Monday, December 31, 2007

Part 2: Remembering the Sixties

Sharing the bed of Angelina Davis
by Charlie Leck

This is Part Two of a series written for my youngest child.
She wants me to remember the sixties and write about
them for her – especially my involvement in the civil
rights movement of that decade. So, I will do that in a
series of essays here on my blog. You can begin with
the first part of the series by going to
Remembering the Sixties: Part One

22 June 1964

"I believe you gentlemen should try with more diligence to understand our customs. We are not like a northern city or town and we are proud of the sense of hospitality and courtesy that pervades our community."

We were chatting with a dentist in Canton, Mississippi. The conversation had been arranged by the Chamber of Commerce. We were considered the more mature of the northern visitors who had invaded their city and their goal was to talk some sense into our heads. The man appeared to be a kindly, sincere fellow of portly build and nattily dressed. He was very soft spoken and had laid out coffee and delicate baked goods for us.

Doctor Nelson spoke up for us: "We have no quarrel about matters of hospitality and courtesy, Dr. Barrett. We find you folks of the south to be impeccably polite. We are in your community because of matters of injustice and inequality."

"We believe deeply about equality, sir," the dentist replied. "Our strategy, however, is one of separate but equal. Black folk and white folk have precisely equal facilities. It is a matter of deep custom that we discourage a mingling of the races and interpersonal relations with our Negras."

The four of us were left rather aghast. We had actually heard this distinguished man say it. David was red in the face, but he tried to control himself.

"Are you expecting us to be fools, sir? We spoke yesterday with a woman in a neighborhood not far from here who had a bomb thrown into her front yard because she had volunteered to house some of the volunteer workers who were arriving in your community. Do you call this discouraging a mingling of the races? Discourage, sir?"

"Well, I know about the lady of whom you speak and I must say that some of our citizens do get rather worked up about violations of these customs we hold to. I would call those fellows rather radical in their behavior; however, Miss Davis should know better because she is well aware of the customs of the south. Her kind of behavior belongs in Chicago or New York. This is a woman with a household of children that she cannot afford and husbands or uncles, or something of the nature, who just keep passing through. She then expects the welfare system to support her and her little ones. This is not what America is all about – at least not what it was meant to be all about."

I had removed a bite of cinnamon doughnut from my mouth for fear I might choke on it. I was brushing sugar from my chin and my face was flushed with rage. I felt my hands tremble.

"She is a human being, sir, who your social customs have treated more like an animal. She has been cut off from opportunity and lives rather hopelessly. She is a lost soul because of your fucking social customs and phony southern hospitality."

My dear ethics professor reddened in his face at my insolence and spoke up quickly, trying to calm the moment.

"I hope you'll excuse Charles. He's rather upset at the signs of racial injustice and inequality we've seen here. We don't doubt your sincerity in these matters, but we deeply believe you are incorrect about things being equal for both races. Your practices – carefully planned practices – of denying the vote to those of the black race are all too obvious for us. We thought equality in America began with equality at the ballot box. That is why we are here, Doctor. It is precisely because of inequality in voter registration. We are not going to delve into other matters. Our goal will be to see to it that the black people of your community are fairly registered to vote and we will then try to teach them how to exercise that important right of all citizens."

The conversation droned on. The dentist remained under extraordinary control, but he was not really hearing anything we were saying. He did plead with us to leave his community before there was more violence. He assured us we had enough problems of racial inequality and injustice in our own communities to keep us busy for a long, long time. We agreed with him about that matter, but assured him that the national focus – the eyes of the nation – was at this moment on the State of Mississippi and its closed society (as James Silver called it in his book, Mississippi: The Closed Society).

Politeness hung in the air and drenched all of our words as we parted. I apologized for my outburst and my request for forgiveness was accepted. I knew, however, that I was now identified as the "hair trigger" in the group.

I could excuse myself, I supposed, because of a poor night's sleep the evening before. David and I had been dropped off at the home of Angelina Davis early in the evening. We'd first had a good dinner of ribs and chicken at a barbeque restaurant, owned by a black family, to which George Washington III had taken us. He told David and I what to expect at Angelina's home. She would do everything in her power to make us comfortable. He told us of the bombing of a few nights before. The thrown explosive had landed in the front yard, a few feet from her bedroom window, and had shaken the house. He was proud of her courage. She continued to be committed to housing us.

Angelina greeted us warmly. Five little children – black as blackness can be –were keeping their distance from us. They were wide-eyed and occasionally giggled nervously. They must have found our pale, colorless skin quite awful. I could almost see them wondering why it wins us any more honored place in society than their own rich, dark complexion. Angelina instructed the oldest girl, probably nine or ten, to show us to the bedroom. As she did, she explained that it was her mom's room. Where would her mom sleep? With the children in the other bedroom! We found Angelina in her tiny kitchen, preparing a pitcher of ice tea for us. We protested about taking her bedroom and we offered to sleep in the living room, on the floor. She wouldn't hear of it. She insisted. It would be safer in the back of the house any way, she joked.

David and I were both uncomfortable about sharing a bed. He courageously volunteered to take the side near the window, closest to the little crater in the front yard. During the night each of us clung to his own particular edge. Rigid and stiff, I slept poorly through most of the night. Every little, strange noise caused me to sit up and scan my surroundings. As daylight broke, however, I was sleeping soundly on my back when I felt something creeping across my uncovered chest. I rose up in fear, expecting to find a giant spider or tarantula about to strike. Instead I saw a little black boy standing by the bedside. His fingers were resting gently on my chest. His eyes were wide with fear when I jumped, but they relaxed when I smiled at him. I realized that he was probably touching a white person for the first time in his life. He was awfully curious about my strange skin. He didn't resist when I lifted him onto the bed and put him between a suddenly awakened David and me. David bounced in the bed and made the boy fly upwards and land on his tummy. We all began rough-housing and laughing far too loudly. Before long the other children were standing in the doorway, peering in at us, only slightly frightened for their brother.

Our first, real day of work in Mississippi was about to begin. Morning had broken in an enjoyable way.


NEXT: Intimidation by the Madison County Sheriff

Friday, December 28, 2007

Remembering the Sixties

Part One:
Riding on the Spirit of New Orleans

by Charlie Leck

One of my daughters – the youngest one – asked for a strange
holiday gift this year. She wants me to remember the sixties
and write about them for her – especially my involvement in
the civil rights movement of that decade. So, I will do that in
a series of essays here on my blog.

The United Airlines plane landed in Chicago, at the O'Hare Airport. I had flown first class because I booked at the last moment and couldn't get a coach seat. First class travel in those days was a real luxury. United Airlines called it "Red Carpet Service." I was twenty-three years old and had never had a drink of hard liquor. Not knowing the names of drinks very well, I could only call to memory a martini, and that's what I asked for. It burned going down and my head spun a bit from it, but I also felt a rush of relaxation. The flight was the last bit of luxury I would see for a while. From the airport, I grabbed a train downtown and then a cab out to the south side Illinois Central Railroad Station. The two guys with whom I was to travel were waiting outside on the big, concrete stairway that led up to the station. One of them was puffing nervously on a cigarette. I had worried so much about being late. They had taken the train down to Chicago and waited patiently for me to arrive. I can't even remember why I couldn't join them on the train, but something important must have been happening in the family and I had to delay my departure.

It was 1964. It was summer. The weather reports from Mississippi were not promising and neither were the news reports. It was very hot there. We were going to roll into a very uncomfortable place.

Our destination was the town of Canton. Our assignment was to be the eyes and ears of the voter registration movement in that city and throughout Madison County. I was a student in graduate school. I was considered old enough and mature enough to be assigned as a monitor, to observe and supervise the work of the northern college students who were converging on Mississippi. A national program was underway, targeting Mississippi, to register black citizens to vote. The state had used every technicality of the law and of administrative procedure to deny such registration to blacks. Our program, a combined effort of several of the major black civil rights organizations and mainly of Martin Luther King, Junior, intended to break the back of those procedures.

