Monday, March 31, 2008

The Old Scout

Garrison Keillor's Sunday Column
by Charlie Leck

I guess they'll have to file a "cease and desist order" against me. Tribune Media Services distributes Garrison Keillor's weekly column and I end up quoting pretty large chunks of it for you, which is just a fraction as good as delighting in the whole thing.

You know, until last July, when Keillor's column began appearing every Sunday morning, I use to dive into the sports section just as soon as the local paper was dropped on the porch, and turn to the column of one of our local jock nuts, Sid Hartman. These days, I go first for the opinion section and right to the Old Scout column. I am very rarely disappointed; for example, a few weeks ago the column didn't appear and that disappointed the hell out of me. Keillor's stuff is just plain good.

Let me quote for you the opening of this week's column and its concluding two paragraphs. In between there's a lot of good stuff that explains the grammatical error in the last sentence. Click here to read the entire column on-line. If you're smart, you'll bookmark this so you can go to it every week for these delights.

"Here we are, ignorant peasants in our mud huts at the base of the volcano of finance, begging the gods to spare us as the ground shakes beneath our feet and economists examine the entrails of pigeons and the shamans of the Federal Reserve fling handfuls of sacred powder into the steaming crater. We live with a system rejiggered by Republicans - freedom from regulation, but when the manure hits the ventilator, the Feds step in with a few hundred billion to rescue the players - and nobody can tell us ignorant savages how rough the upheaval might be. Nobody knows.

"... People accuse us liberals of permissiveness - no no no no no. We liberals are oppressive, not permissive, working day and night to take your guns away and make you apply for a permit every time you spit. In my heart, I belong to the Correctness Party, the party of good spellers, of people who pay attention to details. The Current Occupant is not one of us. He is not a man who puts pen to paper with any confidence. Intellectually he has been a charity case all his life. He is one of those men who are lucky that their fathers were born before they were. 

"I vote to send him up to talk to the volcano. Let him climb up to the crater in his loincloth and crouch in the billowing steam and tell the volcano to stop shaking and stay there until it does. Him and Greenspan could do it together."

They're calling for about 5 inches of snow up here today. Lake Wobegon will look wondrous in the snow. Have a good week.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

a fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi

Thoughts from up near Lake Wobegon
by Charlie Leck

I’m sitting in my lovely tree-loft study, letting a multiplicity of random thoughts play around in the various recesses and accesses of my limited mind.

(1) I fall asleep evenings listening to the public radio. With its range of mono-tones and monotony it is perfect for putting one to sleep. My wife arranged this little speaker that is actually imbedded in my pillow, so I can listen and yet not disturb her. It’s a clever invention. A fellow last night was rambling on about what motivates writers to keep working and producing when they don’t really sell or get read by vast audiences. He thought it was a fear of death – the desire to be as immortal as possible – to leave something of oneself behind. I wondered if it couldn’t just be the sheer love of doing it; yet, I’m aware that I do want my grandchildren to have some sense of who I was and what made me like I am (to mix tenses a bit).

(2) Years ago, perhaps 20 or 25 years ago, a friend gave me a little sculpture that he had created. I keep it proudly near me here in this private place where I write. It’s only about 6 inches high and a few inches across. The base is a piece of roughly hewn hardwood. A thin piece of steel protrudes from it and rises to about 6 inches. Slender tongs at the end of the piece form a resting place for a smooth, egg-shaped rock or stone. He called it: “Between a rock and a hard place!” We were in business together at the time and that’s where we were.

(3) I’m trying to get a closet-full of old photographs – prints and slides – organized, cataloged and, in some cases, digitized to archival quality disks, so, when I shed this mortal coil, there won’t be such a mess for those who will need to go through these things. I find that I pause most often over photographs I took here and there of my wife. They remind me of one of the reasons I fell in love with her and they often take my breath away. They also remind me of the very good times we’ve had together. The photograph that introduces this blog is one of those that I found wasting away on a slide that had never been printed. I took the photograph with a wonderful old Minolta camera that served us well for many years. We were traveling in Germany and on our way to Stockholm for the 1990 World Equestrian Games. Anyway, it brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. I love traveling with her and wish we’d do more of it. A farm and its animals is not conducive to long get-aways.

(4) Van Peebles Land is a blog -- The Shambolic Postings of an Irishman Living in Wales – that I enjoy reading. It’s written and maintained by David Williamson. I want so much to respond to some of David’s meandering thoughts, but he has a complicated defense against anonymous scammers and I can’t leave my compliments without having his email address. David, if you are out there, give me some assistance! I’m one of your fans.

Now this Irishman’s blog isn’t something I’d necessarily recommend to everyone. It just happens to be one of those places I enjoy going for a change of pace and scenery. David seems a solid guy and a clear, uncomplicated thinker. Pay his blog a visit if you want a breath of fresh, Welsh air.

For instance, a few days ago he wrote about the visit of the French President, Nocolass Sarkozy, to England.
“The sharpest knives may have been locked away when French president Nicolas Sarkozy dined with the Queen yesterday.”
(5) I do nearly all the cooking around our house these days and not because I must, but because I enjoy it. I’ve resolved to get much better at it, too, and I’m getting hooked on the concept of better, fresher and more local foods – foods that we know about and whose life-histories we can nearly document. I’m bitten by a blog by Mark Bittman. He calls it Bitten. He also does a weekly column, The Minimalist, in the dining section of the NY Times and regularly produces marvelous videos. I’ve tried his recipes enough times that I know they work extremely well. To accomplish them, however, I find myself having to find new sources for various foods, herbs and spices. So, I’ve discovered the Asian and Hispanic markets in town. What a neat adventure! Next I’ll try one or two of Bittman’s cookbooks.

This resolution about my food in the future led me to discover Moonstone Farm. My, what a lovely place! It’s down in the Minnesota River Valley. Pay them, at least, an on-line visit.
“River-friendly meats...local artisan foods...guest cottage...handthrown pottery...all from the gently rolling bluffland of the Minnesota River Valley. Our 240 acres offers a varied landscape, plenty of trees, and a home to humans and cattle, corn and alfalfa, beaver and coyote, coneflowers and big bluestem. Meander through our site, get to know a bit about us and Moonstone grass-based beef. Be assured that customer visits, electronic or in person, are always welcome.”
The farm has been in the Handeen family since 1872. It’s a joy to feel the deep respect this couple has for the land and what it produces. One can visit their farm store and have a very nice time.

(6) I’m thinking a lot about the Sojourners movement these days. I’ve been so disappointed with the Christian Church in America during my life time –the traditional Protestant Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the fundamentalist, evangelical churches. There’s too much division, finger pointing, claims to exclusive understanding. Scripture has also been badly misunderstood and brutally used as claims to universal and exclusive truth.

Now I’m going to a blog by Jim Wallis, called God’s Politics, and I find it refreshing and hopeful. There’s no finger pointing and no claims to exclusive possession of truth and no guarantees of salvation. Wallis’ latest blog about Pastor Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama gave me some hope. The perspective of Jim Wallis on this incident is unique and strikes to the heart of what’s going on.

I’ll watch this organization (or movement) for a while yet; however, I think I’ve found a vehicle for religious and faith expression. I’m probably going to get involved.

(7) Freakonomics is one of the most delightfully amusing, entertaining and enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. My discovery of Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt is one of the best things that’s happened to me in a while. I’m not at all an economics or finance guy, but they made economics come alive for me. They have extraordinary senses of humor. Read their terrific book and also visit their blog of the same name.

(8) Just a few last thoughts about books and then I’ll close. I’m a bit of a John Grisham fan. He’s published 20 books and I’ve read all of them. I just finished his most recent work, The Appeal. It wasn’t too appealing and it was very predictible. I’d put it down near the bottom of my list of his books. My two favorite of his books are A Painted House and The Innocent Man.

I also just finished Bill Bryson’s book about Shakespeare. Bryson has a very readable writing style and his sense of humor makes his books marvelous to read. I’ve never been disappointed with any of them and I think I’ve read them all. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, or if you’d just like to know more about good old Will, this would be a suitable title to pick up from your local library. Here’s a tidy review of the book by the London Times.

