Sunday, August 31, 2008

In My Own State, the Cops Challenge Free Speech

Why have I been wagging about Sarah Palin when cops in St. Paul are acting more like soldiers in China or 20th century KGB Soviets?
by Charlie Leck

I’ve been blogging about Sarah Palin while Rome is burning!

My regular readers around the nation know how I regularly, constantly and almost sickeningly boast about the great state of Minnesota. There will be no boast today. I’m ill to my stomach this morning and I’m angry as hell. Somebody needs to pay for this! Let’s see if we’ve got any honesty in the news media anymore. It’s their job to get to the bottom of this.

Friday night a combination of the St. Paul Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office raided the headquarters of the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group that has been organizing protests of various sorts during the RNC Convention in St. Paul. It was an asinine and imbecilic raid on a perfectly peaceful establishment.

More than a dozen police vehicles arrived on the scene, most unmarked at about 9:45 p.m. on Friday evening. The Sheriff’s deputies burst through the door with cocked pistols and claimed they had a validly issued search warrant. They would not produce it, however, for a considerable time. The occupants, including children, were forced to the floor and they were handcuffed.

There were about 45 people in the Welcoming Committee’s (WC) headquarters, awaiting the start of an organizing meeting, when the police burst in. They were all detained, questioned and asked for identification. Then they were photographed.

Sometime near midnight, a St. Paul contractor arrived to board up the building. The police claimed some kind of city code violations, but never gave any specific information nor did they issue any charges. The building, a former theater, is located at 827 Smith Avenue, about 12 blocks from the Xcel Energy Center where the convention will be held. It was rented by the WC as a center for activists to gather. Tables were set up to hold literature and hand-outs of various kinds. Maps of downtown St. Paul were taped on the walls.

St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune is furious about the police raid. “This isn’t the way we do things in St. Paul,” he said. He didn’t understand why the building was boarded up. “Normally we only board up buildings that are vacant and ramshackle. The fire inspector doesn’t know what’s going on. He hasn’t been called.”

When the search warrant was produced by law enforcement officials it contained a long list of what they were looking for: soap flakes, X-boxes, paint, computer operating manuals, caltrops, bleach, floppy disks with digital information, Molotov cocktails, and on and on…..

According to Councilman Thune, the police hauled away boxes of literature that the WC had planned to use. They were things like: The Struggle is Our Inheritance: A History of Radical Minnesota; Anarachy: A Pamphlet; A Guide to antiRNC organizing; Need to Know Basics (a legal primer for the RNC Convention).

Many of the detained activists asked to see attorneys. They were not allowed to make phone calls. Some attorneys arrived on the scene anyway, but they were not allowed to enter the building..

An alternative local newspaper (MinnPost) has reported on five raids conducted across the twin cities in what appears to be an effort to stifle the WC. The Ramsey County Sheriff, Bob Fletcher, released this statement:

"The 'Welcoming Committee' is a criminal enterprise made up of 35 anarchists who are intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National
Convention… These acts include tactics to blockade and disable delegate buses, breaching venue security and injuring police officers. They have recruited assistance in their criminal conspiracy from other anarchists groups throughout the country. Through their plans and actions they have exhibited a blatant disregard for the law and the safety of others."
WC members claim the Sheriff is nuts.

A news conference was held at the old theater on Saturday morning. I’ve scoured today’s Minneapolis newspaper and don’t find any mention of the incident. Clearly, it will be the job of alternative news sources to tell the population about this “police-state like” development.

Here’s a story that appeared on AlterNet about the raids.

Andy Driscoll is one alternative media guy who was at the news conference. This is his report about it”
I've just returned from taping an RNC Welcoming Committee news conference outside the same old West Side St. Paul building Fletcher's boys raided last night, kicking in doors, weapons drawn, forcing everyone – including children ­ facedown to the floor where they were handcuffed with large, sharp-edged, plastic straps, searched, then released, one-by-one. Officers confiscated several computers, maps, programs and some money according to Lisa Fithian, who conducted the news conference. More on the news conference itself later, but... Several teams of sheriff's deputies and other police have raided three or four private residences in Minneapolis and stopped several bicycle riders at gunpoint around both towns, arresting and jailing several of them on "conspiracy" charges, mostly young men and women connected to the protest community.

Defense attorneys say these cross-jurisdictional raids are authorized and coordinated by Homeland Security and encompass all police and sheriffs' departments, the FBI and the Secret Service. The St. Paul Police were supposed to be "in charge" of any security outside the Secret Service "red zone" around the Xcel Center, but it's quite clear every police department in the Metro is under the coordination and direction of a larger entity.

Gena Berglund, a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) attorney coordinating legal observers and recorders calls this Homeland Security operation the Fusion Center, a likely name for granting law enforcement powers across all jurisdictions.

Fithian insisted that, in her 35 years of working in dozens of local and regional venues "for radical change in this country," she had never seen anything the likes of which is occurring this weekend across the Cities.

Apparently, twelve to fifteen people have been detained without charges filed and they can be held for up to 36 hours - not counting weekends and holidays - meaning that they could be held through Tuesday unless their release is forced by a court, according to NLG lawyer Jordan Kushner, who spoke at the news conference.

Among the other speakers were:

Michael McPhearson of US Veterans for Peace, which is holding its annual convention in a Bloomington hotel/motel. Police officers from several jurisdictions appeared at that gathering as well, claiming to be scouting the facility for a their own use when, in fact, the VFP group had reserved the entire space for the same period of time. McPhearson was certain this was little more than police intimidation in much the same manner as he and his fellow soldiers used their uniforms and weaponry as intimidation of Iraq and Kuwaiti civilians during the Gulf War I and the current Iraq War.

Dave Bicking, Green Party activist and father of one of the arrested people in this morning's Minneapolis raids, Monica Bicking.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent and whistleblower and organizer of next Thursday's Peace Island Picnic.