We were traveling on the famous Illinois Central train, The City of New Orleans. We'd roll along the rails throughout the night and arrive in Canton in the heat of the day. We settled into the club car and ordered some cold beer. My traveling companions were Doctor James Nelson, PhD., one of my professors, and the Reverend John Fisher, the Director of Social and Community Ministry for the United Church of Christ in Minnesota. Soon after we began sipping our beers, we met another member of our team, a pastor from an Illinois community south of Chicago. I'll call him David, though his actual name has escaped me after all these years. Somewhere, stuffed in one of these drawers or in a box pushed to the back of some closet, I have a diary of those days in Mississippi. It would likely reveal David's real name to me. I wrote a long novel in the late sixties and early seventies in which David is one of the main characters. It's also shoved in a box in the back of some closet.

As the train rolled south, we'd try to occasionally grab some sleep in the reclining seats of the passenger car to which we were assigned; however, unable to sleep because of the heat in the train, the crying of little babes wanting to nurse, and because of the anticipation of the problems that we would soon encounter, we'd end up together back in the club car. We could hear the rails singing in the heat and the loud squealing they would emit whenever the engineer applied any brake at all to his big, diesel locomotive.

The popular song about the train by Steve Goodman was to come along in the next decade, and it described to perfection the mood and atmosphere on the train that moved through the night. Goodman wrote the entire song on a trip aboard the train. This famous train was scheduled to disappear and Goodman thought the song might be used by the protestors who were trying to save it. Soon after, Arlo Guthrie recorded the song and won many awards for it, and rejuvenated the futile fight to save the service used by so many poor people.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm you native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

…Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.

And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm you native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

Nightime on the City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
But all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

How, when I heard Guthrie sing it years later, the song brought back the memory of this nervous, deliberative night! The train raced southward "through the Mississippi darkness." My heart beat recognizably. The air conditioning was totally dysfunctional. The odor of stale perspiration assailed me. I wondered if it were mine or from other passengers sitting nearby. My hands felt clammy. My shirt stuck to me. My feet burned. I was having second thoughts about the journey. The train rocked. Passengers, mostly African-Americans, stirred and rose to walk the aisles. The toilets stunk. I could see a tremble in my hands. My mouth and throat were dry. My thirst was slaked well enough. It was the dryness of fright that assailed my mouth.

The morning broke across the Mississippi countryside and I knew we were ever so close to Canton, a town named after its Chinese counterpart half way around the world – exactly opposite each other on the globe. "Dig a hole straight down, fellas, and yed' still be in Canton when yed' come out on th'other end!" It would be my summer home. On this very night, somewhere out in the hot, Mississippi darkness, Mickey Schwerner, Michael Goodman and James Chaney were assailed and murdered and their burned-out station wagon was left in the swamps of Bogue Chitto. It would be over a month later before their bodies were discovered. Had I known their fate, I'm sure I would have turned back.

The train slowed and the conductors strode down the aisles of the passenger cars calling out the name of the town.

"Canton. Canton next!"

I have never been so consumed by fear. Now I knew it was my own stale, fearful body that I smelled. Something crawled across the surface of my flesh. It was the explosive sensation of fright arousing my adrenal glands. My travel companions were pale as they moved toward the exits of the car. The train crept slowly and then jerked to a halt. Jet black conductors swung open the doors and placed a step on the pavement for us. They offered their white-gloved hands to help us step down. Their eyes held a warning glance and their heads jerked just slightly to the side, warning us that white men were observing our debarkation.

It was a blunder to look over toward the spectators. Nevertheless, I did. Their faces were as stiff and solid as stone and they looked intently and hatefully at us. I jerked my eyes and head away from them and followed my companions to the station. A pay phone hung on the wall. We had a number to call, to request a pick up. After the call was made we moved toward a waiting room. A sign above it said, "Whites Only!" Offended, we stopped and looked at each other and then down the platform to another waiting room for "Colored Only!" We were honor-bound to move toward it, passing separate drinking fountains for white and colored. Feeling the need to demonstrate our mission, each of the four of us took a long draw from the fountain for "Colored Only!" Our observers were deadly silent. Deadly! We stepped into the waiting room that black people had to use.

A police officer walked to the waiting room and quietly opened the door and slipped in. He stood silently, observing us. The more mature fellows stared back at him. I looked down at the big pistol holster on his hip and the shiny, black billy-club that hung from his belt.

"Gentlemen," the officer spoke softly, "y'all are violatin' the important traditions of our community and of the southern states. Y'all should be in the other waitin' room, down the platform."

None of us budged. The law enforcer pawed the floor with his shoe.

"Frankly," he said in a deeply southern drawl, "y'all would be very wise to catch the northbound train that will come through here late this afternoon, and return to your northern homes and loved ones. This, unfortunately, is not now a safe place. I am sure you have not yet heard the rumors that three northern boys, much like yourselves, have disappeared. You are not really safe here. It would be a shame for your families if something were to happen to any one of you gentlemen."

He paused, waiting for us to make a reply. I followed the lead of my companions and did not stir. None of us spoke. We were careful to show no signs of fear. No one cleared his throat, or coughed or stirred.

"Well, I cannot force y'all to leave this room, but you should know you are bein' very foolish. You are insultin' us and our customs. If you remain in our community, you will be watched carefully and we will consider you as unfriendly visitors who are here to stir up trouble."

Behind the officer, the door opened and a young black man stepped into the room and stood looking at us. The policeman turned and stepped toward the door.

"Howdy, Asa. I expect you are here to pick up these unfriendlies. I hope you understand the responsibility you will have to accept if some harm comes to them."

"Thank you, De-pa-ty," the black youngster said.

With that the uniformed man strode firmly and quickly from the room, slamming the door shut behind him.

A large volume of air escaped me. My entrails stirred, making a sound that everyone heard. The young black fellow looked at me and laughed.

"Don't have no fear of him," Asa said. "He's a mite more bark than bite."

The reassurance helped some. We smiled and grabbed our bags.

"Just the same," Asa went right on, "I'd avoid him and d'other whites in this here town if I wassa you guys. Come on! We're a goin' over to Freedom House for a strategy plannin' meetin'."

Freedom House was an old, one-room meeting hall of some type. It was painted bright red and sat up on a tiny knoll. There was a kitchenette in one corner and the rest of the room was filled with folding chairs and one moveable blackboard.

Asa nodded to young, short, stocky, black man as we entered and held the door for us. About 25 young, white men and women sat around the room in a disordered way, sipping on coke bottles and munching chips. Most of the male students had long hair and beards. They wore jeans and t-shirts that bore varied and sundry slogans about freedom and peace. The young women were also in jeans and t-shirts and they clearly wore no bras beneath the clever slogans. A cigarette was being passed among them. We were in coat and tie. There was an aroma in the air that I did not recognize then. I was to learn it was marijuana

"Depaty Sheriff Fulmer wassa given 'em some shit when I got there," Asa was telling the stocky young man. "I told 'em to be cautious of him and give him some respect if'fin dey come across him."

The young man offered his hand to each of us, pulling us gently into the room as he did.

"I am George Washington the Third," he told us. I'll be your official host while you are in our community and I'll maintain Freedom House as a safe house for you. No harm will come to you while you are here. We have made it clear that the town will burn if any harm comes to this place or its inhabitants."

Washington stared carefully at us to see if his words were registering. There was some comfort in them, but I was asking myself if that meant we were in great danger when we were outside of this building.

Each of the four of us introduced ourselves to George Washington, III.

"Come, now," Washington said, "come and meet the others."


NEXT: Angelina Davis gives me her bedroom!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Anne’s Great, Great Grandfather

Her great, great grandfather and great grandfather arrive in Wayzata
by Warren Wakefield

The following essay is taken from a memoir that was written by
Anne's great grandfather. It is about his arrival in Wayzata,
Minnesota, as a seven year old in 1857. I've fallen in love with
these memoirs and they make me wish I could have known
this extraordinary man who wrote them.

Whatever this performance may develop, be it history, song or sermon or a series of anecdotes, it will be entirely lacking in exact chronology.

My personal knowledge of the Frontier development of this community begins October 1, 1857. I never saw A. O. Garrison, the founder of the village of Wayzata, he had finished his work in this region and moved farther West in the year 1856. To me the real pioneer settlers of Wayzata were William Dudley, B.F. and Tom Keesling and A.W. Day. These four men and their families constituted the entire population of the village when I first saw it. Three of these four original settlers were in the hotel business as early as 1855 and the fourth, Tom Keesling, was a frontier merchant, the proprietor of a small general store.