I’ve rambled on long enough. I’m off to the Asian market in search of some baby bak-choy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

George Bush in History

Georgie-Porgy Double-U
Georgie-Porgy shame on you
Georgie-Porgy stuck in poo
Georgie-Porgy in a stew
Georgie-Porgy boo, boo, boo
Yada, Yada, Yada! [add your own next line]
by Charlie Leck

Perhaps he is star-crossed. It would have taken an extraordinary human being – one of the type that only comes along every century or so – to handle the catastrophes that this President has so unsuccessfully faced. George-Double-U, the poor old schmoo, has really had it really tough.

  • The attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon.
  • An astonishing, unneeded invasion of a nation with whose culture and mores we were totally out of touch.
  • A massive earthquake that tore out the heart of a major American city.
  • Now an economy gone completely batty and hanging on the edge of disaster.

Now, these are events that would take enormous talent and leadership and none of us should have expected that George would do well in handling them. I guess we must have thought, when we elected him, that he'd be able to pass his time jogging and playing Parcheesi. It's no wonder we're a nation in virtual melt-down and ruin. Poor George! I really feel sorry for him.

What was he to do? You know, he tried to surround himself with "the best and the brightest," and he figured that would do it: Richard ("the dick") Cheney, Donald ("the dork") Rumsfeld and Carl ("the cockelhead") Rowe. Well, Double-U should be forgiven! One must have, you know, just an inkling about who might be the best and who might be the brightest. George didn't read that book! And, he didn't get to that class at Yale. My, but Yale must be embarrassed.

Then, my goodness, George got caught in that little teenage spat between Rumsfeld and the capable CIA Director, George Tenet. There they were, these two incorrigibles, sticking their tongues out at one another and screaming about one's father being tougher than the other guy's old man. It was right there that Double-U's problems began and he didn't recognize it. Tenet was recommending a tough, but small, force that would deal with that Sadam Hussein fellow in Iraq. But no, Rumsfeld was the head of the Defense Department, and, therefore, all military operations for the U.S., and he wanted to be the "dummy in the middle" or he was going to take his ball and go home. Of course, Dickey Cheney encouraged Georgie to go along with Donny because they all needed to have the ball around the White House so they'd have something to do besides playing Parcheesi. Poor Mr. Powell, perhaps the only bright guy Georgie had on his team, was just made fun of because he was such a smarty-pants about everything. What fun is that?

So, they got rid of smarty-pants Powell and they kicked out Tenet over at the CIA. They made fun of anyone who didn't like their war. "What a big scaredy-cat!" They ran around the playground, singing it out at anyone who wondered about their fun little war.

"We'll be in and out in no time. Mission accomplished! No one even hurt or scratch, hurt or scratched, hurt or scratched!"

So Donny got his way about calling the game "Shock and Awe," and what else do you need to know? Here we are, five years and 3.5 trillion dollars later, and our economy is in ruins and New Orleans still isn't rebuilt and the guy who knocked down the World Trade Towers is still out there giggling at Georgie-Porgy! And, oh yes, there's no end in sight; for this war just keeps dragging on and on and costing us all our lunch-money.

Georgie says we don't have money for schools; yet, we could have rebuilt every school in America and given all our teachers handsome raises for just what it cost to invade Iraq. On top of that, we could have secured Social Security and Medicare for another generation. Can you count the ways you could have spent 3.5 trillion dollars on our nation? Double-U did not take counting at Yale. He was too busy with that 99-bottles-of-beer-on-the-shelf game.

So, Georgie Double-U is almost home free. In another few months he'll begin planning his library, trying to figure out where to put his little picture book. He'll be going back to the ranch to write his memoirs (oops, sorry, forget I wrote that).

So what do we do now? As the ever-so-bright nation we are, we're probably going to choose John McCain to run the asylum. Not a bad choice. Like Georgie, with glazed over eyes, he can just keep looking into the camera's lens with a big smile on his kisser. He'll probably hire that smart fellow who ran that Bear Stearns Bank and let him really run the country. What's his name? Little Alan Schwartz! Oh yes! He's got a big green ball and he's so much fun! Like Georgie, he missed the class on counting.

However, I can count. I didn't miss that class. Over 1 million Iraqi citizens have been killed by the invasion and our subsequent occupation. And, over 4,000 American military personnel – most of them lovely and promising young people – have been killed in the war.

But, who's worried? None but the lonely, unheard prophets!

Double-U did not take the class on the prophets either.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Anonymous Reader

It's difficult to reply to anonymous persons
by Charlie Leck

I'm pleased that I have an average of 300 or so people who read each of my blog posts. We're guessing that they amount to over 3,000 different folks who have come to the blog site at least once. Not bad for an unpublicized blog.

I hear from a few dozen people each time I post a blog. Most write to my regular email address since they know me. A few post blogs on the web site. If those who comment don't show a mean streak or any vulgarity, I gladly approve posting their comments even when they disagree rather vehemently with me.

Lately I've been getting some comments from an anonymous person. I had to think long and hard about approving the posting of them, but, in the end, I let them go up. One showed some strong disagreement with me, but it was reasonable and rational. Yet, I wanted to respond to that criticism because I thought the writer wasn't understanding me. The other was positive and creatively written.

I would have enjoyed responding to those two posts in order to continue the dialog. That's difficult, however, when someone is anonymous. So, to you, whoever you are, I'm sorry not to dialog with you, but it's just too difficult to discuss these matters with vapor.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Broken Promise to You

There's been too much written about THE speech already!
by Charlie Leck

"New Gallup Poll Daily tracking finds Hillary Clinton with a 49% to 42% lead over Barack Obama in national Democratic voters' presidential nomination preference."
[Gallup Poll, 19 March 2008]

In the last couple of days, I dutifully cranked out a few thousand words about the national reaction to the Obama speech. As I promised, I was ready to publish it here, citing a few dozen links so you could examine the range of reaction. When I gave the blog its last, serious proofing, I set it aside and said: "Enough already!"

It's been ground into the ground and stomped under foot! And, worse, the speech came too late to save Obama from his awful fate. It's tough to be black in America. God forgive us for that, but it really is tough!

Even Obama had to get away from it. He headed to the Caribbean with his wife and children, to escape the madness.

The issue has turned too suddenly and completely to Obama's association with a Christian pastor. Now, did you ever think that would get you in trouble? Had the friendship been with Jerry Folwell,or even Ted Haggard, do you think it would have gotten him so deeply stained. But with a stomping, shouting, passionate preacher of the black church, like Jeremiah Wright? Well, my, that's a different story! It's damned tough to be black in America! And, don't you forget it!

Never mind how loudly, in the past, we've shouted our defense of that precious and guaranteed commodity called "freedom of speech" so carefully delineated in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It has limitations that an American presidential candidate ought to impose on his pastor!

"Throw him under the bus!"

"Never mind that he's one of your dearest, closest friends!"

"Condemn him for what he said!"

It's damned tough to be black in America! It's all about this awful climb, out, up and along a precarious, narrow ledge that runs high above certain disaster if one's foot slips just a little bit. It's a climb that we white folks simply don't know about. We've never had to make it.

Do you have the slightest friggin' idea about what it must be like to be black in America? Mind your P-s and Q-s and cross every "t" and dot every "i" or you're in big trouble. Become too kind and friendly and you'll be called "Uncle Tom." Act too much like the black man of the deep south and you'll probably be called "Jim Crow."

What must it be like to live without really knowing who you are and how you're supposed to act – probably one way among your own people and another in front of the precious "white community."

Do you have even the teeniest idea what the black church is all about and what it means to the black community? Do you know how different it is when compared to that brick and white columned, colonial-style community church in white, suburban America?

An obviously rational woman wrote an awfully sensible letter to the NY Times after reading an awkward opinion column by William Kristol that stated that "the last thing we need right is a heated national conversation about race…"

"We have never had a national conversation about race! We carefully walk on eggshells as if the race problem does not exist. Barack Obama has made an entire nation and possibly an entire world think and reconsider. The truth is we don't know one another, and what better time than now?"
[Judy Konos, Slidell, La., March 24, 2008]

Do you sense that I am angry this morning?

