house.

The docs said he had days, months at the most.

David said that when the leukemia came back, “It was almost as if it was pissed off.” It charged in full bore, ravaging Logan’s already weakened defenses. Tuesday night, it ended.

I sat there in my car, traffic hissing by on the wet highway, looking at my cell phone as though it might offer helpful suggestions. I spent 25 years as a reporter, calling families and friends of people who had died from long battles with terrible diseases, from injuries received in crashes, some of them on that very highway, or had died from gunshots and knife wounds. It’s something reporters have to do. They don’t like it, but they do it. It’s part of the job.

And here I couldn’t call one of my oldest friends and talk about the death of his son. This wasn’t an effort to flesh out a name in a police report or an obituary. This was somebody I knew, who was going through something that words really don’t cover. Words are what I do for a living, and yet I found none to use.

I dialed the number anyway. Dave picked up.

“Dave? It’s Terry,” I said. “I just got your email…”

Frankly, I don’t remember what I said, and I wouldn’t share the words if I did. It was personal, in a way few other things are. I hope the words conveyed what I felt, at least a little. There are some things that words just can’t accomplish.

I remember in one of my favorite episodes of “The West Wing,” after the senseless death of Pres. Bartlett’s beloved friend and personal secretary. Bartlett asked to be left alone in the cathedral, and spent a few minutes blaspheming and giving God hell, and called him a “feckless thug.”

It’s one of the things I have always envied in believers, that occasionally they can bristle and fume and the one in charge. I don’t have anybody at which to curse. But I can definitely be angry.

NOTE: Should you be so inclined, contributions can be sent to the Atlanta Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at www.lls.org or call 1-800-399-7312. Logan also requested that his friends register to be bone marrow donors at the Be The Match Registry at www.bethematch.org or call 1-800-Marrow-2.

 

 

 

 

==============================.

© 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 was September in Key West, well past midnight and quite warm.

The pier on which we sat stretched out pale and luminescent under a clear sky and a full moon, far out into pale jade water. The lounge chairs creaked now and then as one or the other of us shifted our weight.

We rarely spoke, there at the southernmost tip of our country, while hell raked Cuba, 90 miles away.

The sky glittered cloudless overhead. The southern horizon, however, glowered an inky, impenetrable black, laced throughout with lightning. From east to west, as far as vision could follow, a constant curtain of lightning, a steady growl of thunder filled the air, a continuo under the quiet lapping of the water and sighing of the wind. We sat, transfixed, for hours.

I never hear thunder that I don’t think of that storm, and the eerie, jeweled spot from which I watched it.

This week has been one of storms where I live now. Some pretty good ones, too; lots of wind and rain, lightning and thunder. A little flooding here and there, branches and wires down.

Not the biggest we’ll get, mind you. Those will come mid-summer, real Old Testament howlers that come down from the Appalachians and stomp around like God in a royal snit.

I love storms. I don’t like the damage they do, but that sort of comes with the territory. I’ve been lucky over the years and avoided being injured or having a lot of property damage. Well, there was the time when parts of a mobile home I was living in wandered away during a big winter gale about 25 years ago. To tell you the truth, the morning after that storm, I was a little bit surprised when I looked outside that my home hadn’t changed ZIP codes.

As I said, I love storms. As a kid I used to climb a pine tree in our back yard and ride the wind-bursts. Obviously, my parents knew nothing about this. Just as obviously, the tree wasn’t in a place that attracted lightning, or this column would be a lot shorter.

I think I like being reminded that humans are really not as in charge as we’d like to think we are. Few things do that as well as extravagant weather. Simple-minded evangelicals like to use bad weather as proof of our iniquity, that God is punishing us for our sins. But they miss the point entirely. So much preaching comes down to ego, when you come down to it. The universe, in that world view, was created as a stage for us to conduct our little morality plays. It’s all about us.

We really need to get rid of that whole idea. Storms are random. Nature itself has its own purpose, its own dance to perform. And we’re caught up in it, an integral part, to be sure, but only a part. I am an atheist, but I sometimes like to imagine God up there, rolling storms down off the east slope of South Mountain like so many atmospheric bowling balls, just to see what happens.

© 2010 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/

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.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

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.
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© 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:
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I’ve mentioned fairly often that my own religious beliefs don’t entail a belief in an actual conscious entity out there that is looking out for me or, worse, looking for me.

But I was raised in that tradition, for sure. You know, the one where your parents and the other vast beings that rumbled and boomed way up there over your head, warning that this or that bad thing was going to happen to you if you did or didn’t do this or that.

It was a tradition that taught you that failing to dress up properly for church, or not going at all, showed a disdain for God, and he was gonna getcha for that. And mercy on the pore chile that fell asleep while the preacher droned on and on, though it seemed to be OK for the older members of the congregation to do.

