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!

Friday, November 16, 2007


The New York Times calls it a tour de force!
by Charlie Leck

Suite Français is a very good book and certainly worth reading, especially if you are (1) a history buff who is interested in the Second World War occupation of Paris and France, or (2) one who is interested in serious literature. This novel is more an event than a literary achievement. The work was sprung unexpectedly upon the literary community nearly 70 years after its author’s death. Irène Némirovsky was known to serious readers of literature for her novels from the 30s and 40s: David Golder; The Ball, The Flies of Autumn; Dogs and Wolves; and The Courilof Affair. I read the last two of those mentioned here and they were terribly good and riveting stories beautifully written. Little did anyone know that one of Némirovsky’s daughters was carrying around, in a suitcase, two more complete novels that her mother gave her in 1942.

The discovery of these two works is a huge story and one you might enjoy pursuing.For now, though, let me tell you that Suite Français is not a great novel. It is a very good book. The Nation Magazine compared it in importance to The Diary of Anne Frank and The First Man by Albert Camus. Non! The Sunday Times of London called it “a masterwork of literary accomplishment.” Mais non! Perhaps Newsweek Magazine came closest to getting it right: “The author of Suite Français is one of the most fascinating literary figures you’ve never heard of – and her own tragic story only deepens the impact of the book.” The book does have impact even though it gets tedious from time to time. Némirovsky does make one feel the pain, shame and fear of the people of France who had to live through the Nazi occupation of their country.

One friend of mine who is an awfully good reader pointed out that there are not a lot of really likeable characters in the book. Mais oui! Only Madame Lucile Angellier manages to work her way into the reader’s heart because of the extraordinary power of self control she possesses and her passion for her nation and its people. Némirovsky handles beautifully the gallant and proud love that Lucile discovers for the German officer who oversees the occupation of her small village. It’s a touching development even if it comes very late in the story.

Overall, the translation appears to be excellent; though Sandra Smith does make a couple of grammatical mistakes that are getting more and more common in American English. Both had to do with the use of the personal pronoun – “us” rather than “we” and “me” rather than “I.” I hear it all the time these days and even came upon the error in Richard Russo’s latest novel. Has it become acceptable to speak and now write that way? “He knows how to do it better than us.” The sound of the word grates on my mind and I want to scream at folks who misuse it: “He knows how to do it better than we.” It is a form of “we do” and not “us do.” Get it? 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10! Okay, I can handle it from some poor slob of a sports commentator on the air; but I can’t take it in a Némirovsky or a Russo novel. Come on!

I had the nagging feeling as I read through the novel that Némirovsky was not finished with this work. I believe she was going to return to it, to proof and edit it. The handwritten manuscript, which was turned over to the translator, had a large amount of margin notes and many strike-outs and insertion notes. If you want to feel the agony of the French at the opening of the Second Great War, go to your library and check out Suite Français. Patience will be required of you as you work your way through this story. Frankly, I don’t recommend you pay for it until you can find it on sale at your dollar bookshop. It’s already available from ABE Books (American Book Exchange) for $4. It’ll go down further pretty soon. [If I haven’t told you before about this wonderful way to buy books, I’m telling you now that it is just great!]

One final comment about the reviews. Oprah Magazine claimed that “Némirovsky’s scope is like that of Tolstoy.” The magazine then calls it a “lost masterpiece.” I think all these reviewers were caught up in the story about the survival of these manuscripts and about the way the daughter handled these works over the last 65 years. Indeed, it’s a great story and, perhaps, finer indeed than the book itself.

If you’d like to read a level-headed review of the book, go to this one in Britain’s Guardian. It says that the book “demands to be read” and that may well be true. The review also summarizes the entire story of how the book was saved from destruction and you’ll find that account fascinating.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


They were called short-subjects when I was a kid!
by Charlie Leck

"War is mainly a catalogue of blunders." [Winston Churchill]

The magnificent documentaries that are rolling out these days are getting more attention from me than the traditional movies. We are in a period that has produced some truly fabulous documentary film makers. From Charles Berling's extraordinary March of the Penguins to the complete list of the documentaries of Ken Burns, this is really a great film making era.