At that time the freight that went West to the various settlements in the Big Woods passed thru the village, and Wayzata, being a long day's drive from the river, was a stopping place for the freighters, which explains the popularity of the wayside hotel as a source of income. These freighters were more than ordinary men, for on each trip they solved problems in road building that would puzzle a modern engineer.

As we entered the one street of the Village that October afternoon fifty-six years ago, the first hotel we encountered was occupied by B.F. Keesling, a long, half log, half frame structure, which stood on the present site of the Gleason store. This tavern was never popular as a stopping place and was abandoned by its proprietor in the spring of 1858, when it was converted into an ashery and equipped with vats and furnaces for the production of potash and pearlash. This was a thriving business, the settlers in the surrounding country were clearing land and burning acres of log heaps; ashes were plentiful and could be had in unlimited quantities for the hauling.

The next hotel and the most popular one with the traveling public, stood on the present site of the Saunders House, and was the property of William Dudley. This house was furnished with an inviting bar; its beds were always clean and its basswood floors polished to a startling degree of whiteness. Aunt Ann could roast a leg of venison, bake a fat coon or convert a corpulent woodchuck into a stew that would tempt even a modern vegetarian. This hotel was burned in the fall of 1859, when Mr. Dudley built a small house on the site of the Nedderly building. This house was moved back from the street a few years later and is now a part of the Daughterty house, and the oldest building in the village.

The next hotel stood on the present site of the Dr. Tibbett's residence. A huge log barn stood on the street level, directly in front of the house. The house itself was an imposing affair for its period, and Uncle Abel W. Day, its proprietor, and Aunt Eliza, his wife, were unique characters. The popularity of the Dudley hostelry rested securely upon the popularity of its proprietor and Aunt Ann's prowess as a housekeeper and cook; while the Day enterprise was a failure, owing to Aunt Eliza's sour bread and Uncle Abel's mysterious and whispered conversation.

Tom Keesling's store, a 14-foot square frame building, stood on the lake shore, across the street from the Tibbetts and Wise Hardware store. Mr. Keesling quit business and moved to Minneapolis in the spring of 1858.

The Wakefield Family
Arrives in Wayzata
In the fall of 1857 the village front was almost wholly under water, the marsh south of the main street was navigable and the big swamp between Wayzata and Holdridge was an arm of the lake. Nowhere around the bay away from the village settlement was there a suggestion of a human habitation. The leaves had fallen and the growth of red cedar, which at that time skirted the entire lake coast, alone was green. The progress of our cavalcade through the village that October afternoon excited no interest. In fact, no one appeared on the street to be interested. Our coach dog looked in vain for an adversary, for, strange as it may seem not one of these frontier men owned a dog.

We ended our journey that night a mile and a half west of the village, where we made our final camp, and that night, just at dusk, my father killed a fat deer and for breakfast we had fresh meat, the first we had tasted for several months.

They Become Squatters
and Build Log House
There was no vacant Government land in this locality in 1857. The Territorial Legislature had set aside sections 16 and 36 in each Congressional Township as school lands, but no provision had been made at that time for the sale of this reserved acreage, so my father decided to become a squatter upon this state land and await the issue of its sale. Our first house was built upon the present site of the Bowman residence one mile west of the village. It was late in the season and the weather was cold, but the community came to our assistance and an unhewn log house roofed with oak shakes and chinked and mudded with clay mud was ready for occupancy within three days after the foundation logs were laid. We were at home at last.

My father and his family had started from Ashtabula County, Ohio, in the spring of 1856 and traveled with a wagon to Mower County, in this state, where we located, too late in the season to raise a crop. We did, however, break 20 acres of prairie land and prepare it for the next season's cultivation. That winter we lived in a pre-emption shanty of small dimension. We had neither vegetables nor meat; our entire bill of fare for eight months was bread or biscuit made of grown wheat flour and eaten to the accompaniment of a cheap quality of molasses. So stringy was that abominable flour that biscuit made of it could be extended like an accordion, tho it refused to relax and assume its original shape.

There was no game in Southern Minnesota that winter and no fish. The Winnebago Indians had combed the prairies for everything that wore feathers, and the crops of the settlers that had preceded us had been destroyed by grasshoppers. It was ninety miles to the nearest market, and to add to the burden of our existence, the snow fell three feet deep that winter and for ten weeks was covered with a crust so thick and sharp that travel with a team was impossible. When spring opened, we put in a crop of wheat and corn, made a big garden and waited for the harvest, but the harvest was never realized. A July hail storm again reduced us to a diet of bread and molasses, and made it necessary for us to abandon our claim and seek a locality where wood, game and fish could be had in abundance. We were a happy family that winter on Bowman hill, where we had plenty of palatable corn bread, fresh fish and venison and cranberry sauce, after eighteen months of wandering and trial we were mighty glad to get home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Short, Wise Blog

Thoughts at the year's end
by Charlie Leck

I would give anything to be able to give you a hyperlink
to Garrison's Keillor's weekly column published by
Tribune Media Services, but, evidently, that company
chooses not to make this particular piece available on
the Internet. I don't know how much of it I am
technically allowed to quote to you, but let's try to get
away with the following, which is down-right delightful

"God prefers honest doubt to false piety." [Garrison Keillor: The Nativity Story and the Mystery of Faith, Tribune Media Services, 9 Dec 2007]

"God prefers admitted incompetence to fake authority." [Garrison Keillor: The Nativity Story and the Mystery of Faith, Tribune Media Services, 9 Dec 2007]

If you a regular reader of my blog you already know
that I'm a big fan of Garrison Keillor – at least the
public man. As he gets older, Keillor is expanding
in wisdom without losing his sense of humor. This
makes him mighty powerful.

I'm trying to find out from Tribune Media Services
just where Keillor's column is published across the
country. If I get information I will share it with you

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ponte dei Sospiri

Is Richard Russo the best novelist in America today?
by Charlie Leck

As the legend goes, beneath the Bridge of Sighs, in a gondola at sunset, kiss and you are guaranteed eternal love. (I can guaranty that it doesn't work!) The bridge is one of many built in Venice during the 16th century. It connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace to the old prisons on the other side of the Rio di Palazzo. Lord Byron gave the bridge its name. He imagined the condemned prisoners crossing through the bridge, from the courtrooms back to their prison cells, sighing heavily as they go to their executions. In fact, criminal executions had ceased before the bridge was built and the jail cells really only housed low-level prisoners. Good story though!

So is the one Richard Russo tells in his book by this same name, The Bridge of Sighs. It's a very good story, wonderfully told, with delectable little surprises and curious mysteries along the way.

Like all of his works, The Bridge of Sighs is about the lives of plain, but complex people in a small town in the eastern United States. The characters in this novel – even the nasty ones – are likable enough. Each of them is so carefully created for us that it is simple to keep track of them and we are allowed by the author to experience them quite viscerally. When I turned the last page over and began the last paragraph ("That's how we leave it."), I was very comfortable with all these new, fictional friends I had made and I was terribly glad that I had shared time with them.

Russo has this extraordinary ability to do that with his characters, in all his novels, and you don't easily forget the experiences you've had with them. The first of his books I ever read, on the recommendation of a friend, was Straight Man. It remains one of my all-time favorite books. I smiled and giggled throughout the reading and still do today when I bring the characters back to mind. The narrator of Straight Man, William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the improbable, temporary chairman of the English department in a small Pennsylvania college, is still very memorable to me. No novelist in America has the talent that Russo has to create and describe the players in a story. Lou C. Lynch, the newest lead man created by Russo, joins the ranks of these wonderful and memorable characters. Lucy, as he became accidentally known, is the general narrator of the story and the all-purpose tour guide on our visit to Thomaston, New York.

So real is this story that one is convinced it must be biographical. That's not likely so, however. It's just that Russo has this knack for making every event in the lives of his characters seem so perfectly probable and possible. Such a story ought to be downright boring, but Russo makes it downright fascinating and tantalizing.

I'm trying in these few paragraphs to introduce you to Lucy Lynch and to tempt you to go on down to the library to pick up his story and read it for yourselves. He's a common man who spent his life in an ordinary town among routine, small-town people. As a boy he had great difficulty making friends and most other kids took advantage of him. Somehow, as a teenager, he meets a spectacularly plain, ordinary girl who turns out to be an extraordinary and delightful person. The girl-woman basically saves Lucy from himself and from a likely personality implosion. This is all purposefully vague because I don't want to ruin the surprises for you.