Ann Wright, former US Army colonel who said she has served in nearly every US-led military theater from Grenada to Iraq and has never seen such an operation as this weekend's preemptory police actions.

All the speakers spoke of the profound curtailment of civil, human and Constitutional rights the police raids represent, and that every citizen's right to dissent and petition their government is being illegally quashed. What came quite clear to me is that law enforcement must knowingly be provoking the violence they warned city officials about in advance of the protest marches to come Monday and Tuesday mornings by the anti-war and anti-poverty group sponsors. What may be aimed at pre-convention intimidation and preemptory arrests of protest leaders to quell protesters' announced intentions to disrupt the convention has only fired up the very people police expected to put down.

A cynic might wonder if this is all leading up to justification for a brutal confrontation between well-armed and armored police officers and unarmed and generally harmless marchers and dissenters.

Where the two major city mayors, the city councils and county boards are throughout this extraordinary breach of Constitutional rights is a matter for citizens to challenge - and the disgrace this is bringing to the otherwise reasonable Twin Cities and Minnesota cultural heritage is beyond understanding.

It would seem that, with little resistance, the elected officials of our cities have given governance over to a police state, however temporary, and to the paranoia that
accompanies such an inbred culture as law enforcement, itself undeterred by the rule of law in keeping the peace and protecting the Constitution.

The ripple effect in this community will last for years beyond the coming week - and the political and personal lives of citizens and our representatives will have taken a severe turn for the worse. Was it worth all of this grief for the money you all insisted was coming to our fair city's and business coffers to sully the very climate that made us so attractive in the first place?

I think not.
Andy Driscoll
Clearly this police activity has weakened the WC. Many of those arrested can be held until Wednesday without filing charges. Bogus charges can then be filed and judges can decided to hold those charged without bail until after the convention is over and the visitors leave town.
Now, remember, just a week or so ago, we were criticizing the Chinese for just the same kind of actions in their nation in an attempt to stifle the voices of protest.

You may be assured that I’ll try to find out more about this outrageous police action. It seems to me that it clearly defies the constitutional protections we all have to peacefully assemble and to peacefully protest.

The Real Sarah Palin

“Getting to know you… getting to know all about you!”
by Charlie Leck

In the old days – that is, before Al Gore gave us all the Internet – it would have taken days and, likely, weeks to get to know all about Sarah Palin. Now, it takes, literally, moments.

Sarah has a sister! Sarah has a sister!
And her sister went through a messy divorce with an Alaska State Policeman. Well, as Governor, what could Sarah Palin do about that? Nothing? No, not at all! She could fire the policeman – or, at least, try! That’s Sarah Palin’s first little mini-scandal. But this is the woman the GOP has all day long been calling ethically and morally ‘pure.’

Where does it go from there?
Well, you can be sure, in this day of instant news, that the search is on. Fingers are rapidly sweeping across keyboards, searching, searching, searching! If there is something out there, the typing fingers will find it – and soon!

For instance, what about global warming, which could have a devastating impact on the state of Alaska? Sarah says:
“A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.” [Governor Sarah Palin]

“... adding polar bears to the nation's list of endangered species, as some are now proposing, should not be part of those efforts.... I strongly believe that adding them to the list is the wrong move at this time.... The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, has argued that global warming and the reduction of polar ice severely threatens the bears' habitat and their existence. In fact, there is insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct within the foreseeable
The LA Times hit hard on this question about the vetting of Sarah Palin. Was it thorough? That’s an important question. We’ll know more about Sarah Palin within the next 3 days than her husband knows about her right now. Just watch!

As a post on The Nation Blog today points out, Sarah Palin was a supporter of the hate-filled Pat Buchanan and his exploration of a run for the Presidency in 1999 [read the post]. This woman is not just a conservative, but she is a radical conservative with a tendency to go radically right.

And, Alaska has a “clean water” initiative on its ballot this fall. Palin has actively campaigned against it. In doing so, she may have broken the law and folks are investigating and building a case.

Can she woo Senator Clinton’s feminist supporters?
It would seem unlikely, but we’ll have to watch. Palin stands for things Clinton did not want to touch? The pro-choice/pro-life question is on the top of that list. Disclaiming global warming is also on the list! And fairness to working men and women is also in question (despite early claims of her strong labor support)! Ms. Palin is pretty much way over on the right. It’s hard for me to believe Senator Clinton’s vast army of female supporters would take anything more than one casual first-look at Governor Palin without then looking away.

How will she do in a debate with Joe Biden?
There’s one scheduled national VP debate. Joe Biden will want it to be on foreign policy, international relations and the war in Iraq. Sarah Palin hasn’t, by her own admission, given much thought to such matters. Well, she better get up to speed or Joe Biden will crush her in that debate. Biden is one of the government’s best informed individuals on these questions of international relations – he can name the head of state of every government in the world and he has met most of them. She has time. Does she have the vigor or the intellect? We’ll find out!

Did John McCain make the right choice?
As Joe Conason wrote in
“…She is a right-wing religious ideologue with female gender characteristics. Suddenly that is all anyone needs to qualify as a potential commander in chief of the world's most powerful military. We probably won't hear so much from now on about "experience" and "judgment," McCain's vaunted standard for the presidency until ... today. We certainly won't hear again about the "person most prepared to take my place," the phrase he has used more than once to describe his main criterion for a running mate.”
In a CNN interview in April (2008), John McCain pondered what he’d do about selecting a Vice President:
"I think about whether that person who I select would be most prepared to take my place. And that would be the key criteria [sic]."
Read John Dickerson, one of the nation’s sharpest political observers, in he says McCain’s pick of Palin raises one very significant question. That is: “Huh?”