Ken Burns has produced a dozen really good documentaries. Among that number are several that rate rave reviews; and none more so than his latest fantastic production, The War. The New Yorker Magazine gave it a less than 5-star review. I think they're just dead wrong. They say it's tedious. Dam right it's tedious! For those young men and women who fought in it, the whole freakin' war was tedious. Burns lets you taste the war as if you were there among the guys at the front or at home with the people spread across the nation, worrying about conquest by Germany and Japan and worrying about their sons in harm's way. The New York Times complains that it was looked at from too small a perspective – that of only one nation of the dozens that were deeply involved in this global fight. However, that was the point for Burns. He wanted people to see the war the way Americans saw it – Americans at home and Americans on the front. Our resources were stretched to the breaking point, spread completely over the Pacific Ocean and over most of the Atlantic. Our fighters were on little Pacific islands and across vast parts of Africa and Europe. No nation had the global involvement that we did.

If there's a thesis behind the film, it is that war is a vast catalogue of incredible disasters and tragic mistakes by its commanders. You've been to the glorious landing place at Normandy and you've seen plenty of the naval battle at Midway. Burns takes you to other places and allows you to understand that thousands and thousands of our soldiers and sailors died in locations that were as difficult and horrendous as the more prominent and famous settings.

This is 15 hours of war! That's too much for any one sitting, of course. Taken in bites, it is both a compelling story and a valuable history lesson. I'll agree that this documentary does not rank with the other triumphs of Ken Burns: The Civil War; Baseball; and Jazz. It's only a half-star back, however, and it is great viewing for history buffs, especially those devoted to American History. If you don't know the works of Ken Burns, you're missing something very special.

The most extraordinary documentary of the year has to be No End in Sight. I've referred you before to the New York Times review of this block-buster. The review prepares us for a film that will not be easy to watch. "It's a sober, revelatory and absolutely vital film." If you've not seen the work, you are in the company of the current occupant of the White House and his Vice President, his former Secretary of Defense and his Secretary of State. Too bad! They are the ones who should see it and understand it. Go to the official web site of the documentary and peek at a few of the trailers. It will draw you to the movie itself, which is now out on DVD.

The other big time documentary this year came from the biggest name in this genre of film making, Michael Moore. His offering in 2007 is everything you could ask for in a documentary. Sicko has the medical community sitting up and taking notice. Its arguments are irrefutable in nearly each case. A number of significant leaders in the "medical industry" are now calling a National Health Care System inevitable. Read the Mayo Clinic recommendation on a system of health insurance that would leave no one out. The conversation motivated by Sicko will go on now for some time. If the manner in which America delivers health care and the manner in which people can afford it improves, it will be the most triumphal documentary of all times. The DVD is now on public sale.

Here's my bet (and at pretty good odds): President Bush has seen none of the documentaries mentioned above. We know he doesn't like to read, but couldn't he just sit in front of a movie screen for a little while.

When I was a kid these kinds of films were called "Short Subjects" and I pretty much thought they were borrrrr-ing! They only delayed the Gene Autry movie for which I had really come. The art of the documentary has certainly changed from those days.

Monday, November 12, 2007

John Edwards Iowa Speech

Nancy Pelosi introduces Edwards
by Charlie Leck

I'm still trying to figure out which of the three Democratic candidates to back. The speech by Jon Edwards at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Iowa was a great speech and keeps him in the running with Hillary and Barack. This man seems very real to me.

I think you should be sure to listen to this terrific speech. Go to this page and scroll down a little ways to get to the U-Tube video. Take 20 minutes and listen from beginning to end.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


This is huge, breaking news!
by Charlie Leck (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: 10 November 2007)

From lower New York State, a friend of more than fifty years wrote about Jesus. How does one describe him accurately – wresting him away from the sad possession of the Christian fundamentalists who have made him into something he is not?

Now I can say to her: Don’t bother! I met him yesterday and I know all about him now and I’ll describe him to you.

I was in Toronto, staying at the lovely, old York Hotel (now part of the Fairmont chain of international hotels). The blimeys wanted $14 per day for a hookup to the Internet. Well, blast them. That’s un-American! My trusty laptop and I took ourselves just around the corner to one of the Tim Horton express coffee shops. They provide free wireless connections. I found myself a nice comfortable spot, right up in the front of the shop, where I could look out at York Street and I turned on my computer and got connected to the miraculous wireless service. What a world!