Damned right!

I see Barack Obama being driven into the ground because he is different. He's brilliant! He's gloriously honest! He is of high principle! He is a great communicator! He understands the art of compromise and diplomacy! He's a damned good man! Yet, he's not dancin' that Jim Crow jig.

Those who wanted to get him only had to wait patiently in the wings. All of Barack Obama's loyalty and devotion to his black community would bring him down!

And now, there he is. He's teetering on that dangerous ledge. He's being driven to condemn a friend by frightened white folks who only needed the slightest excuse.

Folks, it's damned tough to be black in America! I thought things were really changing. They're not!

So, it doesn't matter about that brilliant speech – the one I listened to in solitude, during a quiet, lovely, morning hour in my peaceful home! No matter that I was stirred to tears and my nerves tingled. It makes no difference now that I wanted to jump up and clap and shout, even there in the silence of a dark, private morning.

I thought the speech might be regarded as a turning point in American political history. It made me think of the cadences of Abraham Lincoln, the smoothness of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the brilliance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the passion of Martin Luther King, Jr..

Did I think it was a good speech? Shit!

It doesn't matter anymore. Barack Obama is not going to do the Jim Crow for all you white folks. So, now he's just a footnote in the story of American political treachery, beaten by white folks who don't understand what it is to be black in America.

"Far more people will see the endless loop of Senator Obama's frenzied former pastor than will ever read or hear the sober, thoughtful, constructive words of the senator himself."
[Bob Herbert, NY Times]

"The chickens have come home to roost!" [Jeremiah Wright, 2001]

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog,
was a good friend of mine.
I never understood a single word he said
but I helped him drink his whine.
And he always had some mighty fine wine.
Joy to the world...all the boys and girls
now , joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea
and joy to you and me."
[Creedence Clearwater Revival]

It's tough to listen to the prophets. This morning I feel like the cranky, weeping, angry prophet, Jeremiah. He saw a world in darkness. The people were moving deeper into that darkness and away from the light.

"Your trusted friends have seduced you
and have overcome you;
Now that your feet are stuck in the mud,
they desert you."
[Jeremiah 38:22b]

Never mind what all the pundits have said about the speech. What all of the commentators, about whom I was going to write, have said about the speech pales in importance when measured against the significance of the speech itself. If you haven't listened to it, shame on you! Here's a You Tube link to the speech. Or, if you'd rather read a hard-copy, here's the text of the speech.

And, unlike most of those self-righteous commentators who have condemned Pastor Jeremiah Wright, I've actually listened to or read the sermons for which he's been chastised. If you've got the gonads to listen to more than the 22 second sound-bite everyone plays, the sermons move around with a definite logic and end up making sense. Jesus, man! If you judged the prophet Jeremiah by one a little clip from this spot or another in his scriptural writing, you'd demand he be thrown under the bus, too. You, who shouldn't want to be judged, listen up! Don't be so quick to judge.

Stanley Fish, one of my favorite commentators, who is unfortunately not widely enough read because he doesn't spew pabulum, probably had the wisest thing to say about the demands that Obama condemn his former pastor.

"In politics, and in much of the rest of life, being held responsible for your own words comes with the territory. Once you've opened your big mouth, others have a perfect right to ask, "Do you really mean that?" or "What did you mean by that?" or "If you say that, would you also say…?" (a question that usually has you frantically disassociating yourself from Hitler). But why should you be held responsible for words spoken by someone else, even if that someone else is a person you work with or share a bed with? I frequently say things that make my wife cringe, but whatever blame attaches to my utterances certainly should not be extended to her, and it would be entirely inappropriate to ask her to denounce me or to fault her if she didn't.

"Yet this is the position we routinely place our public figures in. The demand that Barack Obama denounce and renounce his pastor, who delivered himself of sentiments a million miles from anything Obama has ever said, is only the latest and most publicized example. In previous little dust-ups Obama has had to distance himself from Louis Farrakhan (after Hillary Clinton demanded that he both denounce and renounce) and from his own middle name. Clinton, in her turn, has been called on the journalistic carpet because of remarks made by Robert Johnson, Geraldine Ferraro, a campaign manager and her husband. John McCain has had to repudiate a talk show host who introduced him and a minister who embraced him. And it's only March. What do we have to look forward to? Denunciations of grade-school friends who grew up to become neo-Nazis or sub-prime lenders?"

"…The odd thing is that the press that produces these distractions and the populace that consumes them really believe they are discussing issues and participating in genuine political dialogue. But in fact they have abandoned genuine political dialogue and have committed themselves to a conversation that differs only in subject matter from conversations about Eliot Spitzer's and David Paterson's sex lives. It's not politics; it's titillation clothed in political garb.

We should collectively denounce and renounce denouncing and renouncing."

If you don't think the Republican Party will begin dancing all over this association Barack Obama has with his former pastor, you'd just whistling past the grave yard. As Ron Klain says in his blog: "If there is one thing that the Republican Party of the past decade has mastered, it is electoral victory based on fear."

In her opinion column, Maureen Dowd says: "Hillary got a boost from the wackadoodle Jeremiah Wright. As a top pol noted, the Reverend turned Obama – in the minds of some working-class and crossover white voters – from 'a Harvard law graduate into a South Side Black Panther.'"

And, by the way, while I'm this angry, let me say congratulations to my wonderful Democratic Party! One more time it has been totally successful at carving itself up in plain sight of all of America. As Frank Rich wrote in his latest column:

"For Republicans, the prospect of marathon Democratic trench warfare is an Easter miracle. Saddled with the legacy of both Iraq and a cratering economy, the G.O.P. can only rejoice at its opponents' talent for self-destruction. The Republicans can also count on the help of a political press that, whatever its supposed tilt toward Mr. Obama, remains most benevolent toward John McCain."

If a lot of you are out there wondering if I'm nuts to think things have turned so sour for Obama, just read this blog from the sound thinking Strata-sphere .

"Clinton is well on her way to a Pyrrhic victory: Obama is losing to McCain too now, thanks to the infighting which is clearly turning off voters. But Hillary will get her place in history - as the first woman candidate for US President. Which is her second choice to being President herself. Trust me, she wants as much history out of this as she can squeeze - and too bad what it means to the party, the voters or the country. Blind ambition is just like that."

How can I not be angry?

Well, I'll tell you what! I and a lot of other pissed off Democrats may just end up sitting this one out!


Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Obama Speech

Reflections on the Day of Resurrection
by Charlie Leck

The last thing in the world I wanted to do on Easter Sunday morning was to write about “the Obama speech,” as it is being called by everyone. I should be writing about hopefulness and new life, joy and celebration, compassion, justice and peace. Hold it! Maybe I am.

The opinions about Obama’s speech last week certainly “cover the waterfront.” They range from the hyperbolic praise that called it “one the greatest and most important speeches in U.S. political history,” to downright hateful expressions cast in racist ugliness. I’ve read hundreds of thousands of words of analysis in the aftermath of the speech and they’ve indeed got my head spinning.

It’s time to step back, to see if I can apply some fresh thinking to the subject. Just remember this: There is a chance this blog may crash and burn before making a safe landing. Hold on for the ride!

Here’s the way I approach the columnists across America who write opinion about politics and life in our nation. I’ve been a junky of political commentary for so long, that I know who I like and who I trust. More importantly, I know who, over time, proved to be the most correct and accurate in their commentary; that is, when they are judged months and years after their expressed opinions. So, I read the commentators I trust the most first. Then, if I have time, I scan through a bunch of those at the second level to see what they’re saying. On Tuesday, the 23rd of April, I’ll give you a summary overview of what the commentators have been saying.

This morning, however, let’s start with the opinion of an 18 year old African-American young man from Saint Paul. Danez Smith doesn’t want this to become a national issue.

“The question is,” Smith said to a local reporter, “can he keep it an issue without it becoming the issue?”

Now there’s a young man with some common sense about politics.

“He can’t let that happen; otherwise the whole campaign will be about a black man running for president.”