Senator Schumer, of New York, called the McCain pick a “hail mary pass.”
“…the choice of Sarah Palin is surely a Hail Mary pass. It is a real role of the dice and shows how John McCain, Karl Rove et al realize what a strong position the Obama-Biden team and Democrats in general are in in this election. Certainly the choice of Palin puts to rest any argument about inexperience on the Democratic team and, while Palin is a fine person, her lack of experience makes the thought of her assuming the presidency troubling. I particularly look forward to the Biden-Palin debate in Missouri.”
The Wall Street Journal sees this matter as a question of Palin vs. Obama, rather than Palin vs. Biden. WSJ asks whether Palin is just as fit to be President as is Obama! Wow! That is an interesting approach and we’ll have to wait and see if the GOP plans to use it.

This is obviously just Chapter One of the Sarah Palin story. Stayed Tuned! You can bet there will be more to follow.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kudos to One of My Readers

Ted named Sarah Palin on July 27
by Charlie Leck

One of my readers, Ted, posted a comment on my blog on 27 July 2008, naming Sarah Palin as John McCain’s pick for VP without a doubt in his mind. At a time when she was hardly mentioned, Ted pegged her as the choice. I’m impressed and send Ted my kudos and congratulations. Here’s what Ted wrote back then… and remember, this was more than a month before the pick was made:

Ted said...

Here's the likely pick, and it's NOT Pawlenty.


1. Which McCain Veep pick is SIMULTANEOUSLY the safest AND boldest?

ANSWER: Sarah Palin

2. How can McCain SIMULTANEOUSLY attract both Hillary AND Bob Barr voters?

ANSWER: Sarah Palin

* * *

On that, this just in from the Conservative Voice:

'Desperately seeking Sarah
July 26, 2008 10:00 AM EST
By Stephan Andrew Brodhead

Desperately seeking SarahAmericans need a little Palin Power Sarah Palin the current Governor of Alaska is John McCain’s ultimate choice for VP. I do believe a woman is next in line for the presidency. All Conservatives like her. She is popular in Alaska. Hillary supporters would relish her. She would solidify a 12 or possibly 16 year Republican executive.

John McCain’s boring campaign is wearing thin. I need a little Palin Power to get me interested again. They would say ‘but she is only a half term Governor!’

And your point is?'

That’s all I have to say about that!”

Unfortunately, I, in all my wisdom, wrote back to Ted on that same date:
"Thanks, Ted, for the comment. Sarah Palin? She’d be a formidable campaigner. As a friend of mine likes to say: ‘You may be on to something! Or, you may be on something!”

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Obama Speech

Barack Obama accepts his party’s nomination to run for the Presidency of the United States of America
by Charlie Leck

I pinched myself last night as I watched and listened to the scene in Denver. America was hoping for a miracle. When the pinch validated the reality of the moment (that is, it hurt), I found myself speaking up toward the stars, to MLK.

“Are you able to hear this? To watch it? Is this the moment you dreamed about? Does it please you?”

A tear plummeted from my eye as King’s words, in his final speech, echoed in my memory. He was certainly contemplating his imminent death on that night, as a prophet might.

“I’ve been to the mountain top… He’s allowed me to look over. I’ve seen the promised land. We as a people will get to the promised land. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
“Martin, was this what you saw when you looked over? Did you see this young, handsome man standing before so many thousands who screamed and cheered and sang? Did you see him speaking to a rapt audience of nearly 90,000 people of all the colors of the human spectrum?”

Of course, no answer came – only a deep, stirring chill slid over me and I trembled from it. I prayed softly.

“Do not let the carriers of hate harm him, O Lord! Protect him with your might and give him your strength!”
He may lose this election. He is likely to lose it because America is not yet where Doctor King saw it when he looked over to the other side from the mountain top. But, our constant prayer must be for his safety. What a lovely family they make. I don’t want to see another little John-John standing along a maudlin parade route. “Protect him, oh Lord!”

The cynics will now have their way with his brilliant speech. The purveyors of doom will surface. The liars of political convenience will spew their hateful froth. And all the frightened people will turn away.

He has only two months to show the nation that he is not to be feared. That his name and his color are not negatives, but possessions of utter beauty. The clock is ticking.

A reader of my blog, who lives in the Denver area, wrote to me about the reaction to Obama among his friends and relatives.

“Here’s what I hear from Mr. and Mrs. America…
    • 'You’re not really gonna vote for a Schwartza [sic], are you?’

    • ‘My son’s an Air Force pilot, and he’ll quit the military before he’d salute HIM.’

    • ‘You know he was raised as a mulim, don’t ya?’

    • ‘I’m not sure who to vote for, but I’m sure not ready to turn my whole life over to people like him!’

    • ‘I’m just gonna go with what I know.’

    • I’m afraid of what he’d let happen to Isreal… he wouldn’t stand up to his own kind!’”
Nevertheless, it was a grand evening in that remarkable outdoor stadium last night. Hope was abounding everywhere. People were believing that America can be grand and good again.

I have only so many more years left to see it happen, but then, perhaps, I’ll sit among the stars with Martin and wait patiently for the nation to come to its senses.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Still Away, But Ready to Return

What a good week away!
by Charlie Leck

Fred, I sort of did it! Your suggestion that I get away from ranting and raving for a week was a good one. I’ve smelled a few roses, did some Christmas shopping (honest), found a nice birthday gift for my wife (this coming Monday), took a few long walks and read a couple of books.

But, yesterday I took my daughter's car in for service (Midas). It needed an entirely new exhaust system and it would take a couple of hours. While I was waiting in line to check in, the young man receiving customers chatted with someone about why he’d never vote for Obama – because he would be a big spender like Bill Clinton.

I happened to have the above cartoon tucked into a book I had brought along. The next few moments went like this.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Why yes,” I said, “you could take a good look at this for me.”

I slid the cartoon in front of him. He looked at it but didn’t get it. I explained.

“Are you better off today than you were 8 years ago?” I asked him.

“F--- no!”