Just then, I saw him. There he was, directly across from me – not twenty feet away. He sat on a little plastic box that he had wedged in between a couple of newspaper vending machines, giving himself some protection from the wind. He was pretty haggard looking and his clothes were extremely untidy. The soles of his heavy shoes were worn very thin. He had several days of stubble on his face.

It was Jesus all right. Those were his eyes. They were dark and set deep in his face. They sparkled with a remarkable radiance and they were filled with love and compassion. It was Jesus. There was no question about that.

Jesus sat there with his feet crossed. On his lap he held a large, old paper coffee cup. As each person walked by on the street he greeted them kindly, with a proper hello or a wish for a good day. Occasionally, some person, who had also clearly recognized who this remarkable man was, would slip a coin into his paper cup. Jesus would thank them kindly.

It seemed to me that Jesus was settled in for the long haul. I went about reading my email and sending back replies. I then took a quick peek at the New York Times and ran my eyes along the headlines. Suddenly I saw that Jesus was moving away. I panicked. I hadn’t had a chance to greet him, to touch him, nor to ask him for his autograph. I pushed back from my workspace so quickly and loudly that I startled some of the folks taking coffee behind me. I rushed to the door and out to the street. Jesus was down the block, looking into the small hole in the center of a manhole cover. Steam was rising from it.

”Hey, you,” I called to him. I got closer to him and had to repeat myself loudly. He was in the street and in danger of being struck by the Friday morning traffic. He looked away from the manhole cover and locked on to my eyes. He looked so filled with joy and peace. He made me feel so quieted and untroubled. I had a two dollar Canadian coin in my hand and I held it out, luring him out of the street. When he stepped on to the curb, I reached out and slipped it into his cup.

”Thank you,” he said so very softly. “I thought there was a fire. The smoke was rising from beneath the street and I smelled something burning. I was sure it was a fire and it frightened me. I thought perhaps the earth was on fire.”

Jesus tilted his head to one side and looked at me, wondering why I was so generous and had chased him down the street. Didn’t I realize that he could not have been harmed? I wanted to ask for his autograph, but the bit about the earth being on fire unnerved me.

”I’m going back to my station,” he said. “Excuse me.”

Back inside the warm, cozy sandwich shop, I slid back in front of my computer and looked outside at the fellow. He was again between the newspaper boxes. His collar was turned up and he was observing the Friday rush, streaming by him with little or no concern about whom he was or his particular needs.

A Sunday School teacher had once warned me, long, long ago, that this day would come. I had encountered Jesus in the flesh.

”You will meet him,” Mrs. Beiser had said, “and he will be in the least and most unexpected of people. He will be cold and hungry and in need. Give generously to him.”

No reason to look for descriptions anymore. I can tell you. He was about 5-10. He was slim and slightly hunched. His skin looked permanently dirty. His hair was dark and oily. His teeth were rotting. His eyes were dark – dark brown or green and there were worrisome dark lines beneath them. Those eyes seemed glazed over. His body carried a rich, unpleasant odor and his hands trembled slightly. In spite of all that, he was so filled with love and peace and certainty. He radiated happiness and contentment.

So, that’s the breaking news from Toronto. Jesus is well and happy and living in the streets. He’s hiding from the evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Whole World’s a Photography Studio

And all the people in it merely models!
by Charlie Leck

We're almost all photographers today! The digital camera has been a revolutionary household and family device. Digital cameras range from the extreme to the extremely simple. They take very good to spectacular photographs. Instead of worrying about how much film we have, we can shoot photos by the hundreds and hundreds and delete the bad ones as we go along. With modestly priced computer software programs we can enhance, correct and improve our photos with ease. If we are willing to use a little patience and time, we can archive our photographs to last for many generations to come.

So why are we still getting so many very awful digital photographs?

I have lots of dear friends and members of my family who want to be better digital photographers, but they don't want to take the time to go to classes and learn some of the principles. I feel the same way. I have too many other wonderful things to do; yet I want my photographs to be something about which I can be proud.

Enter Rick Sammon!