Go visit Thomaston yourself. See the stained and polluted Cayoga Stream that runs through it. Be sure to get to know the down-and-out folks who live on the west side of Division Street and the upward moving families that managed to settle on the east side. Get on over to Whitcomb Park to meet Gabriel Monk. Gabe is a fence painter and he loves to howl. He'll tell you that you can call him anything you want "'cept nigger." That's a bad name and you'll get your head busted open if you use it. You'll learn some important things from Gabriel and his son, Three. Spend most of your time in Ikey Lubin's, the little convenience store that rules over this story, and get to know the delightful and delicate family that owns it. Whatever you do, though, just stay away from the water! The stream was terribly polluted by the old tannery that spilled waste out and into it for so many years.

As one reads, one gets the feeling that these ordinary details of a simple and plain story are leading somewhere. Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, put it this way: "But in the midst of these small matters, the big contours of 'Bridge of Sighs' emerge. They are richly evocative and beautifully wrought, delivered with deceptive ease. Another of Mr. Russo's hallmarks is that wonderfully unfashionable gift for effortless storytelling on a sweeping, multigenerational scale."

I think this book is going to be deeply loved because Lucy Lynch will remind nearly all of us of the child we were – spot on! I'm email-chatting these days with two friends I began kindergarten with over 60 years ago. I see them both, and I see myself, in some of the plain and remarkable characters created in Bridge of Sighs. How fascinating it is to now remember the complexity of the emotions we had when we were such wee ones. One would think those jumbled emotions would not make a very good story, but Mr. Russo knew better.

This is not just a good book. It's a perfectly wonderful one!

Is Richard Russo the best novelist in America today? I think so! Certainly, he's the best of all the popular, best-selling writers.

Russo, Richard: Bridge of Sighs [Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007,
ISBN: 978-0-375-41495-4]

It's not central to this review (book report) of Russo's latest novel, but one remarkable paragraph brought me back so clearly to my own childhood and my own parents that I had to write it down and tuck it somewhere that would cause me to come across it occasionally. I know my two brothers and my sister do not share this same, odd feeling I have about my parents and I have never been able to reason out why they don't.

"That's what our parents are. The first mystery we encounter in a mysterious world. We see them every day as they go about their business. Painting the fence. Painting it again. One thing's for sure, they aren't telling us."

I've likely spent too much time trying to figure out who my parents were; that is, what in life meant most to them, and what great secrets did they have, and how dearly did they love each other, and what were their great disappointments, and how did they feel about social injustice. I see my father every day, opening the store, closing the store and then opening it again. The same routine every morning and every evening – long, tiring days – every day of the year. Yet, my old man wasn't a boring and ordinary fellow. He was complex and mysterious. He didn't want anyone to see too deeply inside him. It was nearly impossible to get to know him. This extraordinary book by Mr. Russo brought me back to all those thoughts in such a wonderful, both playful and painful way.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Man Who Would Be President

An Inconvenient Truth
by Charlie Leck

The 2000 presidential election in the United States was an unmitigated disaster. "We wuz robbed," as my old man used to often say. Had there not been cheating in Florida, Al Gore would have been our national leader and one wonders how completely dissimilar things would be today. I can list a few things that would surely be different: (1) We would not be losing young Americans in Iraq and spending billions upon billions of dollars there; (2) we would not be deeply in debt as a nation; and (3) we would have taken serious giant steps to cooperate with the other nations in the world to solve the problem of global warming.

Have you read any of the accounts of Gore's speech in Bali at the conclusion of the global warming summit? If you haven't, you may want to take in the New York Times account of Gore's remarks. For now, everyone stand and give the former U.S. Senator and former Vice President a thunderous round of applause. He been the only leader with enough guts to tell it like it is!

Fresh from receiving his Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to alert the world to the massive problems caused by a warming planet, Gore spoke to the delegates at the United Nations conference on global warming in Indonesian: "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali." He told his audience that things would be different in the near future – when George W. Bush is out of the White House. He promised that there would be a policy change.

There was plenty of real anger and frustration in Gore's voice as he spoke. He's not running for office. He doesn't have to follow the rules of politics. He simply told it as it is.

The European Union and the United States are currently so far apart on an agreement to establish target goals on the problem, that the EU is threatening to boycott an upcoming U.S. conference on the issue. Naturally, China and India, now running big and booming economies, are also far from agreeing on such lofty objectives.

This is a time when U.S. leadership and inspiration is definitely needed. It will be a crucial task for the next President of the United States. Anything would be an improvement on the current level of leadership.

Here's what Kevin Knobloch, the president of the Union of Scientists, said of the recent conference in Indonesia: "The best we hoped for was that the U.S. would not hobble the rest of the world from moving forward. Our delegation here from the States has not been able to meet that low level of expectation."

The NY Times points out that there were two faces of the United States at the conference. One is represented by the idiots George Bush sent over and it expresses caution and an unwillingness to take the big steps until all the nations are on board and unified on the issues. Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor, expresses the viewpoint of the other America: "There's a belief that the United States should not do anything until all the other governments are willing to go along and do it at the same time. We should be doing this regardless of whether the world is following or not." Now, that's an inconvenient truth!

The more I read about Michael Bloomberg (Democrat turned Republican turned Independent) the more I like him.

You want to read the chilling facts, figures and statistics on global warming, go the Environmental Defense web site on the subject. This week the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released figures showing that the globe's surface temperature had risen by 0.74 degrees Celsius since the beginning of 20th century. Scientists say that is an alarming increase based on past history. WMO says we are only 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warmer today than during an ice age. That makes the temperature movement cited here very frightening. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also has a web site with alarming, disheartening information.

All of you should be telling your Senators and Congressmen to get off their butts and do something. Vote carefully next year and make sure we have leadership that will rally all nations (including China and India) to get on board to solve this problem.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Below Zero

Loving Minnesota!
by Charlie Leck

We had guests over the weekend from Luxembourg. Actually, they have homes in both Luxembourg and France. They were in awe of Minnesota. It was 10o below zero last night. They had never experienced such cold. They wondered, almost to themselves, why people live in such places. They find it hard to believe that there will be far colder nights than this during our winter season.

I, of course, had to do my usual boasting about this place in the north. I ticked off all the positives – always beginning with the quality of the people, the level of education, the steadiness of the economy and the dependability of the labor force. I told them about the lakes and the land, the parkways and trails, the theaters and museums, the sunsets and the bigness of the harvest moon. My refrain usually plays well with folks from Des Moines or Elk Horn. It didn't resonate with the same richness to folks who live in central Europe, near Paris and Brussels and the Rhine River.

Our visitors found it difficult to visualize that some of the great cities of Canada lay quite far south of us. They were relieved. They have friends in Montreal and worried that they, too, were subjected to utter pain in such weather. Minneapolis lies at 44o latitude and Toronto is way down there at 43o and the Canadian city is far more temperate than Americans understand. Naturally, a lot of differences in the severity of our weather compared to Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver have to do with currents. These three Canadian cities all experience much warmer winters than we do here in central Minnesota.

The grand city of Luxembourg lays several degrees further north than Minneapolis; yet that great city never experiences the severe cold that is simply routine for us. When I told our guest this, they virtually imploded with surprise. "Mais, non! Mais, non!"

"Mais oui!" I shouted back at them.

They spent three days here. When they left – I tell you truly – they were in love with Minnesota.

The response to my blog about leaving the Earth in such sad condition for my grandchildren was very well received. I've had more than two dozen responses. It's also going to be reprinted in the local paper. Thanks to all of you who made such spectacular and beautiful responses. I'm currently compiling them for a blog in the very near future.

Friday, December 7, 2007

From Sea to Shining Sea

To my blessed, beautiful grandchildren I leave this polluted, nearly ruined Globe!
by Charlie Leck

By my accounting, using figures out of my family history, I have a maximum of 12 years left on this planet Earth. The days go by so quickly. I have no fear, but I do have some deep regrets that require me to plead for forgiveness. I direct these pleas primarily to my grandchildren; for, I am bequeathing to them a nearly ruined, heavily polluted planet. What is my role in this sinfulness? Oh my, my sins are legion!