It’s all about ignorance and superstition, as far as I’m concerned, though I have often been moved how faith can get people through some really awful times. I guess you could say I believe in faith, but not so much in the object of that faith.

I was reminded of my own programming in that regard the other day in the newsroom, when the librarians were throwing out a lot of old books, including, to my sorrow, a whole set of encyclopedias. I spent a lot of happy hours as a kid thumbing through our set of Colliers, stumbling upon one wonder after another.

One of the books in the scrap bin was a Bible. I am, as I said, an athiest, an admirer of Dawkins and Hitchins, and of Sam Harris. And yet, seeing the Bible in the trash bothered me, I mean “bothered” as in slightly afraid that bad things would happen because we threw away a Bible. It was an enlightening experience.

Maybe I should go find my copy of Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Panda’s Thumb” and throw it away, just to make up for it.

Nah. Not happening.

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© 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:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

On Feb. 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in his little log cabin in Kentucky, and Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.

The two could hardly have been from more opposite socio-economic poles.

Lincoln was born in a tiny cabin to poor settlers. Darwin was born to wealthy society doctor and financier Robert Darwin, and Susannah Wedgwood Darwin. He was the grandson of naturalist Erasmus Darwin on his father’s side, and of pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood on his mother’s side.

Abraham Lincoln, or a tweaked and deified facsimile thereof, is recognized the world over as the emancipator of slaves, martyr to freedom and the Union.

Charles Darwin is recognized throughout most of the world, at least the parts of the globe that actually have secular education, as the man who freed us from sorcerous mythologies about how life shaped and continues to shape itself.

Darwin and his research came along at a time when a number of thinkers, including his grampa Erasmus, were pondering such things as the origins of life and the age of the earth. It was Darwin who wove it all together into a cogent theory

Sadly, the good ole U.S. of A. isn’t one of those enlightened countries. In fact, among all the first-world countries, the U.S. is the only one where a relatively high percentage of its residents – just shy of half – do not believe in evolution.

Their disbelief is rooted, bluntly, in an enforced scientific illiteracy.

Back in 2004, the school board of the Dover (Pa.) Area School District put out a policy that required teachers in the middle school science department to inform the kids that there were books available for them at the school that gave an alternate view of evolution than that proposed in Darwin’s work.

The books were provided through the efforts – and funding — of some of the board members and their fundamentalist church.

It’s probably a good time to point out that the world’s understanding of all life and how it interacts is based on Darwin, up to and including the cures for disease and understanding of genetic disorders. To the credible scientific community, there is simply no debate about evolution. On minor details, yes. On the theory itself, absolutely not.

The “alternative” was so-called “Intelligent Design,” which is the latest expression of the Creationist’s holding on to their corner of the argument by postulating that evolution is real, but argues that even the most basic life-forms are too complex to have come along without a “designer.”

Anyway, back to the point.

Eleven parents sued the district in federal court. During the course of the six-week trial, one witness after another got up and showed ID for the sham it is. They did this by explaining, in layman’s terms, the scientific facts that back up the “theory” of evolution.

The witnesses for the district, including a scientist or two, made fools of themselves, because their arguments were shown up for what they were…religious dogma dressed up to look like science.

The upshot was that the judge threw the whole ID thing out because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In short, you could teach it as religion, but not as science.

The key point here, though, how my friend Lauri Lebo, an author and former newspaper reporter, described the journalists in the court and their reaction to the perfectly understandable explanations of evolution by the scientists on the witness stand.

“We were looking at one another, saying ‘why didn’t we learn this in school?”

(By the way, Lauri wrote a book about the trial, which took place in the area where she grew up, and it’s a terrific read. “The Devil in Dover.” I recommend it.)

The answer, of course, is that the religious right, in its various shapes and permutations, has intimidated public schools everywhere from purchasing science texts that go into Darwinism to any depth.

As for private schools, well, the bulk of those are backed by, if not outright owned by religious organizations, some of them quite zealous, so I think we can rule them out as havens for real scientific educations.

The biggest misconception about evolution is that it is antithetical to religious belief. Well, to fire-breathing fundamentalism, maybe. But plenty of people who understand and believe that life evolved over time are also believers in one or another of the world’s endless buffets of religious faith.

Another misconception is that Darwin was an athiest. He was not. In fact, he was deeply troubled by the implications of what he was discovering through his research and thinking.

Read that paragraph again. He was a scientist. He let the evidence lead him where it would, no matter that what he was finding in his notebooks and specimens was forcing him to re-examine the dogma in which he was raised.

I think it is time that we, this country, have the grit to do the same.

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© 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:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/