Rick Sammon is an extraordinary photographer. One can find hundreds and hundreds – thousands and thousands – of these guys (and gals) on the World Wide Web. Their photographs will dazzle you and leave you in envious rapture. I have visited more of these web sites than I care to admit. I've found none more comfortable than the home of Rick Sammon and, if you want to improve your work with a digital camera, I recommend it to you without reservation. But, without going to the site, I can summarize for you four of Rick's rules of photography that will immediately make you a better digital photographer. These tips will improve your work whether you are shooting with a mighty SLR or a simple, compact beauty! Here they are.

(1) FILL THE FRAME! One of the biggest mistakes many amateur photographers make is that they allow too much of the background – often uninteresting and boring – into the photograph. They stand miles away from the subject and present us with an image of Aunt Mable that takes up about one-fifth of the photo frame and she is surrounded by cars in the Walmart parking lot. Instead, move in and fill the frame with Aunt Mable if she is your subject. Did you mean to include that that 1999 Lexus with the rusted front fender and the sign instructing us to return our carts to that particular spot? Come-on! Of course you didn't. It would take only a second to jog forward and FILL THE FRAME with Aunt Margaret (with perhaps only a glimpse of the big W on the Walmart sign). Remember, always FILL THE FRAME.

(2) SHOOT TIGHT! If you want maximum sharpness in your photo, shoot it up as tight as you can. If you're downtown in New York City and you want to shoot a photograph of the Statue of Liberty, get up as tight as you can on her. You are not photographing the harbor, right? You're photographing the famous lady? Get the lady in your photograph and, perhaps, the benches in Battery Park. If you do mean to photograph her and the entire harbor, pay attention to tip #4.

These are not complicated rules we're talking about here, but we are always violating them. My wonderful wife is always shooting photographs of horses that she wants me to process. The photographs are always of the out-buildings on the farm, the loyal assistant who is holding the horse and the trash cans behind the barn. By the time I've cropped out all the surrounding unwanted filler, we have very little resolution left in the photograph. It isn't so difficult, SHOOT TIGHT. You want a photograph of your first grandchild. Get up close and get a photograph of her. I'm not interested in the stop sign behind her.

(3) SEE EYE TO EYE! This one is pretty crucial. I love to get photographs of my grandkids. Don't take them from your position as a 6 foot 8 inch uncle. That little kid is barely 2 feet tall. Somehow, make the effort to get down to her level. Let me see a photograph of my little sweet heart as she really looks. Forget the bird's eye views. And please, it's the same for photographs of pets. Don't shoot pictures of your pets from 5 feet above them. Make an effort to get eye to eye. This is one of the primary rules of photography and makes a world of difference.

(4) DEAD CENTER IS DEADLY! You bet, Rick. Thanks for the reminder. If you are going to include some background in your shot, don't always make your subject the dead-center object in the picture. The photograph will turn out much more interestingly if the subject is slightly off center or even off to the side in the total presentation. Remember though to get your focus set on the subject and then move the camera so that subject is off to the side.

Oh, what difference does it make? Well, if you're sending me photographs of the ones I love, none whatsoever. I still enjoy seeing their beautiful, smiling faces. If you want to give them a little more lasting jazz, take the above tips from Rick Sammon to heart.

All the ideas presented above are completely and unabashedly stolen from the fabulous photographer, Rick Sammon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


More than one disease is at work on me today!
by Charlie Leck

I've voted. It's always a good feeling. Talk about freedom and how our Republic is supposed to work! This is it, isn't it? Cast your vote or keep your mouth shut. I've always believed that one forfeits one's real right to complain and bitch if one fails to vote.

There were only a few of us waiting for the starting gates to open this morning. We stood around in the hallway of our City Center, bantering and joking with each other even though we were people with big differences of opinion on that particular morning. If a fellow is expressing his political difference of opinion through the ballot box, I'll give him my respect.

I'm baffled, however, by small town elections like this one we just went through in My Town. The campaign is limited to only a couple of communications tools. (1) The local, weekly newspaper runs profiles on the candidates and allows them a certain amount of space to express their opinions on various issues. They also accept letters from residents expressing their opinions about the candidates. (2) The candidates and some residents send out letters trying to convince voters to go one way or the other. It's this second tool that bothers me and I'll rant about it here in just a paragraph or two.