Here’s the interesting phenomenon that has been set in place by the Obama speech. Up to this point, as Shelby Steele predicted in a number of speeches, essays, and in his book, Barack Obama has been an unknown quantity. He’s been viewed as safe, even though many of us wouldn’t be able to say a lot of substantive things about him. I’ve written about this in the past. Now Obama is being viewed by many people in the light of the remarks that have been made by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Those remarks, in a number of sermons he preached to his Chicago congregation, have shown the mother-lode of anger, hate and pain that runs deep in the black psyche. We, who are white, simply can’t understand nor identify with the intensity of the black pain caused by slavery.

“Get over it!” That’s what many white people in American scream back at a remark like the one I just made. I have two brothers who shriek it at me. “Get over it!”

The problem with that attitude is that it misses the point all together. It isn’t the black American who needs to get over it. We, who are white, are the ones who need to move past this.

We are the ones who have been too proud to beg the forgiveness of those who were so unfairly dragged in chains to the shores of this nation.

Oh no, the white attitude is that it wasn’t we who did this. It was another generation from another time and in a different situation. We need to understand that neither was there a great apology from those earlier generations of white people. Even the great emancipator said that he freed the black man only because he could do no else and still save the Union. There was no great, agonizing speech from Abe Lincoln that begged those slaves’ forgiveness on the part of the land of the free and the brave.

Today’s white person, in chorus, must admit to the sin and then set things right for those earlier generations of Americans who failed to do it – whether northern or southern citizens. Once we understand the depth of the wound with which black people live, then real reparation may begin. Perhaps, then, hatred and fear may come to an end.

Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s great preaching ability lay in its hyperbole. Lord, if I don’t understand that only too well. He is a man who can scream all those things at the top of his lungs and then come down out of the pulpit to hug every man, woman and child, regardless of color, and express the love of Jesus to them.

Most people who listen to a 20 second sound bite of one of Wright’s sermons are just too literal in their orientation. Wright is carefully educated in the terms of mythology, metaphor, allegory and symbolism. To understand the soul of his rants, one has to appreciate the breadth and depth of his mind and experience. This is not easy for the white man (and I used the gender specificity advisedly because it is easier for the white woman) to appreciate Pastor Wright’s comments.

As for me, I am not going to turn my back on Pastor Wright and walk away from his comments. I’m going to understand that he has a point. The black American has a perfect right to deal with his hatred. I can handle it. Wright, in the long run, is an understanding and forgiving man and I am willing to seek that forgiveness so that real communications with him may then commence.

Barack Obama understands all this. It has been a part of his life and he has had to juggle these feelings within his own life even while he sought success in the white world. In doing so, he has shown his genius. This is what his incredible speech was all about.

If you are going to be a literalist, you are not going to understand.

If you weren’t able to read Moby Dick and understand it was NOT a story about a white whale, then you will not understand the complexity of being Barack Obama – a white man and a black man, at the same time – in America.

My appreciation for Obama only grows with each passing day, as I understand how well he deals with the complexity of his life. To steal from his book, “what audacity” to hope so fiercely for a new day and a new world!

On this Easter morning, the sun has just broken out from behind the clouds and sprung through the windows of my study and it is blinding me. If you are a literalist, you will miss the point of the resurrection; and, instead, you will run around arguing about evidence, physical bodies, wounds in the flesh and your place in heaven.

To those of you who can really appreciate the truth of Easter day, I have the audacity to say one single thing only: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!


Come back on Tuesday for a summary review of thecommentary on the Barack Obama speech.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Excepting Corporate Welfare, Of Course

Remembering Alice's Restaurant and the simple days!
by Charlie Leck

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant,
Exceptin' Alice of course!

Do any of you, my older friends and readers, remember Arlo Guthrie singin' this wonderful song – that was more like an entire album – going on for over twenty minutes about Alice and her husband, Ray, and the faithful dog, Fasha, and their Thanksgiving Day from hell together? Oh my, in the sixties it was my favorite song! I listened to that song hundreds of times and laughed so deep down inside myself each time I did.

Now, just why did I think of that song this morning when I read a NY Time editorial about corporate compensation. I thought of Arlo Guthrie singin' his charmin' song about Alice and her restaurant. Here's all these big-wig business types shoutin' about welfare and money handouts to the poor and how wrong it is that these folks ain't pickin' themselves up by their boot straps (whatever the hell that it is) and goin' out solvin' their problems by their own self, anyhow.

"But that's not how it works. The ongoing bailout of the financial system by the Federal Reserve underscores the extent to which financial barons socialize the costs of private bets gone bad. Not a week goes by that the Fed doesn't inaugurate a new way to provide liquidity — meaning money — to the financial system. Bear Stearns isn't enormous. It doesn't take deposits from the public. Yet the Fed believed that letting it implode could unleash a domino effect among other banks, and the Fed provided a $30 billion guarantee for JPMorgan to snap it up.

"Compared to the cold shoulder given to struggling homeowners, the cash and attention lavished by the government on the nation's financial titans provides telling insight into the priorities of the Bush administration. It's not simply a matter of fairness, though. The Fed is probably right to be doing all it can think of to avoid worse damage than the economy is already suffering. But if the objective is to encourage prudent banking and keep Wall Street's wizards from periodically driving financial markets over the cliff, it is imperative to devise a remuneration system for bankers that puts more of their skin in the game."

Now here's Arlo, comin' round again and screechin' his heart out as he gets to the refrain…

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant,
Exceptin' Alice of course!

Mr. Cayne even got Alice. He's the big dude at Bear Stears. His bank collapsed right under him, you know; yet, between 2004 and 2006, he was paid over $40 million cash money. Now he's gonna reeeetire just down the road from Alice's Restaurant and live up there high on the hog.

I saw this'un nice little lady on the TV th'other day. She wassa 'bout to lose her entire house 'cause she was in those arrears to the tune of 'bout 2,000 bucks on her mortgage. That company had talked her right into improvin' her house with what they were callin' Equity Loans. My, oh my, how easy they made it sound. So she jest went 'bout fixin' up her kitchen and her bathroom and put on a nice porch and fixed the patio up real nice. Everything was so purdy! She was'a ridin' real high 'til somethin' went badly for her. Payment went up a tad and there was no room in her countin' for that.

There was no big government t'hep 'er out. She was what they call down around Alice's Restaurant, "shit outta luck!" Those fellers were gonna take her house, 'cause, of course, she signed that paper sayin' they could if'n she didn't pay that Equity Stuff back. They told her that her Equity had done disappeared. Vanished! And now her house was worth less'n what she done owed on it. Yep, she was SOL.

It's a real funny, goofy world when we can stick it to a nice lady like that. Yet, that fancy dude, that wrecked that bank, will walk away with enough to buy hundreds a'houses like that nice lady's house.

They's all against welfare, them corporate dudes; exceptin', of course, corporate welfare that bales 'em out when they stink up the place

The NY Times feller puts it real nice in them fancy words:

"But until bankers face a real risk of losing their shirts, they will continue blithely ratcheting up the risks to collect the reward while letting the rest of us carry the bag when their punts go bad."


For you young'uns, here's an explanation of Alice's Restaurant.

This was a war protest song that we either sang, or listened to on loud speakers, when we took to the streets to protest the injustice of the Vietnam War. This particular, long, delightful verse will explain it all and represents the general humor of the entire piece.

And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I'm singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you're in a situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into the shrink wherever you are , just walk in say "Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant.". And walk out. You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and
they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends, they may thinks it's a movement.
And that's what it is , the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

With feeling. So we'll wait for it to come around on the guitar, here and sing it when it does. Here it comes.

You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant,
Exceptin' Alice, of course!

They were glorious days. Recruiters were aghast. Federal agents thought we were crazy! We marched on and on and kept tellin' to make love instead of war – with feeling!