“Of course not! Neither am I. The last time our economy was really sound was under Bill Clinton. He put people to work. The unemployment rate was at its all-time low under Bill Clinton. Small companies thrived under Bill Clinton. Our nation didn’t have a budget deficit. We had a surplus. How’s business?”

“F--- awful!”

‘That’s why you need to vote for Barack Obama. He’ll give tax cuts to guys like you. He’ll have the rich, fat cats pay more of their share! People will get back to work. Our country will go back to work. I have an appointment at 9:30.”

“You’re kiddin’ aren’t’ you?”

“No,” I said, “9:30 to have a new exhaust system put in.”

“No, no! I mean about the economy and the Democrats.”

“The cartoon,” I said, “is entirely correct. Conservatives keep talking about reducing spending, cutting taxes and improving the economy. They never do it. Government grew faster under Ronald Reagan than any other President in history. When he left office he left behind a pot-load of national debt. Government grew faster under George W. Bush than it did under Bill Clinton by 6 times. You’re paying far too much in taxes – in Minnesota, in our county and in your community because George W. Bush reduced aid and assistance to states. George W. Bush has racked up trillions of dollars of debt. Barack Obama will change America and you will get relief.”

“You are kidding, aren’t you?”

“No, no,” I said. “9:30 for a new exhaust system.”

Cartoon was originally published in the Ventura County Star.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sackcloth Chic

Let me introduce you, again, to David Williamson...

A blog I never miss is Van Peebles Land, written by an Irishman who now lives in Wales. David Williamson is a journalist, but I think he has credentials as a poet as well. His prose is quite extraordinary and his insights well worth thinking about. David gave me permission to reproduce this blog for you here. If you want to read him regularly, go to Van Peebles Land. The following is by David Williamson.
A Puritan spirit beats at the heart of the environmental movement and chimes with something deep in the British and Celtic soul. Thrift, careful use of resources and suspicion of ostentatious consumption are suddenly back in fashion.

While our Californian cousins – the descendants of great-grand-uncles caught up in gold-rush fever – may groan that petrol prices make driving a Hummer unviable, we never quite understood why they had bought a car the size of Cuba in the first place.

We are a generation whose grandparents told tales of World War II rationing in the cheeriest tones, nostalgic for a time when butter was as great a luxury as champagne. Going “green” is an opportunity to embrace a code of contented simplicity.

We are thrilled to have permission to create compost heaps larger than Snowdon and screwing-in high energy lightbulbs ignites the twin national joys of saving cash and DIY. The social pressure to upgrade one’s phone every couple of days has evaporated; frugality rocks.

And holidaying in Britain avoids not just carbon-spewing planes but the ghoulish experience of airport check-in. Trains are becoming once again the most romantic way to move between points on a map.

But it is hard to imagine our delight in sackcloth chic being emulated on the other side of the Atlantic, where towns have been designed to facilitate the swift passage of family cars between home and the mall, rather than the scuttle of urchins from the workhouse to the nearest chimney.

American society is likely to demand that policymakers, energy suppliers and industry do their absolute darndest to keep the running costs of multiple vehicles, air-conditioning systems and a speedboat within the reach of middle-income households. In a responsive democracy, politicians will snap to attention and plate the deserts with solar panels.

With the right investment hydrogen and – should a 21st equivalent of Isaac Newton emerge – nuclear fusion could be harnessed and usher in an era of clean and even more plentiful energy than the West has enjoyed hitherto.

Pleasure-loving epicureans will thumb their noses at hemp-wearing stoics as they drive past in pick-up trucks with hot-tubs bubbling in the back.

You can glimpse this future at, where General Motor’s showcases an upcoming electric car with a vroom-factor too high for most sandal aficionados.

In the coming reality parents may be stripped of a reason to bark at offspring to turn the lights off. War for oil would seem as ludicrous as an invasion for Marmite.

But, of course, there’s also the possibility the world’s economy will collapse if giant energy companies are left with nothing to sell.

Unfettered consumption and economic meltdown sound equally exhausting. In the meantime, we can enjoy the quietly intoxicating pleasure of moderation in all things.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Michelle Obama knocks 'em dead!
by Charlie Leck

I know! I know! I promised to stay away from politics in this blog until this coming Friday. Okay! I will. I'll just point you to Michelle Obama's extraordinary speech in case you missed it. My wife and I were transfixed by it. She is a grand, wonderful lady. Just hit the video button on the right.... there's all kinds of places to find this speech if this link doesn't work for you.

Monday, August 25, 2008

He was a Special Guy! Or, the Virtues of Selfishness

He still is!
by Charlie Leck

A friend I hadn’t seen in an awfully long time phoned this week. We first met nearly 54 years ago. It was great to chat and we went on for some time. Now, with contact information, we’ll probably communicate more often. And, I’m going to take a little trip in September to visit with him.

He was a high school classmate. We graduated together 50 years ago. He was a free spirit. He didn’t like being confined to personality types. He strove to be unique and he was, and probably still is, difficult to define.

He was a good debater who slipped out of bounds occasionally and broke the rules in our formal debate competitions. It confounded his opponents and threw them off their game. He has a tremendously quick wit and he can use it so extemporaneously and smoothly that it often startles people.

Now he talks of his failure to contribute a whole bunch to the world. “If I had 68 years to redo… starting from here… I think I’d make better decisions.”

Pal, join the club. That is something we all start thinking about at this age. Why didn’t I do this? Or that? Why was I so selfish and concerned with my own needs and desires?

Man is basically a selfish being. He seeks first to take care of himself and satisfies the needs and cravings he feels within himself before he does anything else.

A lot of people don’t have the guts to admit this selfish nature of their existence. I admired my friend for admitting it so openly.

I’m attracted to Ayn Rand’s views on selfishness and her description of selfishness as a virtue. Our own well-being, she argues, “is man’s ultimate value.” Her essays, On the Virtue of Selfishness, argue that one of man’s primary goals should be to protect one’s own life and happiness and thus attain one’s own well-being and a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life.