First off, and most sadly, I have been indifferent and incurious about this terrible injustice that has been committed before my very eyes. The Great Creator presented us with a masterful, but complex, spinning globe on which we would be able to live on-and-on if we would but take great care of the gift. Instead of caring for this planet of such beauty, we have abused it. Our abuse is motivated by our greed – our absolutely feverish desire to live lavishly in our own time even though our lifestyle would leave unimaginable complications for you, my dear grandchildren.

I could not raise my voice in protest during my life time because the problem seemed so huge and so complex and my voice so small and insignificant. I allowed greedy, foolish and hopelessly ignorant corporations and their political patsies to establish the environmental rules and standards. Their message to us seemed so marvelous: "Buy more comfort, more pleasure and more sensory satisfaction!" So, I did!

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew all this lavish pleasure and comfort was coming at a price; however, if I could just keep this information tucked way back there, I could safely ignore it. Oh, don't get me wrong, I claimed to be an environmentalist and I boasted of my love for the planet. Ten years ago I even began recycling in earnest and with fervor. I purchased cloth grocery bags and took them to market with me each time I shopped. I began using more environmentally friendly detergents. I knew I wasn't really doing enough, but these little concessions enabled me to fool myself into thinking I was protecting your world and your futures.

How could I ever have an impact on giant corporations and on the industrial nations? I was so wise that I knew such a notion was foolish! I simply sat back, fully aware that my own nation was the most significant offender of Mother Earth's environmental health. I preferred to think that a large number of babbling politicians, hoards of corporate executives, and dozens of talking heads in the media, knew more than distinguished, highly educated scientists all over the world. These extraordinary scientists were telling us very clearly that we were ruining the only place in the Universe that we might call home, our planet Earth. They said we were obliterating this protective shield that the Great Creator had put in place for us. Without this sheath of defense, they say, we are doomed. The scientists also told us that we were ruining the air we breathe and the water we drink. Corporate leaders assured us there were solutions.

I preferred to believe a pitiful talking head, who claimed to know better than the scientists. In the year 2,000, we elected a President of our nation who also believed the talking head. Our President made it clear that he thought the distinguished scientists were crying wolf. If we listened to them, he told us, we would ruin our economy and many of our great corporations would be annoyed and discomforted.

Oil was both the magic word and the seductive elixir in my life. I had to have it. My neighbors and friends and associates had big, luxurious and lavish automobiles and I needed to have one (or two) as well. Others had big homes, with many rooms and large unused spaces, that required lots of heat in the winter and lots of cooling in the summer, and I had to have one, too. When I ran the numbers that the scientists supplied, I could see that this black energy source was not inexhaustible; yet, it would have been so disruptive to me if I lived smaller and drove smaller. I wanted greener grass surrounding my home. I wanted the giant corporations with whom I had invested to make more – gloriously more – profits!

And, all the time, the seas and skies surrounding me were changing. Yet, I was assured by the talking head and the President, that the changes were really insignificant – that they were just part of a natural cycle. No one told me that, in the next millennium, most of beautiful Manhattan would be under water. Perhaps I heard someone whisper it faintly; however, I would not be alive in the next millennium. Nor will you my lovely grandchildren. Yet, in your life time you will see extraordinary declines in the health of your world. You will be subjected to great discomforts as a result of my wastefulness, greed and ignorance. When you are my age and have grandchildren of your own, if we keep living as lavishly as we do today, this planet will have become very unstable. Many people will starve. Many will be left without homes. These will be people in nations that do not have the power or wherewithal to protect their citizens. Our nation, if it continues on as it is, will be that nation most responsible for creating these complex problems for our planet.

It is so easy to look away and not see or hear the truth. I have been guilty of that great sin. How hopeful I am that your generation will become the friendliest one that Earth has ever known. How I hope you will take this gift from the Great Creator into your caring hands and nurse it tenderly back to health. It is almost too late, yet not quite. Should you be as uncaring and as ignorant as I, the planet is lost!

Take Note!
More than half the states in the U.S. have agreed to make substantial cuts in the production of greenhouse gases. Many of them have also pledged to produce as much as one-fourth of their electricity from renewable energy resources within their own state. Currently there are bills in Congress that would call for a 50 percent reduction in the use of oil in America over the next 25 years and greatly increase the fuel-efficiency of automobiles. You'll be shocked to learn that the American Petroleum Institute (API) is opposed to the legislation. More shocking yet, the President threatens to veto any such legislation. Both the President and API claim it will hurt the economy and cost Americans lots of jobs. To counter that, however, the Nanoveritas Group (based in Minnesota) says that this legislation would present "a huge opportunity, not an economic burden." While our President is opposing such important legislation, many in the oil industry (Conoco Phillips and Total SA) are admitting that they will be unable to meet global demand over the next 25 years.

Remember, our single nation consumes about one-fourth of the world's oil supply. We import two-thirds of that. Now oil demand is beginning to grow in both China and India in concert with economic growth in those two huge nations.

The economic opportunities to develop other means of supplying fuels to our automobiles and furnaces are extraordinary. The President ought to be encouraging these opportunities rather than avoiding them; but, as we know, this President has a difficult time handling simple logic.

Tell your Senators and your Congressional Representative to support the legislation to reduce greenhouse gases and the legislation that will demand our automobiles be more fuel efficient. Do it for your grandchildren.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bumper Sticker

One finds truth in the strangest places!
by Charlie Leck

I was impatient a few days ago while I was out driving in a nasty snow storm. I needed to get a lot done and it was beginning to snow. I thought about forgetting it all and just heading home. My wife was traveling in England and I was a bachelor and no one would know I hadn't completed my errands. However, the "weather terrorists," as one local radio personality calls them, were frightening all of us about what it might be like the next day – snowed in, trapped within our homes without enough food and water to survive the storm.

I decided to hit the one or two more shops I needed to get to and then head home with a clear conscience.

A car in front of me was having trouble on a small incline. A fellow got out from behind the steering wheel and an attractive young girl slid behind it. He tried giving the car a push up the little hillock. No luck! I got out and gave him a hand. We got the car rolling and then it suddenly took off and the girl was out of her depth. The car was shooting forward and she hit the brake and it slid sideways and down a little bank. It sank hopelessly into the snow and I knew the youngsters had a problem on their hands.

I slid down the bank with the young man, to make sure his girlfriend was okay. She was. We gave one hopeless effort to push the car up the bank. No way! It was solidly lodged in the slushy snow. Just as I was giving up and walking away from the little car, I noticed the bumper sticker.

"God is too big for any one religion!"

Jesus, I liked that. I'm not being profane, Lord. I'm talking to you. How about it, Jesus? I think you'd like it too. It blasts out the truth at us. It says what so many of us need to hear. God really is too big for any one religion. God is too big for a dozen religions! God is too big for us to comprehend. God is too big for our little minds.

My favorite hymn when I was growing up was "How Great Thou Art!" As I looked down at the bumper sticker, I could hear Mahalia Jackson singing the lyrics to the incredible hymn.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Let me tell you this: God is too big for any one religion!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

He Died Outdoors with his Eye on the Trail Ahead

America's Most Important Contemporary Writer
by Charlie Leck

I going to say something outlandish: Garrison Keillor is the finest writer in America today! He says more things of importance in his writing than any other person in the nation. He says it with humor. He says it with bite.

Here's the great thing about Keillor. He deals with truly prophetic and vital issues; yet, he's got a broad, wonderful sense of humor. Keillor is our generation's Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Updike and Vonnegut.

If you don't regularly read Keillor's weekly columns, you're missing out on a treasure. If you don't read his books, you're missing a treat. This is from his column distributed by Tribune Media Services (unfortunately, it doesn't appear anywhere on the Internet).

"I am descended from a man named David Powell who was restless all through the 19th century and though a farmer, he moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, then Indiana, then Illinois, then Iowa, then Missouri, and in one last thrust forward, he rode into Oklahoma in the great land rush and got 20 miles, felt ill, got off his horse, sat down under a tree, and died outdoors with his eye on the trail ahead. A good death."

Keillor is a very good entertainer. His radio shows and his stage appearances are really very good. His writing is excellent – beautifully done and insightful. Read Garrison Keillor.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Lucky Man

Being loved completely is an unbelievable gift!
by Charlie Leck

I'm preparing a review of Richard Russo's wonderful and surprising book, Bridge of Sighs, and have this wonderful quotation in my notes that comes back to mind regularly. It seems as if Russo wrote the words for me.