First, however, I'd like to lament the disappearance of the public candidate debate. That's something we used to do out here. The state's League of Women Voters used to help us set them up. They were willing to do that this year, too, but most of the candidates weren't interested. I'll keep urging My Town to reinstate these debates in future years.

I do not lament the passing away of the lawn sign. There were only a handful in use this year around the community and most of those were not really placed on the private lawns of residents, but they were put on highway right-of-way areas where they are technically illegal. The tool is used only to increase name recognition and, of course, they have nothing to do with positions on issues or the qualifications to serve.

The problem with the letters that candidates send out relates mainly to the fact that they arrive on the last few days of the campaign. Sometimes these letters are crammed with half-truths, out and out untruths and, sometimes, with vicious, intentional lies designed to frighten residents into voting against someone rather than for someone. One of our candidates engaged in such distasteful tactics this year and, I am deeply afraid, he may get many, many votes as a result of the tactic. Let me give you some examples.

The candidate in question here wrote about expenditures on a small community park as a cause of increased taxes on our residents. In fact, parks and playground expenditures are separately funded through park dedication fees collected when individual parcels of property are subdivided or developed. This candidate wrote that a million dollar expenditure was planned by My Town on this community park, insinuating that this would unfairly add tax requirements on all of us. First of all, as I just explained, such expenditures would come from park dedication fees that have already been collected. Secondly, in fact, no such expenditure is expected and no such expenditure has been recommended by the Parks Commission or any other Commission or Council in My Town.

When this misstatement, misinformation or lie arrives in a person's mailbox two days before the election, however, how is another candidate or another citizen to respond in time to rebut the claim?

This same candidate slung a slew of other such misinformation in his letter. He was following the standard belief that some of this mud would stick to the wall. He claimed that a million dollar addition was planned for the city center and he asserted that the city planned to hire 5 new employees. It is patently unfair that such falsehoods can't be answered properly before the election takes place.

After we cast our ballot this morning, a few of us chatted about whether or not a charge of unfair campaign practices could stand up against such a candidate. I suppose all he has to do is act dumb and contend that he had "heard" these things. In fact, candidates should be held more accountable for such errors. I think stronger state laws should demand a higher standard from candidates for office and offer criminal penalties for violations.

Sadly, I must now wait through the day to see if these vinegary campaign tactics worked. If they do, it will be a sad day for My Town and for its future. If this guy is elected, I will dedicate the next several years to following every action and every public statement he makes and reporting accurately on them to the entire community.

I visited with the staff in a medical emergency room yesterday. I was completely sapped. It turned out that I've got a touch of pneumonia and they put me on some pretty strong antibiotics and told me to put down lots of liquids and get rest. I'm ill this morning, but I'm not sure it's the pneumonia that's got me down.

NOTE [6 November 2007]: The local election results are in. The mayoral candidate we wanted elected managed to win by a good-sized margin over the fellow we write about above. That's fortunate; however, the City Councilperson we so very much wanted elected was not, losing in a three person race for two seats. The balance on the current council does not look good and I think it spells a major change for this community we have worked so hard to preserve. Our days of living in a rural community will be over in the next few years.

Friday, November 2, 2007

All Politics is Local

Burning the candle at both ends
by Charlie Leck

This coming Tuesday, many local communities around the nation will be holding elections. The polling places will be open and waiting for you. For goodness sake, I hope you will be voting. If you don't, I think you sacrifice the right to complain about virtually anything involving government. And, I will personally be very disappointed in you.

For it is at this local level, as the extraordinary Congressman from Massachusetts used to like to say, that all politics begins. And the great Tip O'Neil had it absolutely right!

That's why you'll only be getting these very brief blogs until after Tuesday. I was up the last few nights, burning the candle at both ends. I'm worn down and out. There is a real battle in our little town and many of us consider it one in which good guys are pitted against bad guys. The beauty and peacefulness of our gloriously rural community is at stake. We'll have to keep battling until the very last moment.

I'll vote very early on Tuesday morning and then rest up. If it's nice on Tuesday, I'll play a round of golf. After that, you'll start getting some much more significant blogs from me.

Be sure to vote!