It does not necessarily follow that such regard for one’s own happiness and fulfillment is a disregard for the health and happiness of others; but, rather, such self-fulfillment makes one more capable of acting in ways that will be beneficial to others.

That one feels a sense of failure, that one could have acted more beneficently, is the sign of a good and healthy person. The man who doesn’t feel this sense of failure is the really self-absorbed person – and probably a sociopath.

I sometimes cringe at the mistakes I’ve made in life – that I turned one way forty years ago rather than another – but this feeling is always tempered by those I have around me, whom I love so dearly and much. Had I made that turn, back then, they would not be here today, surrounding me. They are the glorious, wonderful results of my errors and missteps. Exactly a year ago, I wrote at some length about just this subject in a blog I called: “Regrets? I’ve had a few!”

I wrote the following back to my old friend: “There is no one keeping score on what we contribute and what we don't, buddy... no one… and no great scorekeeper in the sky is doing it either. We're the only ones to keep score on ourselves... just satisfy yourself… and you’ll be a healthier person.”

How do you begin contributing to the world? I’ll take my cue from Ayn Rand. Begin by taking terribly good care of yourself. Be healthy in mind and body! Don’t be in need! Then, when you are at that stage, you are ready to turn toward others and make healthy and helpful contributions.

"Old friend, you are correct to believe you are special; for you are. No one else was born just like you!"

And, more importantly, your uniqueness is extraordinary. You were blessed with a quick and productive mind. You have a sense of humor so witty and startling that only a few men could handle it. You can! Your sense of sarcasm is not a weakness. It is a blessing, because it comes buttered and sugared with humor.

I am not worried about you making contributions in life. The way you relate to people is contribution enough. You say the right things and you ask the right questions.

My only suggestion, if one is even called for, is that you take what’s best about you – your incredible wit – and use it in every positive way you can. True, most of our years are behind us – way behind us. It doesn’t matter if we have only a few days left. Take those wonderful tools you have and infect other people with them. Make them smile. Make them feel better. Make them feel more hopeful. It’s your unique gift. I wish I had it.

Forget about the last 68 years. Concentrate on the next few days. What’s done is done! The turns we made are too far back down the mountain as we climb progressively toward the stars; and we can’t go back and try the other fork or another direction anyway.

Here I am in this place that is uniquely mine. And, I am uniquely me! I am left without other choices. I can only be what I am.

I think this: Among all those guys in our graduating class 50 years ago, you were one of the most unique and special. Nothings’ changed. You still are.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Teenager Years is Life’s Most Difficult Phase

I was an astonishingly strange teenager!
by Charlie Leck

As my kids were growing up, passing through their teenage years, I had a difficult time witnessing and putting up with their teenage behavior. They did these things that were so dumb that they reminded me of myself as a teenager – and I didn’t like that. They struggled with all the same problems with which I had struggled. I had not been successful dealing with them, so I had no magical words of advice for them.

I didn’t grow up in a house. I often wondered, when I visited the lovely homes of most of my friends, what it would like to grow up in a house. I grew up in a store.

My old man called it Leck’s Luncheonette and Confectionary. I’m not too sure what that means. The words are too genteel to describe what the store really was. I remember it as a general store. The building was approximately 150 years old and hadn’t had much modernization and improvement over the years. We sold several dozen different magazines that ranged from the Saturday Evening Post to cheap cheesecake rags that were then called pornographic but would be laughable to the real pornographers of our own age. A glass enclosed counter displayed every kind of candy bar known to any sophisticated kid – from Almond Joy to Zagnut, with things like Milky-Way and Mounds Bars in between. There were stacks of penny candies, too. On shelves behind that candy counter were rows and rows of cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. A customer could pick up a copy of the New York Times or the Herald Tribune or the Newark Star-Ledger and then ask for a pack of Lucky Strikes, a pound of bologna, a half dozen slices of swiss-cheese and a quart of milk that came in a glass bottle that revealed a healthy head of heavy cream. I learned to use the slicing machine before I was five years old. he same customer might also choose to buy a pair of work gloves, a new flash light and, perhaps, tickets for the donkey-baseball game that was coming into town in the next week.

There were about five luncheon tables, with chairs, scattered about, mainly surrounding a big, coal burning stove that stood in the geographic center of the old place. There was an ice cream fountain and bar where four or five patrons could sit on stools while my old man or his one employee, Blanche, made for them a root beer float or a creamy chocolate malt. They might order a cheeseburger or a Rueben sandwich that would be made from scratch, using totally wholesome and fresh ingredients in the kitchen off ‘the store’ that served also as the culinary preparation area for our home.Well, that creates the setting in which I grew from a little, runny-nose kid into a teenager with massive amounts of acne covering my face. Aren’t memories grand?

One wintry day, when school had been canceled because of the amounts of snow that had fallen, I was sitting at my father’s reserved table in the store. My back was directly behind the big stove and I was warm and cozy as I munched on a big sandwich my mother had made me. The storm had made business slow and my old man was able to sit with me and we chatted about the coming baseball season. Though he’d never come to watch me, he was proud of the way I’d swung the bat in the Babe Ruth League the previous summer. He was wishing I could go out for baseball in high school. He knew I could make the team. Yet, both of us knew that was impossible. Mother insisted that I get right home after classes so I could help around the store. My one sister and my two brothers had all grown up and moved on to their own lives. There was a lot to do around the place and my mother’s health was failing badly and I knew I was needed. I loved baseball, but I knew my days of playing it were over.

A very primly dressed, proper lady – our only customer on that wintry day – had finished her big bowl of my mother’s home-made split pea soup and paid her respects by sticking her head in the kitchen to exclaim how wonderful it had been. We served soup like that with big, puffy homemade dinner rolls that drove diners wild. People all over town knew my mother was the community’s finest cook – by far. My father rose to take the woman’s payment for lunch and to fetch change for her from the huge, clanky, manual cash register behind the candy counter.