"When someone knows your deepest self and still loves you, are you not a lucky man? Having spent much of the last month or so dwelling on the past, I'm particularly pleased to consider that there's someone who knows me so well and yet doesn't regret a lifetime spent in my company…"

I am indeed a lucky man; for my wife loves me without reservation, even though she knows the inner, secret and not so pretty me. I wonder if I ever tell her how grateful I am for that love. I don't think I do. I express my love for her often. Sometimes I do it romantically. However, I don't think I have ever just simply thanked her for loving me so completely.

If you are embarrassed at this point, stop reading; for it will get even more personal as I go on!

A number of years ago, as an anniversary gift, I combined a couple of photos from our honeymoon with a poem I wrote for her. She keeps it hanging in a private place where she can read it regularly but not where others might be embarrassed by it. It doesn't embarrass me, so I'm proud to reproduce it for you here.

I love you more now than then
When fire and adventure lured us from a lulling
And the heat and dangers of it
Are what we built upon.
Now you are more beautiful to touch and watch
In the grayness of a dull morning than then
When we woke with the blue seas of gods and goddesses
Beneath our very window.
I love you more now than then
When I thought I could not love you more.
Now I love you for what you are
And not what I thought you might be.

That was written approximately ten years ago. In fact, I love her even more today.

Sometimes, soundly sleeping in bed at night, she'll stretch a leg over and touch my calf with her toes. No big deal, right? Wrong! A sense of peacefulness such as I cannot describe comes over me and every worry and trouble that I might have burdening my mind simply slides away.

She is in London as I write this. I talked to her just moments ago and her voice, even through the cell phone and from thousands of miles away, reminded me of just how awfully fortunate I am to be her life's partner. I am indeed a lucky man; for she knows my deepest self and still loves me. It is something of a troubling time for her and I wish I could be with her, to hold her.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Snowy Day

This is why we live in Minnesota
by Charlie Leck

There is a heavy snow falling here in central Minnesota. It is a glorious, peaceful and quiet day. I am sitting in my cozy, loft study. It looks out and over acres and acres of thick trees of every sort. There is a very private walk-out, outdoor deck to the east of my study and another, larger one to the west. We call one of them the morning deck and the other the afternoon deck. I can sit here at my desk and watch the snow accumulating on them. I will need to do some heavy-duty shoveling in a little while. I know about the warnings given folks my age about shoveling snow. I'll be cautious and take plenty of rest periods.

We love this kind of day. This is why we live in Minnesota. We gave only fleeting thought to finding a winter place in the south. We examined several parts of Florida, the Carolinas and Arizona. It is fortunate that my wife and I feel so remarkably the same way on this question. We simply don't like the south. After a few days in any of these states I mentioned and we begin to feel separated from our roots. We love snowy days like this. My dear wife is in England right now and she is missing this wondrous sight. She would be out in it if she were here. She knows how to dress for our kind of weather and she bundles up and gets out to enjoy Minnesota's winters. She loves the cleanness and crispness of the air.

I find my enjoyment here in my study. I build a fire and have some good books at hand. I'll spend the day reading and writing and take a break only to do some shoveling before darkness settles over the snow. The farmer who works for us has the big tractor all rigged up with the giant snowblower and he'll do the long driveway to the house before the daylight departs. When nighttime has settled over this lovely part of Mother Earth, I'll allow a little scotch to spill over a glassful of ice and I'll sit and sip before the fire with my book, and wait for hunger to make me rise.

Alone tonight, I'll dine before the TV and watch the Missouri – Oklahoma football game. Life doesn't get much better than this.

The morning light will reveal just how severe the storm has been. I imagine there will be more shoveling and plowing. Again, I'll build some fires and enjoy every moment of being snowed-in here in this peaceful, quiet place. I'll have quiet hours to read through those parts of the Sunday New York Times that I enjoy so much.

The whole world should know such peacefulness and such stillness of heart.

The Confusing World of Digital Photography

Getting better snapshots!
by Charlie Leck

Today's blog is about digital photography
in answer to questions from my readers.
If you're not interested in the subject,
come back on Monday for my next blog
about true political conservatism. On
Wednesday, the 5th, I'll post a blog reviewing
Richard Russo's novel, The Bridge of Sighs.

Several comments came in about my blog on 7 November – 4 tips for digital photographers. Several of you asked questions that show you're still confused about how to process your own photographs. Most of the problems appear to revolve around proper sizing and cropping. It's true that most camera manuals don't give adequate information about this subject. However, you should be able to find tips and instructions in your image processing software (PhotoShop or PhotoShop Elements or the software included by your camera manufacturer). Nevertheless, let me give you a few bits of information and a few quick tips on digital image size.

I'm a member of the National Association of PhotoShop Users. Though I've given you a link to the association's web site here, it is a membership organization and it is difficult to find answers to specific questions without being a member. Naturally, however, you can shop on their web site! If you want to hone your skills with your camera, the founder of this association has a marvelous book on the market that can be very helpful: The Digital Photograph Book by Scott Kelby. It will take you through everything you need to know, in simple steps and simple language, about improving your digital photography. However, it is not going to explain a lot of the gobbly-gook a lot of you get confused about. For that, Photo.Net has an excellent beginner's guide to digital photography. It's sitting there on the web and it's totally free. I recommend it. They take you through all the basics about pixel sizes and pixel counts. They cover a lot more, too: colors, file naming, memory and processing.

To get you started, however, and to answer the questions sent by a few reads, I'll outline some basics for you right here.

If you are using just a simple digital camera and your goal is to obtain quality snapshots, keep it very simple. Shoot in the JPEG mode. Your camera will give you several choices. If you take your memory card or stick from the camera to your local drug store, the little machine sitting there will do all the processing and spit out your photos on the spot. You will probably be happy with the results; however, the machine has made a number of decisions about the photo and processed it according to its own will and not yours. For instance, if you've asked for 4x6 prints, the machine probably has to do some cropping because your photo format is really 4.5x6. Therefore it lops off a half inch and usually evenly divides that between the top and bottom of the photo or from each of its two sides. That may end up giving you something you did not want.
This is why it's best to get to know your image processing software – whichever one you received with your camera or go out and buy PhotoShop's inexpensive ELEMENTS program. When you take a photograph and then put it up on your computer, that's when the fun starts.

Here's a lovely snapshot a friend recently took on a trip to France, out at Monet's Garden in Giverny. It shows how the photo might have been process in a drugstore machine and how it should have been correctly cropped.


This friend had over 250 remarkable snapshots. I went through all of them in just a couple of hours and set up the proper cropping and sizing boundaries. Then printing became very automated and easy.

As taken by the camera, the photos were approximately 17 inches by 13 inches at a very low 180 pixels per inch resolution; however, when we reduced the size to 6x4 or 5x7 the resolution rose considerably into very acceptable ranges. A resolution of 300 pixels per inch is very good for printing snapshots. For more artistic and professional results you will want to get resolution up to 400 or even 500. We printed my friend's snapshots in 4x6 size and 500 resolution. The results were remarkably good.

If you camera ends up producing images at 4.5x6 instead of 4x6, which most non-professional cameras do, you have to watch out how you shoot. Leave a little room on the long sides of your photographs so there is room for cropping. If you camera can be set for actually 4x6 or 5x7 shooting, by all means, set it that way. Most cameras cannot be set in such a manner. If you do that, then you won't have to worry about just sticking your card in the machine at the drug store because it won't be cropping away anything important.

It will take much less time than you think to learn how to use an image processing program. It will even turn out to be fun for you. You'll be able to quickly get your photographs to look just the way you want. You'll also be able quickly correct problems like red-eye and other little problems that sometimes pop up. PhotoShop's program for home users, ELEMENTS, is a spectacular program and you should have it on your computer if you take a large amount of digital photographs.

One of the wonderful things about digital photography is that the cards that record the photos can come in very large sizes, allowing you to take hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Therefore, you can snap many shots of a single subject in an attempt to get one really excellent one. You'll need to be disciplined, however, and willingly delete those that don't match up to what you really want. With a digital camera, you can delete as you go along. Do it! If you put the card in your computer's card reader with all those photographs still on it, you're creating an organizational work-flow nightmare for yourself.