When we got tired of singin' about Alice, we'd move on to Give Peace a Chance!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Alas, to think of, per chance to remember,
all his lofty promises!

by Charlie Leck

Could it be? Was it only five years ago that we invaded Iraq on a wing and a prayer? Five years ago, the world stood watching in “shock and awe” as our jets screamed into Iraq trying to be discriminate in their killing ways, but failing. Attaturk, writing on the Firedoglake Blog, puts the moment in historical perspective:

“Today is the Fifth Anniversary of the Decider's crowning glory...upon his intellectual throne, a thunderbucket of immense intellectual bankruptcy causing uncounted and ever mounting death and destruction. Each year adds a new level of intellectual dishonesty and miserable accountability for him and his enablers.”
The Great Decider was certain we would have no casualties. The evangelist, Pat Robertson, claimed that George Double-U told him so in a personal audience. Bush now says he never told Robertson such a thing. Who to believe? I mean it! That’s a real conundrum. Shall I believe the President of the United States of America who would certainly not tell a lie – even a teeny-weeny one – to the people of the United States? Or should I believe the good Reverend Pat Robertson, God’s representative here on Earth, who would surely not tell us a lie? Would he? Would he? See what I mean about a conundrum? I need a chosen Decider to help me choose whom I should believe.

For the record, the count, as of today, exceeds 25,000 casualties and very nearly 4,000 deaths. I am grateful to these heroic men and women for the sacrifices they made on behalf of their nation. We should all pay them such honor through gratitude. They heard the call to serve and they heeded it.It is sad that the call to service had to come from such an ill-informed and ill-advised Commander-in-Chief. Sad!

How clearly I remember the days leading up to that night five years ago. My wife and I were in turmoil about the evidence and testimony that was presented to the United Nations. We held our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in such high regard. Surely, we thought, Powell, an experienced and highly decorated General, would not involve himself in such a venture if it were not legitimate.Legitimacy! Now, five years later, we know that legitimacy is the key issue.

Just as a lie, over forty years ago, dragged us in over our heads in the war in Vietnam, a bold-faced lie dragged us into this war in Iraq. It is a war that has left our nation morally and financially bankrupt. It is a war that has cost us over 3 TRILLION dollars and is mounting steadily. How can an economy not suffer?

Now the great debate is about how to end it – how to leave without doing further great damage to the innocent people of Iraq.I am tired of being lied to by our national leaders. President Reagan did the same thing to us when he invaded the tiny, island nation of Grenada. What insanity it was to send troops there for no reason and to see nearly two-dozen men lose their lives, most in friendly fire, for no reason whatsoever. I think we need to have our Presidents out-fitted with a lie detector device that they must wear every time they speak to the American public.

Here is an exercise for you to try on this fifth anniversary day of our invasion of Iraq: Imagine, if you will, that we elect only Presidents who will consider it their loftiest goal to make peace in the world and not war.Happy Anniversary!


Monday, March 17, 2008

Oh, to be Young Again

Young people and the coming elections!
by Charlie Leck

“Youth will be served, every dog has its day,
and mine has been a fine one.”
[George Barrow]

In the Spring of 1968, at the age of 28, I was involved with a lot of other young people in taking over the Democratic Party. It was really a life changing event for me because I went from being generally apathetic about politics to understanding the exciting possibilities of engagement in the system. It was the Vietnam War that motivated us back then. The war was plainly unjust and unneeded. Just about all thinking and reasonable people could agree on this back then. For heaven’s sake, even William F. Buckley, Jr., the leading conservative of the time, was opposed to the war.

Now, it is war that has again brought young people out to the local political primaries, caucuses and conventions.

On this past Saturday, I attended our Senate District Convention as a delegate. My firm intention, going in, was to put my name in the hat as a candidate to the State Convention.

What I saw in the convention hall on Saturday was a virtual mirror of what I saw in 1968. Young people and other first-time conventioneers were there in staggering numbers that far out-flanked us veterans of Minnesota politics. I knew immediately that it was their turn, just as it had been my turn forty years ago. I could hear their voices, using the language and theme of Barack Obama: “Yes we can!”

All around the hall, their message rang out loud and clear.

We can change America!
We can take America back from the rich and selfish!
We can stop this maddening war!
We can improve America’s health care delivery system!
We can end poverty!
We can build up America’s educational system again!
We can compete globally.
We can regain respect for America from the international community!
We can save the planet!

These young people were excited, energetic and angry! The reflection in the mirror was amazing! We had been so sure we could turn America around. Instead, by our failure, we gave America Richard Nixon, Watergate and 5 more years of that tragic war. Our Barack Obama had been Bobby Kennedy. I’ve always wondered if things wouldn’t have gone differently had we not lost him to an assassin’s bullet. It was Bobby’s language of hope and change that we used back then.

The young! It is their time and I am pleased it is. I think they are beautiful, bright, articulate and hard-working. I sat back and watched and gave up any thought of being a delegate. In our caucus we elected a young and beautifully spoke Hispanic woman. She was so excited to be elected that she cried with joy. We also chose a youngish professor from one our community colleges – he teaches the Arabic language and political science. He said he was tired of being told lies. He wanted truth!

Garrison Keillor wrote about the young in his Sunday column in yesterday’s Star-Tribune.* It digresses from my point a little, but it’s too delightful not to quote it for you.

“My generation was secretive, brooding, ambitious, show-offy, and this generation is congenial. Totally. I imagine them walking around with GPS chips that notify them when a friend is in the vicinity, and their GPSes guide them to each other in clipped electronic lady voices and they sit down side by side in a coffee shop and text-message each other while checking their email and hopping and skipping around Facebook to see who has posted pictures of their weekend.”
I have faith in young people, but then I had so much faith in my generation, too. Now, just look at the mess that must be cleaned up.


*Tribune Media Services not allowed Keillor's columns to be published on-line.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dick Cavett on William F. Buckley, Jr.

Cavett uses his extraordinary wit to describe Buckley...
recommended to you by Charlie Leck

The very bright and witty Dick Cavett has posted two essays on his NY Times Blog (Talk Show) about the late and extraordinary William F. Buckley. I recommend them to you most highly.

Part Two: Uncommoner than Thou

It is highly unlikely there will be a quiz on this material, but you never really know!

Friday, March 14, 2008

stercus accidit

Additions and edits on Sunday 16 March 2008

A son of Harlem takes over in New York
by Charlie Leck

I was pretty impressed with David Paterson’s remarks to the press yesterday. He’s got a remarkable wittiness about him and he uses it like a rapier. One reporter had the chutzpah to ask Paterson if he had ever patronized a prostitute. With a little, twisted grin on his face he answered: “Only the lobbyists!”

It appears to me that State of New York is in good hands with this son of Harlem. Now 53 years old, Paterson was born into a powerful and important political family in New York City. His father, Basil Paterson, was the first African American Deputy Mayor of New York City and also served as the Secretary of State in New York.

As the Lieutenant Governor, Paterson had a light schedule and, therefore, also taught at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs. He lives in Harlem with his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson. If you want more background on Paterson, go to this Wikipedia site for a very complete biography.

For those who want a more in-depth look at David Paterson, go take a look at the John Nichols article in The Nation.

A long story in the Sunday NY Times of 16 March examines Patterson legislative record over his career and finds a few controversies.

You can also look at a series of NY Times video interviews with people who know the new Governor well.

My purpose here is not to provide a biography, but to write about the phenomenon of stercus accidit. A young blogger I am following these days, much in need of the aging and settling that happens in a fine wine by controlling that with which it comes into contact during that process, was pretty rough on Elliot Spitzer in an essay the other day. He called the Governor ‘despicable.’ No, there are a lot of better adjectives that have to do with those weaknesses of human beings that are so well documented in the scriptural depiction of the fall from grace. Yet, the scriptural promise is also one of repentance and new life. How often we are reminded of this as we inch closer to the extraordinary celebration of Easter.

“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
The Merchant Of Venice Act 4, scene 1, 180–187
Spitzer did the right thing in stepping down. Now he will need to repair his life and try to restore his place in his family. That’s all personal stuff and one can only hope he succeeds, because he is a good man. The legal consequences of his activities will begin to unfold soon and he will have to face up to these consequences of his actions.

Out of it all, some extraordinarily good things may come. One of those will be the emergence of David Paterson. When he takes his oath of office on Monday, I expect he will become the first blind Governor in the history of the United States. It will not serve as a handicap. He long ago learned how to overcome this missing element in his chemistry. He has excelled in nearly everything he has done. Some may point to a New York bar examination that he has not been able to pass, but this is easily explained away by pointing to the exam’s bias against those who cannot see. This is something the new Governor will aim to correct. And, sightless folks in New York State may now correctly assume they will see movement in legislation they have been interested in for a long, long time. Paterson is a member of the American Foundation for the Blind.