She took her change and made to leave, but detoured by my table and slipped me a little note. Off she went – somewhere – into the snowy day.

I held some sort of wondrous mystery in my hands. An older and quite handsome lady had surreptitiously slipped me a note. My heart skipped a beat as I unfolded it.

It began with an apology and an expression of sympathy. Then it detailed a menu – or prescription – containing instructions for treating my explosive case of teenage acne. The ingredients, I remember, included lots of squeezed lemons and a fair amount of salt. The other ingredients’ have flown from my mind even as the years have flown by. The note told me that I would be quite a handsome boy if I would use the treatment.

Of course, I wanted to cry. Jesus, it was tough being a teenager and twice as tough being a teenager with a ghastly case of acne. Messy, pussie pimples riddled my face – all over my chin and cheeks and forehead. I went through many, many bottles of Caladryl lotion, dabbing, with little wads of cotton, that flesh colored lotion all over the motley, red blotches on my face.

Naturally, I remember the details of that day only vaguely, but I remember very clearly that I rose from the table and passed through the kitchen. I handed the note to my mother and turned to the little, creaky staircase that led from the kitchen to the group of five bedrooms on the floor above. I stopped in the strange bathroom at the top of the stairs and peered into the mirror above the little sink. I knew that if I had to look at myself very often, for any sustained period of time, it would make me sick!

I went to my bedroom and flopped on my low, little bed. I was too sad and too depressed to cry. I had been taught not to use any serious obscenities, so I didn’t. I just lay there, as if a character in a Turgenev novel, lost in this place as if it were a giant haystack on the Russian steppes. I heard my mother calling to me. I didn’t answer.

Then I heard her climbing the stairs and then walking down the hallway. I remained motionless in both body and mind. The sickly, weak woman came into my room and sat, with great difficulty, on the very low side of my bed. There were big, watery tears in her eyes and she looked at me sadly. Having been a parent, and having gone through such moments myself, I understand now how much she wanted to perform a miracle and wipe away the ugliness that inhabited my otherwise fairly handsome face.

Why then couldn’t she understand why it was so difficult for me to meet the school bus each morning and go to that place where all those other kids would look so strangely at me and turn away so quickly, before I could see the revulsion in their faces? I hated school so much. I hated looking at kids with soft, milky, clear complexions. I hated it that teachers couldn’t look directly at me because the army of white-headed, red pimples turned their eyes away.

Why couldn’t my mother understand why I spent so much time closed in my room, listening to the tinny, AM radio playing the day’s top popular music hits? I would fantasize that I could sing such songs about my own teenage romances. Of course, I had none.

On ‘picture days,’ when group or individual photographs were supposed to be shot at school, I would stay home by feigning some kind of stomach and intestinal illness.

“This silly woman,” my mother sulked, “is dangerous. She wants you to drink this mixture a few times a day. That’s crazy! She could give a note like this to someone to whom such a recipe would be very dangerous. No one should drink that much lemon juice in a day, with all that salt mixed into it.”

I didn’t realize it then, but one day I would. It is so difficult to be a parent. As awful as it was for me that day, and as sorry as I felt for myself, it was much more painful and difficult for her. She wept sadly and could say no more, but I understand her feelings now. She wanted so to take it all away from me and make me the pretty boy I should be, but she had not the power to do that.

She patted my leg and rose. She pulled the door closed behind her and left me alone there in the ghastly quiet of my room.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cute and Not-So-Cute

Roxbury High School, Succasunna, New Jersey: Class of 1958 50th Reunion, 28 and 29 November 2008
Go to this 50th Reunion Web Site for more information.

She was one of the cutest little kids the eye could behold. I fell madly in love with her in the fourth grade and made the calamitous mistake of telling her so. For the next 7 years she treated me as the pariah of our class. Oh well, it was my own fault. I must have frightened the beejeebers out of her.

Now she’s putting together the big reunion of our high school class of 1958. Fifty-years have passed since that day that Roxbury High School deemed me eligible for graduation even though I understood virtually nothing about advanced math and less about chemistry or physics. It’s comical the way folks rant today about low science and math scores. Mine were comically low and I was passed along anyway. I believe it was because I did so well in English and history and all my social science classes. I was successful in dramatics, speech and debate. I look at photos today of our wonderful chemistry and biology teacher, Ms. Corby, and I remember how hard she tried to get me to get it; however I was a feckless science student. She was sweet and kind to me and passed me along because she was hopeful and optimistic about my future. Ms. Guerin and Coach Gibble did the same in math. Ms. Guerin, a friend of my sister, spent hours with me in private tutoring and, though we weren’t successful, I’ll always be grateful to her.

A guy (big) who was our senior class president is helping her (little) put the reunion together. He was not quite so pretty, though he was popular, ubiquitous and extremely friendly to most people. He had a wildly crooked nose that made you think he might have gotten into a street fight in the south Bronx. It gave him a mean and tough look. He made me nervous and I kept my distance from him. I had an ugly enough nose myself and if it were made crooked in addition, it would have given me a laughable appearance.

I’m helping out a little bit with the reunion and I often spend a few quiet moments in the morning thinking about my assignment. Always to my mind come images of her and him. I realize that the reunion is in good hands. They always got things organized and accomplished in high school and they’ll do it again now.

He became a Methodist pastor and probably a darn good one. In school he had hands like the proverbial blacksmith – big and powerful. I imagine him standing in the back of the church after a Sunday morning service, shaking hands with his parishioners as they cast off from the sanctuary. Most of them would feel as if their hands got lost within that overwhelming grip of his. He was a better than average student in school and very responsible. He was an outstanding football player and a constant officer with the student council. He’ll be one of the stars of the reunion. There’s no question about that.

