Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rants and Rambles

Israel is 60 Years Old, Minnesota is 150
and I played my first round of golf of the year!

by Charlie Leck

The Gas Tax Holiday Issue keeps on going
A Republican U.S. Representative from Minnesota is blaming the Democrats for not doing something about the high prices of gas. They had an opportunity to adopt a national gas tax holiday, he wrote, and they blew it. What a jerk! Anyone with brains dismissed the issue as totally politically driven. Anyone with brains knows it would have created more problems and not solved anything. The conservative Wall Street Journal dismissed the idea on its opinion page early this week.

"There are few tax cuts we don't like, but his one smacks of poll-driven gimmickry."

The good Republican from Minnesota ought to talk to his leadership guy over in the White House about these gas prices. Loosen up on some of those reserves and prices will fall. Do something significant to reduce demand and use, and that will get prices falling, too.

Debra Saunders, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, says that Clinton and her progressive friends "should love high gas prices, which prompt Americans to drive less and buy more fuel-efficient cars." [read the Saunders column]

I know I drive much less. I try to plan more in advance now when I go shopping. I had to fill up yesterday for the first time in weeks (and my car insists on premium fuel) and did it ever hurt. I'm going to be even more careful. Try to run a farm with several diesel engine tractors and do all the planting preparation work that needs doing at this time of year. Wow! No wonder food prices are up.

Israel is 60 years old and the whole mess won't go away
I heard Jackie Mason, the former rabbi turned comedian, interviewed on BBC yesterday. He thinks peace is still a possibility in the Middle East and for Israel. He cites the situation in Ireland, where people thought peace would never come, and says maybe "peace will break out in Israel too." It's not likely, Jackie. The situation is so much more confounding. There's no question but that Israel is one of the most successful democracies in the history of the world and probably more successful than the system in our own country. Nevertheless, a nagging sense of injustice still pervades Israel and it is the knowledge that this remarkable nation was created at an appalling price. Read the extraordinary book by the historian Ilan Pappe, a Jew, who tells the gruesome story of the nearly one-million Palestinians who were driven from their homes to make way for the creation of the new state. Villages were destroyed and, sometimes, villagers were slaughtered.

Granted, these were Zionists who cleared the land for what they thought would be an Israeli-Zionist state. Instead, we see a splendid example of a nearly perfect republic. However, the Palestinians cannot forget and they apparently cannot forgive.

And, no, I am not forgetting how America was established either. I'm not forgetting the natives who were driven from their homes and their land time and time again so that white people could establish their settlements. I'm not forgetting that the economy of America's southlands was driven by the obscenity of slavery.

Centuries later, the wounds remain and the ugliness will not wash away. Should we expect memories in Israel and Palestine to dissipate within 60 years?

The world's first nuclear war
Is a nuclear war at hand? It's a frightening thought. Israel has the capability. If enemy states in the Arab world develop such weapons, it is awful to think what might happen. It is getting more and more difficult to deny nations the capability of developing such weapons. It has become much more difficult to keep track of those who are trying. We know that Israel will not hesitate to retaliate.

John McCain will not solve the Israeli crisis
McCain does not have the touch or the savvy to solve the problems developing in the Middle East. Barack Obama may. Obama has a cultural and ethnic background that may allow him to see things from a different perspective. And, he is deeply compassionate. He is also enormously confident. He just may have the tools.

I keep waiting for Hillary Clinton to do the gracious and loyal thing.
Call her tenacious! Go ahead! Praise her for her tenacity. Go ahead. I want to see the graciousness and loyalty to the party she professes to love. Instead she hangs on and continues to scrap. She also continues to damage the party and its chances for victory in November. Hillary, a year ago I was in your camp and cheering for you. Today, I just want you to go away. Go back to the Senate and get to work and allow Barack Obama to begin healing the party. He'll need all the time he can get.

So, I played my first round of golf in seven months.
It's amazing to think back and remember how much I used to play. Here in Minnesota, I played from April well into November – and three or four times a week. Then there were two or three trips to the south in the winter to play a couple of rounds each day. Now I play very little. There's lots of reasons and not one of them has to do with my love for the game. That remains enormous. In a golf game we are able to truly discover a lot about a person's personal character by watching the temperament of the player. I adore golf and I had so many, many wonderful moments on golf courses.