I am going to personally keep my eyes on the State of New York for the next couple of years. I think we are going to see a man, who might never have gotten the opportunity, prove he is a strong, reasonable and capable leader.

Paterson will be a super-delegate at the Democratic National Convention and he has endorsed Senator Clinton. He now moves from a bit player to one of the leading actors in the great American political melodrama.

Oh yes, one more thing! In 1999, David Paterson ran in and completed the New York City marathon. Good practice for what he’s into now.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Please write to Congressman King

A congressman from Iowa shows his ugly side!
by Charlie Leck

I am in a state of shock after reading the comments that a U.S. Congressman made last week on the public air waves in Iowa.

Comments delivered by Congressman Steve King during a radio interview in Spencer, Iowa on March 7, 2008:

"I'm going to say something here that I haven't said in the public arena, that I think it's time to start thinking about. That is that, I don't want to disparage anyone because of their race or their ethnicity or their name or whatever the religion of their father might have been. I'll just say this, when you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected president of the United States, and I mean. What does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that if he is elected president, the radical Islamists, the al-Qa'ida and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11th. Because they will declare victory in this War on Terror. They will say the United States has capitulated because we will be pulling our troops out of any conflict that has to do with al-Qa'ida anywhere. And additionally, it does matter. His middle name does matter. It matters because they read a meaning into that, the rest of the world,---it has a special meaning to them.

"They'll be dancing in the streets because of his middle name. They'll be dancing in the streets because of who his father was and because of his posture that says, 'Pull out of the middle east. Pull out of this conflict.'

"So there are implications that have to do with who he is and the position that he's taken. If he were strong on national defense and said, 'I'm going to go over there and we're going to fight and we're going to win. We're going to come home with a victory,' that's different. But that's not what he said.

"They will be dancing in the streets if he's elected president. And that has a chilling aspect on how difficult it will be to ever win this global war on terror."

I don't think there is any truth to the rumor that Congressman King's middle name is Adolph. Be that as it may, this bush league congressman needs to hear from thousands and thousands of people who will raise a stink about what he has said.

The Congressman must not hold his constituents and the American people in very high esteem. Both know how tough it is to choose a President and how easily serious mistakes can be made – such as the one the majority made in 2000 and 2004. Barack Obama is a fine, decent and inspirational man. The world will know that and he will regain respect for the American presidency and bring honor back to our nation.

We need to demand a retraction from Congressman King. Please write to him and tell him how far off base his comments were and how hateful and biased they sound. Ask him to retract them immediately. Unfortunately, the Congressman only receives email from constituents, so you'll have to write a letter. Believe me, it will be worth the time. If you want me to email you a letter you can send, just let me know.

Congressman Steve King
U.S. House of Representatives
1609 Longworth Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

King is a hard-line right-winger. He represents a geographically huge district made up of virtually all of western Iowa – north to south! Worthington and Fairmont are two of the Minnesota border towns to Iowa's 5th Congressional District.

This brainless congressman has taken many other absurd positions. Take a look at this web site devoted to keeping an eye on him. You'll quickly find out how ugly and stupid the man's mind is. Make arrangements to contribute to his Democratic opponent this year, so he can be kicked out of the House. I'm going to give his opponent some support.

To get a sense for how absurd the man is, listen to this. He refuses to vote his support for a bill currently in the House that would make cock-fighting a serious crime. Why? He says he will not support any animal rights legislation until Roe v. Wade is overturned. How's that for a brainy guy? Iowa can do better than this!

He's not opposed to applying electrical shock motivation to human beings or using electrical shock as a deterrent or a means of torture. Why? He says, "We do this to livestock all the time."

He calls Joe McCarthy "a hero for America."

He compares illegal immigrants to "stray cats."

Here's a little clipping straight out of the Sioux City Journal…

"Mr. King said about the recently killed al-Zarqawi, "There probably are not 72 virgins in the hell he's at. And if there are, they probably all look like Helen Thomas." Helen Thomas was an 85-year-old award-winning journalist at the time. Most Iowans don't insult old ladies. (The quote is from a recording transcribed by Radio Iowa at the 2006 Iowa Republican convention.)"

I could go on and on about Congressman King. He is an awful representative of America and of the state of Iowa. His district should throw the dweeb out.

You could also go to the Iowa Democrats 5th Congressional District web site for more incredible information about the congressman. I'll let you know when his opponent has been named.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Myth of the Surge

An article in Rolling Stone
by Nir Rosen

Here's an important article that appeared in Rolling Stone. It's written by Nir Rosen. This is a very long article, but it is well worth reading. It also includes a series of excellent, captivating photographs.

On AlterNet, Patrick Cockburn writes a similar article, pointing out how the surge could blow up in John McCain's face.

Soon all the rosy forecasts about the surge will go south. That's not good. It's not something we hope for, but it's just the way it is. Iraq's problems are far too complex to be solved with a simple military surge in troop numbers.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jean, of Blessed Memory

Why is my sister a Catholic?
by Charlie Leck

My sister lies dying, within moments of the end of her life, as I write this. I have been suffering through this period and sharing with my closest friends some of my agony as I also keep them up to date on the last moments of her life. The kindnesses they have returned to me have been remarkable and I will always be grateful for that. One friend, a dear Jewish woman, wondered why my sister is so religiously different than I, a liberal protestant to the core. She asked: "Why is your sister a catholic?" I emailed her back the following answer. [My sister died at 6:30 a.m., while I was writing this about her.]

This blog was posted once, a week ago, for about an hour. A friend recommended I take it down and repost it after the funeral and burial. I took his advice.

My mother was raised as a catholic. My father was a protestant. (Forgive all the lower case errors; it’s partly philosophical with me.)

When my mother was 17 and my father 29, they decided they wanted to marry. My grandmother, Emma Svejda, was furious about the age difference and also the religious difference and forbade the marriage. Mother and father went off to Elkton, Maryland, a town that married couples without blood tests or a waiting period. They were married there by a justice of the peace. Of course, my grandmother was really infuriated and then more so when my mother started going to my father’s church on Sundays. In the eyes of the church, my mother was no longer a catholic because she had been married outside of it.

When my sister was born in 1929, my grandmother hovered over her like a bear over its cub. The crash had come and things got very tough. My Grandpa Svejda had a city job that was rather secure. My father’s job was not. My parents both tried to find whatever work they could to keep afloat. My grandmother took care of my sister, virtually, around the clock and going to mass regularly was a part of that care. My grandparents enrolled her in a catholic school and part of that included everyday mass.

So, dear Jean simply became a catholic as a matter of circumstance.

My grandmother Svejda and father never became close. In the years I remember, there was always a strained relationship between them but my father was, at least, polite and civil. My grandfather and father had always been pals, even long before he took a fancy to my mother. In fact, when my mother was a wee one, my father, as a teenager, used to regularly baby sit her for evenings while grandma and grandpa went out on the town. My grandpa Svejda was a big baseball and boxing fan and so was my father. They went to ball games together and to fights when my dad was a boy. Their relationship remained close through all the problems my father had with my grandmother.

Fast forward about twenty years. My sister was working in NYC and commuting back and forth from our home in NJ by train. She had a very nice job with the Woolworth Company as the special assistant to a woman in charge of all product buying for the company stores. Jean was given enormous attention by all the salesman who came and went and our home was filled with special gifts for her at Christmas time, Easter, Valentine’s Day and on her birthday. Among the goodies she received from salesmen were very special tickets to events at Madison Square Garden, the Polo Ground, Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium. I always had choice seats at the Greatest Show on Earth and the Rodeo, and box seats at ball games. Man, I wanted her to keep her job at Woolworth’s.

However, she met a fellow who was a fast-fry cook at a cafeteria in the building. He was a bullshitter and a con man and, damned to all tar nation, she fell in love with him. Of course, you can imagine how the story goes! She brought him home to introduce him and to announce that she was going to marry him. My mother was furious and refused to allow it. My father stood back and remembered his own private, marriage by flight. He knew my sister would do the same and she did.