And so will she, though she is almost the total opposite of him in every way. She is dainty and delicate and soft and mild of personality. She went on to become a school teacher and, again, I’ll bet a darn good one. She was very responsible in school and involved in darn near everything. She was also one of the senior class officers. Flipping through our 1958 yearbook, one sees her photograph everywhere – on the staff of the yearbook, the nature club, the future teachers’ club and the drama club. In my yearbook she wrote: “I know your mother is certainly proud to see you graduate from high school.” Translated that meant: “I know your mother is awfully relieved and somewhat astonished to see you graduate.” That was the truth!

It would be a few years out of high school before I would finally catch my stride and begin to figure things out. A wonderful professor convinced me that I had a brain and he showed me how to use it.

Unfortunately, in high school, I wasn’t close to either her or him because they both frightened me somewhat. My pals were less terrifying kids who were generally as goofy and irresponsible as I.

I’m really sorry I won’t be there, so I could slide back in a corner and watch the two of them operate so smoothly and successfully – the same way now that they did 50 years ago. When you’ve got that something special, you’ve just got it! And they’ve got it!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Getting Away

Enjoy life!
by Charlie Leck

A friend emails me some advice.
“So be yourself and enjoy life. Stop worrying about everyone else’s ass and you’ll be a lot happier and live longer!”
I expect he’s correct. He senses a rising intensity in my blogs. He is correct. I can feel it. The campaign is going to build to absolute ugliness. I got sucked into it in one of my blogs early in the week and I cited a video that was a fraud – seriously altered and faked. I need time away and time to think about some of the wonders in life.

I’m making a pledge. I’m not going to write about the campaign, politics, social ills or national and international crisis for the next week. I’m aware that Obama is about to name a running mate! I won’t comment on it! Yes, yes, I know that the economy is showing more signs of weakening and inflation is starting to raise its ugly head. And science test scores came in at an all-time low for Minnesota high school students. A couple of major criminal trials are opening in St. Paul. I’m not even going to read about them. And yes, the Democratic National Convention opens within this one week period. So what?

I’ll write each day for the next week, but only about my little walks through life’s rose gardens. You can expect a damn dam to burst on Friday, 29 August.

I’ll tell you what. I’m going back to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum – it’s less than a half-hour from here – and I’m going to smell the roses and enjoy myself to the core. I’m also going to visit with a young chocolate Labrador and see if we get on well together. Then, I’m going to take my camera and wander around our wonderful town and take photographs as the sun is rising.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a wonderful place and, my, how it’s grown over the years both in size and popularity. Right now they have an interesting summer exhibition called Treeology. We wandered along the mile and one-half mile trail on Sunday and made all the stops along the way and read every word. I was particularly attracted to the display about “Ash Anxiety” that explains an impending disaster for our state’s ash tree. No, no! I won’t go there. I am not going to pay attention to any of these crisis situations in the next week – not even the impending ash crisis.

On my visit to the arboretum today, I’ll visit the rose gardens. It’s late in the year and they’ve lost their most glorious look, but they’re still spectacular – sort of like an older, beautiful woman.
And, speaking of old, there is a spectacular, old Burr oak tree right behind the Marion Andrus Learning Center and I’ll revisit it and wonder again how anything so massive can be so beautiful. It’s approximately 60 feet tall and has a spreading canopy of about 90 feet. They’ve pegged its age at 225 years. Can you imagine? It began as a simple acorn that managed to evade hungry birds, mice and squirrels. This massive oak grew up in what was dubbed by French explorers as the bois grand – the Big Woods – a dense forest that covered more than 2,000 squares miles in southern Minnesota. As the tree matured, the only humans who might have seen it in those early years were members of the Medwakanton and Wahpeton bands of the Dakota Sioux. The earliest settlers, including my wife’s family, came to this region in the mid-1800s and they began to clear the giant hardwood trees to make room to farm. Fortunately, this big, ancient oak escaped the axe and saw and continues to stand as a sentinel over the arboretum grounds.

Being near the Marion Andrus building will make me think of this wonderful woman again and I’ll thank the Lord that I knew her. Someday I will write a blog about her and her husband, two of the dearest people I’ve ever known.

I’ll take a tram ride (the Trumpet Creeper Tram) through the grounds, too. There’s over 2,000 acres of Arboretum property and it’s impossible to see everything, so I’ll just see what I can, I’ll smell the roses and, oh yes, I’ll have a delightful little lunch in the wonderful restaurant out there.

Then, this weekend I’ll try to play two rounds of golf and I absolutely will not get upset about any single bad shot I hit. Not once!

And, you know, the Minnesota State Fair begins today. I think I’m going to find a way over there in the next couple of days and enjoy a day of walking around and looking at all the things the children wouldn’t let me look at when they were little. It’s the second largest state fair in America, you know. Getting there is the question. Parking is god-awful over there. If the state had only built more light-rail into more parts of the city, it would be simple. It has been an absolute forfeiture of responsibility on their part not to provide this convenience for…. Oops, there I go again. You must have some sympathy. This is really difficult.

No crisis today, Fred. I’m out of the business for a week; however, who do you think will run with Obama? I’m betting the announcement comes today (Thursday, 21 August).

The photos at the head of this blog were taken on our last visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum by my daughter, Cynthia L. Leck. The photo on the right was taken through a “teleidescope” – a combination of telescope and kaleidoscope – pointing upwards toward the sky through the leaves and branches of a dense tree.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blogging with Grandkids on My Lap

There’s nothing quite so difficult
So you’ll need to forgive me for being AWOL.
by Charlie Leck

I missed 5 days last week – 5 days during which I did not post a blog. It’s the quickest way to lose one’s regular readers and I worried about that. I’m actually trying to find a stand in, to do my blog when I need to go through periods like that.

But, the grandkids were in town. There were lots of things they wanted to do. They know the way into my study and they like being near me.