Here it is, the 10th of May and it didn't get out of the 50s today and it spat cold rain at us all afternoon. I kept telling myself I was having great fun, but this morning I am stiff and sore from having played in such conditions. My foursome won, however, and that makes the soreness more acceptable. It is odd to play with such a high handicap, but it was still, nevertheless, great fun. As usual, the most enjoyable thing about the round was the people with whom I played.

Dinner with the most delightful people
We dined with some absolutely delightful people last night. There were nine of us. It was a thinking man's dinner and we were asked to do some mental exercises. We broke into two groups and discussed what Minnesotan had the most significant and lasting impact or influence during the 150 years of our statehood. Our group settled on the Dayton family, going beyond an individual. Our little trickery was acceptable to other group. The Daytons founded a major retail corporation here, which is now the Target Corp, and began the concept of returning profits to the community. They were terribly important contributors to the community in oh so many ways – education, the arts, health care and medicine and employment opportunities. [Here's a 2001 press release about an award to the family that will tell you a bit more.]

Both of the groups at dinner last night gave very serious consideration to the Mayo Family. The original brothers established the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the subsequent children refined the institution and made it world famous and an extraordinary research facility. Now it is also a highly respected medical school. [You can read an interesting account of the Mayo family here.] The other group, however, settled on Norman Borlaug. As a professor of agriculture at the University of Minnesota, Borlaug became a "central figure in the green revolution," as it came to be known. Working with Mexican scientists, Borlaugh developed great new strains of wheat that allowed for vast increases in production. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The following statement was part of the presentation included in his introduction at the ceremony:

"In 1944 he accepted an appointment as geneticist and plant pathologist assigned the task of organizing and directing the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico. This program, a joint undertaking by the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation, involved scientific research in genetics, plant breeding, plant pathology, entomology, agronomy, soil science, and cereal technology. Within twenty years he was spectacularly successful in finding a high-yielding short-strawed, disease-resistant wheat.

"To his scientific goal he soon added that of the practical humanitarian: arranging to put the new cereal strains into extensive production in order to feed the hungry people of the world - and thus providing, as he says, "a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation," a breathing space in which to deal with the "Population Monster" and the subsequent environmental and social ills that too often lead to conflict between men and between nations. Statistics on the vast acreage planted with the new wheat and on the revolutionary yields harvested in Mexico, India, and Pakistan are given in the presentation speech by Mrs. Lionaes and in the Nobel lecture by Dr. Borlaug. Well advanced, also, is the use of the new wheat in six Latin American countries, six in the Near and Middle East, several in Africa."

Our group had seriously considered Borlaugh also.

The evening drew to an end when one of the guests – a chap with whom I enjoy playing golf – told an interesting story about a college chum of his at Cornell University by the name of Chuck Feeney. The fellow became a mega billionaire after establishing a world-wide chain of duty-free shops. Quietly and anonymously he gave most of his money away to the great benefit of important charities, non-profits and foundations. The Irish writer, Conor O'Clery, followed the billionaire's activities, with full permission, for a couple of years and wrote a book about him that sounds simply extraordinary. It's called The Billionaire Who Wasn't. [Here's an interesting video production by Cornell University about Feeney and the book.] I'll read the book soon and tell you more about it.

Well, the Sun has broken out in the eastern sky. It's Mother's Day. I have an interesting gift to wrap for Anne. We'll have brunch with a couple of the kids at the very place we had dinner last night. Anne will be pleasantly surprised by the gift and a description of it will make for a good future blog.

Happy Birthday, Minnesota, as you celebrate your 150th today! And, Happy Mother's Day, dear. Enjoy your day.



  1. If asked to name the finest filmmakers from your state I'd say the Coen Brothers. But if asked to name to the finest filmmakers in America today I think I'd give the same answer!

  2. David, you're right on about the Cohen Brothers; however, they started off weakly and the town laughed at their amateur silliness quite a bit. They grew quickly and each movie seemed to get better and better. Yes, now they are established as our finest film makers. I really like their work.

    Fargo was an exagerated picture of we Minnesotans, don't you know? You betcha der!

    Our other talented genius is Garrison Keillor. I wish he wasn't so deeply into entertainment, so we could send him off to the U.S. Senate. You should be sure to read his columns. This one on Mother's Day (a day of honoring we share here in America) last week was wonderful...