But, here’s the twist that brings us back to catholicism. In her anger, my mother informed the local priest that the man was both not a catholic and divorced from an early marriage. My sister was excommunicated for not having been married within the rights of the church -- a sacrament.

Strange, my sister had become the most loyal and devoted catholic known to mankind. Here she was, in a moment, outside the church and not allowed its sacraments or services. She had children -- two boys. She lived in a house within two-hundred yards of our own. My mother hated my sister’s husband. I must admit, he was a rotten guy. He couldn’t hold a job. He couldn’t make a living. He lied like crazy and he was wiling to live off charity from anyone who would offer it. There was eventually an event disastrous enough that caused him to be sent to prison. My sister divorced him. It is difficult to please the catholic church. The divorce was a bad thing in the church’s eye even though they had also disapproved of the marriage. Talk about a catch-22.

My sister never regained official readmittance to the church. Nevertheless, she remarried, moved with her new husband and her young boys to Dallas and took up life. She, of course, went to her local parish and became an intensely important part of it. No one knew or asked about her former relationship with the church. She worked with the poor, homeless and misfortunate as only a saint might. She was unable to refuse the needy. She worked with the elderly in nursing homes and volunteered in hospitals. In her church she became a symbol of what it meant to be as Jesus would have us be. She became the cook and organizer for all the church dinners. The poor and hungry in the town knew they could stop by during a day when she was preparing a feast for the parishioners and be fed generously. The officials of the church always pretended not to know, but they did. My sister never took a penny for all her work within the church.

Eventually, the parish built a new church building and, with my sister’s help, they designed a very special, large commercial kitchen because the highlight of community and church life within that congregation revolved around food and dining together. I wonder why! Dinner was served every Sunday at noon. There was a weekly evening dinner. My sister organized them all.
When the New Orleans disaster happened, Dallas took huge numbers of those refugees and found them housing. Each night of the week, some church had a dinner for the refugees. My sister’s parish, at her urging, offered to be a dining site once each week. About two hundred refugees were bused to the church for dinner. My sister raised the funds to pay for the program, organized the dinners and found the necessary volunteers and cooked the meals. This went on for well over a year, though the numbers who came dwindled as people found jobs and set up their own homes.

Last year, the kitchen was completely remodeled under my sister’s direction. The parishioners insisted that it be named the "Jean Davidson Kitchen of Life." She had become too ill to cook regularly, but she found the volunteers to do it and she trained. them and she remained in charge of purchasing up until just a few weeks ago.

All of this she did as acts of contrition for her sins, for her inappropriate and failed marriage. Fortunately for her, she had a good, hard-working husband who was willing to pay for these acts of saintliness.

She never asked that her excommunication be over-turned or reversed or lifted. Her boys, strangely, became protestants -- one very devoted and the other in name only.

Now these people come to my sister’s bedside, as if needing to look upon her face one more time or to touch her kindly and in reverence, as if touching a contemporary saint. They leave on her bed rosaries, crucifixes and other religious pins and medals. They are so numerous that her sons need to clear them away from time to time because of the weight of them. The waiting line to visit her is long and worshipfully silent.

I have known many kind people who have devoted their lives to service in the name of their God. I have never known anyone like my sister. She is truly one of God’s very special servants and I am very proud of her. If there is a special place in heaven for the saints, she will certainly be allowed entry.

So, the question becomes not "why she is a catholic?" but really "is she a catholic?"

I have always harbored a special ill will for the catholic church and, for that reason, do not capitalize it when I spell it out. I simply don’t understand how an institution of the Jesus I know could cast off someone who was (is) so faithful and so Christ-like in character. It will always be one of life’s great mysteries for me.

You asked what time it is. I built a watch for you! However, this will now become a part of the stories I am preserving and setting aside for my grandchildren.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Evidence: An indicator or an outward sign!

Be reasonable, even intelligent about this global warming debate!
by Charlie Leck

I heard a father (happened to be a Texas conservative) tell his son last night that there was no evidence of global warming. They were having a private, somewhat personal conversation. Yet, they were within immediate earshot. Think I could keep my mouth shut? Silly question!

“Son,” the father said, “there is no solid evidence in support of global warming.”

“Young man,” I piped up, “of course there is. There is a mountain of supporting evidence indicating there is global warming.”

“No there isn’t,” the father insisted, speaking more loudly.

Now, had the father been talking about proof – as in proof about global warming, or as in proof that there is a god – I would have butted out; however, he was talking about evidence, which is defined as an indicator or an outward sign. To say that there is no evidence, when, in fact, there are mountains of indicators and outward signs that point toward global warming, is indeed verging on stupidity.

Indeed, there is no proof that God exists. Yet, there is reasonable evidence – though not convincing evidence. There certainly is more solid, hard-core evidence that there is global warming than the young man’s father is willing to look at. He’s another prime example of the blind, conservative right that is willing to jeopardize the planet.

Want to see the evidence, stacked in neat piles for your examination? Just take a look at the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary lays out the evidence, as of last year. America is the only nation among the thinking, reasonable nations of the earth that is still having this debate. Most other nations are trying to put plans in place that will stem the tide.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pay Attention

While I travel, you take a look at these items
by Charlie Leck

Governor Charlie Crist
Watch what the Republican Governor of Florida is trying to do to the Democratic Party. This is so transparent it’s comical. The Governor is trying to interfere with Democratic Party Politics by pressing The Dems to seat the delegates that were elected in a primary that was not authorized by the Party.

All of this is giving the Florida Governor an opportunity to get before the cameras and bad mouth the Democrats. I was actually giggling at the TV screen this morning as this fellow acted so righteous. What is he asking? That the Democrats break their own rules and that the Democrats ignore the fact that they promised the candidates those votes wouldn’t count.

Keep your eyes on the Florida Governor and watch how he uses this opportunity for a blatant political attack on the Democratic Party. It’s pretty disgusting.

If he’s so concerned about democracy here, have him pay for a new set of primaries to be held next month. There’s still time.

A Unique look at William F. Buckley
For a look at a far different opinion of William Buckley, from the one that I wrote in this blog last week, which brings you a picture of the man as he TRULY was, I suggest you read this powerful article on It’s good stuff and the different angle on Buckley’s life is worth reading. [Let’s Pay Tribute to the Spectacular Wrongness of William F. Buckley by David Michael Green]

Let me just say again, I really like AlterNet.Org. The purpose of this web site is to give you an alternative news source that approaches the news in a completely different and non commercial way. They succeed in what they’re trying to do. Give them a try for a while.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Democracy is More than Periodic Elections

Democracy involves having informed citizens!
by Charlie Leck

At the end of last week, economists Joe Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes appeared on a video production for Democracy Now and answered questions posed by Joseph Gonzalez and Amy Goodman. I've had a little fun with the interview in an attempt to make the point even more dramatic and alarming than Stiglitz and Bilmes were able to do in that bland interview. Have some fun with this and enjoy it!

Last week, the Joint Economic Committee in Congress began public hearings on the cost of the war in Iraq. Senator Schumer chaired the Committee and some distinguished witnesses appeared on Thursday. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, feels strongly that the war cost will reach 3 trillion dollars. Mr. Stiglitz lamented the great opportunities that our government has missed. With Harvard University economist, Linda Bilmes, Stiglitz has written a book called The Three Trillion Dollar War. Go ahead, click and find out more about this book on one of my favorite web sites. In it, they claim that the Bush administration has kept a set of secret records that indicate the real cost of the war. Publically, the White House low-balls these costs.

Stiglitz is a former chief economist for the World Bank and currently an economics professor at Columbia University.

"For a fraction of the cost of this war, we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more."

Another distinguished witness, Robert Hormats, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, agreed. He testified that both Social Security and Medicare could have been given a solid foundation. He also pointed out that the amount spent on the war EACH DAY could enroll 58,000 children in a Head Start program for a YEAR. That daily expense could also pay the annual salaries of 11,000 new border patrol guards.

Stiglitz pointed out other hidden costs of the war; like covering the costs of health care and disability benefits for returning veterans. That's only the beginning and it will go on for decades.