If you have a digital camera and you're still afraid of it, get out and experiment. Take photographs of everything around your house. Get shots of the dog and the wood pile out back. Then put your card in the computer and play with your software. It certainly beats watching the blow-hard, Lou Dobbs. As a matter of fact, it beats virtually everything on TV.

Here are some helpful places to go on the Internet:

Short Courses, an on-line library about digital photography, presents this on-line book about Displaying and Sharing Your Digital Photographs and another about Using Your Digital Camera. Both of these are worth reading.

Internet Brothers also has a very brief and simple page on
Digital Photography

How Stuff Works has a wonderful section on Digital Cameras and Photography, which explains in detail a lot of what I laid out above.

Derrick Story presents the Top Ten Digital Photography Tips and I found these very helpful. You may want to take a look.

•Good, old Wikipedia has two thorough entries that you may find very helpful. One is on Digital Photography and the other is on the Digital Camera.

Though I use the massive Photoshop Suite (CS3) by Adobe, that company's inexpensive program, Photoshop Elements, is as powerful as almost anyone would want or need. Here's a review of Elements by MacWorld that will probably convince you to get it.

Don't be afraid of your digital camera. Get to know it better. Email me samples of your best stuff. I'd love to see what you're doing. The Short Course I recommended above (Displaying and Sharing Your Digital Photographs) will explain the most efficient way to email photos.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Can Women Do Everything?

Photo from by pointofocus...

Women should be leading our nation!
by Charlie Leck

I'm writing this with a few of the most wonderful women in mind. I haven't seen two of them in nearly fifty years; yet these days we are communicating a bit by email. I discover that they have turned out to be remarkable human beings. Fifty years ago they were quiet, retiring, shy and simple girls. Lord, I loved them that way. And now I love them the way they are. Dear, dear, Gretchen and Marion. What extraordinary classmates they were. They and my wife inspire me to write the following.

Somehow, during the last fifty years, the rules of the game have changed. Girls no longer exclusively take home-economics classes and they do not make up 95 percent of the typing classes in high school. Girls have changed. Women have changed. The world has changed and it is wonderful!

When I (personally) look for leadership on the most significant social and political issues facing our great nation, today I look first to the women of the nation. Women, very frankly, are more perceptive, more sensitive, more intuitive and more intelligent than the keenest of male leaders in the nation.


That is an extraordinarily good question. I have struggled with it; however, I think I have an answer. Women, for the most part, are smaller in ego. They are less worried about self-image. They are less involved in questions of failure and success. Women want what is right and just – what is deserved and completely fair!

Women are mothers! They want a bright future for their off-spring and for descendants over many generations to come.

Let that thought settle in for a moment. Women are mothers! It is not the same as saying men are fathers! Men will never understand this sense of something growing in their bodies – growing and growing and growing. Men will never understand the sense of two heart beats thumping away as one. Is it crazy to say that this gives women a different perspective on life?

Women are spectacular and extraordinary creatures!

Here are the facts, Jack! Read them and weep! Women are more sensible, more reasonable, more thoughtful about every single issue that affects the welfare of the general human race. They understand better the concept of protecting the planet. They have a greater sense of responsibility toward future generations.

Frankly, they ought to be in charge. If women were in charge, there would be far fewer wars. There would be more general peace. Little babies and small children would not be starving. Water supplies would not be contaminated. Nations would not be at war over issues of simple stupidity.

Women should be leading nations toward peace. Women should be leading the world. Only women can save the Earth from total destruction.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Structure Weak at its Very Center

Middle America
by Charlie Leck

Lou Dobbs is starting to drive me crazy! Do you know who he is? He's one of the evening news celebrities on CNN. I actually agree with him most of the time; however, he's gotten so bombastic in his approach that he's starting to resemble all the idiots who are on the air over at FOX News. I can barely stand watching his show any more – and that's what it is – a show – and not really a newscast.

I think CNN must have been feeling some ratings pressure in its battle with FOX News. They've gone the way of more volume, more cynicism and more hard opinions on issues. Dobbs is followed in the evening by Rick Sanchez, with a show called Out in the Open. Sanchez so resembles the characters over on FOX that I cannot watch his show either. He does more shouting than Bill O'Reilly. What is CNN coming to? Why are they doing this?

Nevertheless, I must say I agree with the Lou Dobbs comments about the current WAR ON THE MIDDLE CLASS. It frightens me that the middle class may be disappearing in America and most of those who we formerly associated with that economic class are now shifting downward toward the lower income levels.

Soon I'll review Richard Russo's novel, Bridge of Sighs. For our current purpose, I'd like to quote the following:

"The middle, she said, was the real America, the America that mattered, the America that was worth fighting wars to defend. There was just the one problem with being in the fluid middle. You could move up, as we had done, but you could also move down."

That's the crux of the problem in America today. Traditionally, government has worked its butt off to protect the middle class and to give it strength. Today government is acting as if this grand, huge middle is of little importance. The middle is in trouble and it is drifting downwards toward economic weakness. At the same time, the wealthy, upper classes are growing stronger and stronger and more separate from those few who are left in the middle.

Here's the point: there are very few left in the middle. The middle has no strength. The middle is very weak. The middle usually controlled American elections. Who will control them now? The answer is that party who can most strongly appeal to the lower economic class in America. It is too reflexive an answer to say that this is the Democratic Party. Not necessarily. The Republican organization understands the situation and they gear up their campaign machinery to appeal to those who have not. They are very clever about it. They know that the have-nots live in a fantasy world, dreaming of the day when they will have all they need. That's what the lottery is all about. The Republicans pretend to be the lottery choice.

"After all," the lower economic classes say, "the rich are with us and we can be with them if we vote for them. They will deliver us from slavery."

In fact, the Republican Party could care less. It shows this by its position on social issues and its stance on global employment.

Here's the truth about the coming election: Barak Obama, Jon Edwards and Hillary Clinton are committed to the preservation and strengthening of the middle class. Even if you are not a part of that economic status, it will do you well to support the plan to strengthen it.

If there is not a strong middle class in America, America is lost. That may sound dramatic, but it is the plain truth. It is something the Republican Party does NOT understand.

I have friends and family who are a part of this economic group that formerly was the middle class. They are slipping backwards. I have been lucky. I am part of this fortunate class. I keep getting better off thanks to Vice President Chaney and his policies. Should I be happy? Give me a break! What good is my comfort if the nation is disintegrating? It is!

Monday, November 26, 2007


First Things First
by Charlie Leck

What a lovely Thanksgiving holiday around our home this past weekend. Not only were some of the grandkids here, but there was a birthday celebration for one of them and a passel full of other kids were invited and the party was a huge success and no one wanted to go home. Hearing 7 or 8 kids tearing around our house is quite unusual, but the old place stood up to the test.

The problem I had was finding time on the computer to write my blog. I like to publish at least 3 fresh pieces each week and it has been disappointing to go 5 days without putting anything up. Now, however, with quiet restored, I’ll get back to posting something new every other day. Meanwhile…

If you need something to get you outraged,
this came in came in my email overnight and is just one more sign of an out of control justice and defense departments. We can never let our constitution, and the basic rights guaranteed by it, to be mocked. I post it here for you to read thoroughly.

ALL JOURNALISTS SHOULD BE OUTRAGED BY THIS--and let the corporate media and Congress know.

US Plans Case Against AP Photographer

By BRIAN MURPHY (Associated Press Writer)
From Associated Press
November 19, 2007 8:09 PM EST

NEW YORK - The U.S. military plans to seek a criminal case in an Iraqi
court against an award-winning Associated Press photographer but is
refusing to disclose what evidence or accusations would be presented.

An AP attorney on Monday strongly protested the decision, calling the
U.S. military plans a "sham of due process." The journalist, Bilal
Hussein, has already been imprisoned without charges for more than 19

In Washington, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell explained the
decision to bring charges now by saying "new evidence has come to light"
about Hussein, but said the information would remain in government hands
until the formal complaint is filed with Iraqi authorities.

Morrell asserted the military has "convincing and irrefutable evidence
that Bilal Hussein is a threat to stability and security in Iraq as a
link to insurgent activity" and called Hussein "a terrorist operative
who infiltrated the AP."

AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin rejected the claim: "That's
what the military has been saying for 19 months, but whenever we ask to
see what's so convincing we get back something that isn't convincing at

The case has drawn attention from press groups as another example of the
complications for Iraqis chronicling the war in their homeland -
including death squads that target local journalists working for Western
media and apparent scrutiny from U.S. intelligence agents.

A public affairs officer notified the AP on Sunday that the military
intends to submit a written complaint against Hussein that would bring
the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29. Under Iraqi
codes, an investigative magistrate will decide whether there are grounds
to try Hussein, 36, who was seized in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi
on April 12, 2006.

Tomlin said the defense for Hussein is being forced to work "totally in
the dark."

The military has not yet defined the specific charges against Hussein.
Previously, the military has pointed to a range of suspicions that
attempt to link him to insurgent activity.

The AP also contends it has been blocked by the military from mounting a
comprehensive defense for Hussein, who was part of the AP's Pulitzer
Prize-winning photo team in 2005.

Soon after Hussein was taken into custody, the AP appealed to the U.S.
military either to release him or bring the case to trial - saying there
was no evidence to support his detention. However, Tomlin said that the
military is now attempting to build a case based on "stale" evidence and
discredited testimony. He also noted that the U.S. military
investigators who initially handled the case have left the country.

The AP says various accusations were floated unofficially against
Hussein and then apparently withdrawn with little explanation.

Tomlin said the AP has faced chronic difficulties in meeting Hussein at
the Camp Cropper detention facility in Baghdad and that its own
intensive investigations of the case - conducted by a former federal
prosecutor, Paul Gardephe - have found no support for allegations he was
anything other than a working journalist in a war zone.

"While we are hopeful that there could be some resolution to Bilal
Hussein's long detention, we have grave concerns that his rights under
the law continue to be ignored and even abused," said AP President and
CEO Tom Curley.

"The steps the U.S. military is now taking continue to deny Bilal his
right to due process and, in turn, may deny him a chance at a fair
trial. The treatment of Bilal represents a miscarriage of the very
justice and rule of law that the United States is claiming to help Iraq
achieve. At this point, we believe the correct recourse is the immediate
release of Bilal," Curley added.

Hussein, a native of Fallujah and a member of a prominent clan in the
western province of Anbar, began work for the AP in the summer of 2004
as the anti-U.S. insurgency was gaining ground.

On the morning of April 12, 2006, Hussein was out buying bread for
breakfast when he heard a blast on a nearby street in Ramadi, according
to the AP investigation. He dashed home and allowed several strangers to
follow - as was customary to offer shelter during unrest in the city.
Marines later arrived and used Bilal's apartment as a temporary
observation post.

Hussein told the AP he was later taken into custody by the Marines who
also confiscated equipment including a laptop and satellite phone. The
guests he invited into his apartment amid the chaos were also detained.

On Monday, Morrell said two guests in the apartment that day were
"suspected insurgents" and that one of them later was convicted in a
court of having a phony ID. It was unclear whether he remained in
custody or was released.

Calls for Hussein's freedom have been backed by groups such as the
Committee to Protect Journalists.

Tomlin said it remains unclear what accusations, evidence and possible
witnesses will be presented by military prosecutors in Baghdad.

"They are telling us nothing. ... We are operating totally in the dark,"
said Tomlin, who added that the military's unfair handling of the case
is "playing with a man's future and maybe his life."

Although it's unclear what specific allegations may be presented against
Hussein, convictions linked to aiding militants in Iraq could bring the
death penalty, said Tomlin.

U.S. military officials in Iraq did not immediately respond to AP
questions about what precise accusations are planned against Hussein.

Previously, the military has outlined a host of possible lines of
investigation, including claims that Hussein offered to provide false
identification to a sniper seeking to evade U.S.-led forces and that
Hussein took photographs that were synchronized with insurgent blasts.

The AP inquiry found no support for either of those claims. The bulk of
the photographs Hussein provided the AP were not about insurgent
activity; he detailed both the aftermath of attacks and the daily lives
of Iraqis in the war zone. There was no evidence that any images were
coordinated with the insurgents or showed the instant of an attack.

Tomlin also questioned the U.S. military claims that Hussein's fate
rests solely with Iraqi justice. Noting that Hussein has been in the
sole custody and control of the U.S. military, he said it's up to
military prosecutors to lay out the allegations and "it's impossible
that they don't have a specific set of charges drawn up."

Gardephe, now a New York-based attorney, said the AP has offered
evidence to counter the allegations so far raised by the military. But,
he noted, it's possible the military could introduce new charges at the
hearing that could include classified material.

"This makes it impossible to put together a defense," said Gardephe, who
is leading the defense team and plans to arrive in Baghdad next week.
"At the moment, it looks like we can do little more than show up ... and
try to put together a defense during the proceedings."

One option, he said, is to contend that the Pentagon's handling of
Hussein violated Iraqi legal tenets brought in by Washington after the
fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Among the possible challenges: AP claims
that Hussein was interrogated at Camp Cropper this year without legal

Hussein is one of the highest-profile Iraqi journalists in U.S. custody.

In April 2006 - just days before Hussein was detained - an Iraqi
cameraman working for CBS News was acquitted of insurgent activity.
Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein was held for about a year after being
detained while filming the aftermath of a bombing in the northern city
of Mosul.

Tomlin, however, said that freedom for Bilal Hussein, who is not related
to the cameraman working for CBS, isn't guaranteed even if the judge
rejects the eventual U.S. charges. The military can indefinitely hold
suspects considered security risks in Iraq.

"Even if he comes out the other side with an acquittal - as we certainly
hope and trust that he will - there is no guarantee that he won't go
right back into detention as a security risk."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thank Goodness

Is Thanksgiving a great holiday, or what?
by Charlie Leck

Almost everyone we know across this nation considers Thanksgiving Day his or her favorite holiday. We're with them. We think Thanksgiving is the only holiday to which we actually look forward. If we were to ask all these folks the reason for this, their answers would be pretty much the same as ours. Thanksgiving Day is laid back and it's all about family and very close friends. There is no pressure to come up with gifts. Just relax and enjoy the day. Granted, there is lots of work involved. It's not easy to lay out a feast for a dozen or more people.

We're going through the pre-Thanksgiving period right now and it is pressure packed. Our list is long. Get the yard looking as good as possible. Clean the entire house top to bottom. Take the shopping list to the grocery store (boy, is this a job). Line up the perfect wine and an acceptable beer. Figure out the seating arrangements. Around here, it's the woman of the household who goes nuts getting everything ready. She truly loves Thanksgiving and she gets very excited about seeing family and friends, but she puts enormous pressure on herself to make everything just perfect. It was pretty intense this past weekend. We think the vacuum cleaner motor must have been worn out. It was running constantly. The whip the mighty woman carried was cracking pretty loudly. It kept us jumping – at least as well as an over-weight, old-timer can jump.

On Thursday it will all be worth it. Grandkids will show up with shiny, beautiful faces. Daughters and deeply loved and appreciated sons-in-law will be on hand. A few friends will be here, too.

And, as we gather at the table, anxious to dig in to the incredible feast prepared by many people, we will bring everything to a halt. We won't ask for time to pray; however, we will suggest we all spend a brief moment thinking about something very specific.

Dear, departed Grandpa Wakefield always had thanksgiving dinner at his lovely farm house. There would be 20 to 30 gathered. Grandpa would always bring everyone to a stop at one point during the day and ask that each person say something special in accordance with his instruction. One year it was: "Express what you are most thankful for about this past year." Another year it was: "What are your goals for the coming year?"

All the diners were always embarrassed and it was difficult to get the expressions from the gathered crowd; but one by one each of us would respond to Grandpa's request and it was always touching and wonderful. It was also the moment each of us always remembered about our Thanksgiving Day.

Since Grandpa died, we've tried to pick up this tradition, but we don't have his "balls" about it. Grandpa never got embarrassed. He was totally sincere and he expected people to respond sincerely. Grandpa Wakefield made Thanksgiving wonderful for us and we will always remember this wonderful thing about him.

In Grandpa's spirit this year, we'll ask everyone to think about him and all our memories of him and to say something about what they remember most about him. This is the first time we've given gatherers an advanced warning.

We hope you have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving Day!