Of course, the straight-talking, up front Bush administration circles around the highly scrutinized budget process and, instead, finances this war through emergency appropriations, which are watched over with less intensity. Recently, in an interview on the Today Show, Bush denied that it is the war that has so hurt our economy. Instead he claimed that "this economy is down because we built too many houses."

Okay! You got Professor Stiglitz on one side and George W. Bush on the other. They've offered opinions on what the war has done to our economy. Who are you going with?

Oh yes, Senator McCain has his hand up! Did I hear you correctly, Senator? You're siding with the President on this one?

White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, explained these economic fine points to the White House press corp.

"People like Joe Stiglitz [he calls him Joe because they're great drinking buddies] lack the courage [oops, they are probably not buddies anymore] to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can't even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11."

There you have it. The well reasoned economic theory of the White House. Makes 'Joe' look sort of 'bush' league, doesn't it? Well, Tony, here's a little na, na, na-na na for you from your buddy, Joe.

"Well, I think the White House lacks the courage to engage in a national debate about the cost of the Iraq war. The Joint Economic Committee has asked the White House to come down and discuss the numbers; they've refused. Security is important, and we don't deny that. The question is whether this war has been the best way of obtaining the security. And no matter what you're going to do—you know, what you think about security, you still have to look at the cost."

When the TV journalist, Amy Goodman, asked Stiglitz how he came up with the 3 trillion dollar price tag, Stiglitz got complicated.

"Well, the way you approach this problem is basically adding."

Okay, Joe! Right! But, you see, that's complicated for this President, who runs out of fingers and toes at twenty.

From there, Joe wandered into deeper water.

"There are a whole set of macroeconomic costs, which have depressed the economy. What's happened is, to offset those costs, the Federal Reserve has flooded the economy with liquidity, looked the other way when you needed tighter regulation, and that's what led to the housing bubble, the consumption boom. And we were living off of borrowed money. The war was totally financed by deficits. And eventually, a day of reckoning had to come, and now it's come."

There you have it, Mr. President, and it's very simple: "We built too many houses!"

Is anyone talking about the cost of oil? It was about $25 per barrel before the war and now it is going beyond $100 for each little ole' barrel. What do you say to that, Joe? Last night I filled my daughter's car up at the middle-level pump and it was $3.13 per gallon. Analysts everywhere are predicting that'll we'll soon need to pay in excess of $4.

Who said that?" The President asked a reporter. He was dumb-struck – you know, that usual lost look he has! "I'm not hearing that," the President said.

What about these oil prices Joe?

"But if you look back, in 2003, futures markets, which take into account increases in demand, increases in supply—they knew that China was going to have increased demand, but they thought there would be increases in supply from the Middle East—they thought the price would remain at $25 for the next ten years or more. What changed that equation was the Iraq war. They couldn't elicit the increase of supply in the Middle East because of the turmoil that we brought there. So we think, actually, the true numbers, not the $5 or $10 that we used, because we didn't want to get in a quibble, but really a much larger fraction of the difference between $25 that it was at the time in 2003 and the $100 we face today."

Then there's the whole question of rebuilding Iraq. But don't worry; the administration is guarantying us that this won't be expensive. It positively won't cost any more than 1.7 billion dollars. Andrew Natsios, the former administrator of USAID has put his kiss upon this guaranty. On the TV show Nightline, Ted Koppel got this absolute guaranty out of Nantos.

Joe, what do you think? Oh, excuse me! Ms. Bilmes wants to respond to this stupidity.

"…the amount that we have spent in trying to rebuild Iraq has far eclipsed what Andrew Natsios had said, obviously."

You don't say! Well, you see, this gets back to what I was saying earlier about fingers and toes! Nevertheless, let's move on. Ms. Bilmes, What about this cost to us for all these serious injuries to our troops?

"And this is one of the really outrageous situations about trying to get information about this war, because even today, if you go to the official DOD website, what you will find is a number around 30,000 wounded, but that is only the wounded in combat. Now, the number of fatalities, which is approaching 4,000, is wounded in combat and non-combat. But if you want to find the non-combat wounded—and that includes, for example, soldiers who are injured when they're driving their vehicles at night, because it's unsafe to drive during the day; soldiers who are wounded when they are being transported between one place and another, who never would have been there otherwise—it's much larger. It's more than double. And that is a number which is very hard to get. We had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get access to that number. It is impossible to sort of underestimate how difficult it is to get hold of information that should be completely in the public domain."

Is that right? You guys had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get the information you wanted. It seems amazing to me that the White House wouldn't be more helpful. Yes, Joe, you want to say something.

"That's right. I mean, one of the very disturbing things is that we went to war for democracy, and yet democracy is more than just having periodic elections. It really involves informed citizens being able to have perspectives on the important decisions. But to be informed, you have to know what is really going on. And that's why it was, you know, so upsetting that we had to used the Freedom of Information Act to find out this or to find out, for instance, that while the government was saying, the President was saying, we'll supply all the equipment that the military needs, back in early 2005 there were urgent requests for MRAPs, these vehicles that will resist the IEDs, these explosive devices, and protect our soldiers, but because of wanting to keep the apparent cost down, they refused to order them.

"And, of course, the total cost—and this is one of the important points we make in our book—the total cost is not just the upfront cost, but the cost that you have to face for decades later in terms of the injuries and, of course, the cost to the families. So, being penny-wise and pound-foolish means our country is suffering because of that kind of economic decision."

That's all good and fine, Joe, but we must repeat that the President is assuring us that all of this is not pushing us into recession. Why just the other day he said: "I don't think we're headed to a recession. But, no question, we're in a slowdown."

What do you think of that, Joe?

"Well, first of all, the economy is almost surely heading into a recession. I was at the American Economic Association meetings. In the past, the probability of going into recession was fifty-fifty. The general consensus is now 75 percent probability of going into recession. But whether we go into recession or not, the real fact is that it is a major slowdown. It's going to be one of the—I think clearly the deepest downturn in the last quarter-century. The loss of output, the difference between the actual output and our potential output, will be at least one-and-a-half trillion dollars, and that's not money we're talking about in this Three Trillion Dollar War. This is a serious problem. And I think at the core of this is the war. You know, in the election campaign, people said there are two big issues: the economy and the war. I think there's one big issue, and that's the war, because the war has been directly and indirectly having a very negative effect on the economy."

Well, Joe, I have a feeling that John McCain is not going to touch that one with a ten foot pole, but let's move on. With all these huge amounts of dough President Bush expended and spread around, someone must be profiting by this war. What do you think?

"Well, actually, there are two big gainers in this war and only two: the oil companies and the defense contractors. And you see that's where the pools of wealth are being created. One of the big pools of wealth are in the Middle East, the countries that are the oil exporters. We are transferring hundreds of billions of dollars from American consumers, businesses, to the oil exporters. You can look at it as simple as that."

Joe, what countries are we talking about here, which are benefiting so from this war?

"Well, Saudia Arabia, Iran, Venezuela. You know, if you asked who were the countries that we would not want to help, many of them would be on the list that we have been helping."

Wow! Joe, this is getting complex and we've moved way beyond fingers and toes into a whole realm of complex language. I don't think our President could understand that sentence, sir. Let me try to rephrase it for him.

"Mr. President, we are actually helping a couple of the points of the Axis of Evil – Venezuela and Iran. Holy cow, Joe!"
"Exactly. And one of the things that—you know, as economists, we talk about 0pportunity cost, what you could have done with $3 trillion to win the hearts and minds, to advance security. One of the aspects of this—everybody talks about security. While we were focusing on weapons of mass destruction that did not exist in Iraq, another country joined the nuclear club: North Korea. And so, it shows you, you know, there's limited resources, time and effort, and we were focusing on the wrong problem. While we were focusing on Iraq, the problems in Afghanistan got worse, and the problem of security in Afghanistan is much worse than it was five years ago. So there's not only an economic opportunity cost; there's a security opportunity cost."
Joe, this is mind blowing, but do you think the President can really get his brain to grasp something like this?
"Well, this was one of the big points that came up in the joint committee hearing that we were in yesterday."

Joe, you've said it all. We built too many houses! It's that simple.