And how can you resist a kid like this one, when she calls out to you?

Thank the Lord. So, I’ll just have to give up some reading time and some keyboard time. You’d do the same. Just looking at them and seeing how beautiful they are, tears me away from this desk and this computer monitor. The journey to the stars can wait. We’ve got to go over to that lovely Excelsior community park on Lake Minnetonka.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Republicans Are Coming!

Hide the valuables, Martha!
Batten down the hatches!
by Charlie Leck

America’s slick, icky and tricky party is coming to town. By God, I hope we have something left in the state when they leave. Protect the women and children, Martha, and hide the valuables!
This is the party of Tricky Dick Nixon – the party now symbolized by a Texas cattle branding iron featuring the famous Double-U. This is the party of thugs and bullies – ranging from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (with their devious war in Iraq), to Ronald Reagan (and his infamous war in Grenada). These are the guys who would rather mug you than hug you. They made a two bit office complex and hotel in the nation’s capitol famous as the “Watergate.” And now a Nuke-U-Liar President has made the party famous as the ‘put-some-spin on-it-party of the big fat liars.’

This is the party of Karl Rove. And Bob Haldeman. And, Alberto Gonazales. And John Ashcroft. Oh yes, also of Senators Stevens (Alaska) and Craig (Idaho). This is the party of the totally embarrassing Jerome Corsi, who has recently written a swiftboat book about Barack Obama that is filled with downright falsehoods. But, Republicans think lying is okay if it leads to political victory. These are crazy people folks. Their ethical standards are preposterous. Their greed is gargantuan.

This is the party that will nominate JOHN MCCAIN for the Presidency when they are here in town. Did you hear me? This crazy group will nominate John McCain! Is this an insult to us, or what? Watch this video and meet the real John McCain and see how certainly the Republican Party is going to remain the ‘tricky-icky’ party.

You want to hear a description, FROM A REPUBLICAN, of the current Republican Party and how tricky and icky it has gotten. Listen to Ron Paul, a true conservative Republican, describe where the Republican Party has dared to go.

You think that’s crazy? It doesn’t begin to express the craziness – the absolute looniness of this political party. Try listening to McCain’s chart-topping theme song!

You think John McCain shoots straight with the American people? If you do, you’re as crazy as all these crack-pots who are gathering here in a couple weeks. Listen to how unstraight MCain shoots.

Over this past weekend, McCain defined the term ‘rich’ as making 5 million dollar per year. Well, I used to be rich. Now I’m just middle class. [See LA Times story about McCain’s remark.]

To understand just how crazy John McCain is, watch this video where it is very difficult to understand just where he stands. It clearly tells us, early on, that we’ll be in and out of Iraq in no time and now tells us we may need to be there for 100 years. He clearly says he disagrees with the majority of the American people and would not give them a referendum on the issue of the war. I’m not kidding, watch the video.

One thing that is difficult to believe, but if you watch and listen to John McCain carefully you soon learn it is true, is that Senator McCain is goofier than President Bush. Goofier! Here’s the real John McCain. Or, if you want to talk about real craziness, watch this video of McCain’s whirling, dizzying brain. John McCain is not only a little loopy, but he is down-right dangerous. Our worst fears may come true if this man is given the reins of government and the power of the military.

20 August 2008 edit and revision: Turns out this is faked. I apologize. I have removed this link because its not factual and didn't happen that way. Incorrect material is grayed... To see the unaltered footage go to this link:
Here’s the vulgar and thoroughly undistinguished John McCain, talking to a NY Times reporter on one of his campaign flights. This is a young lady, very much like any one of my four daughters, and he is using the ‘F’ word and other obscenities in his conversation with her. There’s no way we want a man with this temper and this mouth in the White House.

Steve Weissman’s extraordinary article in TruthOut argues just how much more dangerous John McCain is than George W. Bush.

These are the loopy people who are coming to our town very shortly for their national convention. They’ll be waving flags and claiming exclusive patriotism. There is nothing more dangerous than a person who believes he is exclusively patriotic!

The New York Times boasted like a Minnesotan about the Twin Cities and laid out suggestions for what delegates might like to do in their spare time. I think these very distinguished journals are going in the wrong direction and barking up the wrong trees.

There’s no doubt that our town has 3 of the finest art museums in the nation – (1) the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, (2) The Walker Art Center, and (3) The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. We’ve also got the Guthrie Theater, which is generally considered the finest repertoire theater in the nation, if not in the world. Just be aware, you GOPers, that most of the people involved in these organizations have very liberal leanings and support things like a woman’s right to choose and freedom of sexual preference. Most of them rightfully believe you have booted education in America into the gutter. You may be uncomfortable in those places.

The University of Minnesota stands right between our two major cities. The place is riddled with intellectuals, poets and free-thinkers, however, and you’d be awfully uncomfortable over there.

I could send you to a number of outstanding spots of cultural and historic interest. The University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum is west of Minneapolis and you could spend hours and hours in a delightfully peaceful environment. However, you’ll find squadrons of tree-huggers out there, lazing their days away and you might not want to confront them either.

There are literally hundreds of great ideas for you. For instance, you could spend a Saturday evening at the Fitzgerald Theater, taking in the Prairie Home Companion Show, starring Garrison Keillor; however, he’d probably just make you furious by reminding you to be fair to the down-trodden and unfortunate. Keillor is the author of a number of terrific books, but you’d probably most enjoy Homegrown Democrat.

Here you are! I have a couple of suggestions that are right up your alley – far better than the ones the NY Times gave you. A short ways south of St. Paul there’s a gambling casino called Treasure Island. And, in downtown Minneapolis there are a couple of strip joints along Washington Avenue where you can view nearly naked women to your heart’s content. You won’t be asked to think a drop in either of these places and you can just let your real self hang out.

I’m probably wasting my breath telling you that there is an extraordinary cathedral in St. Paul and another in Minneapolis. Oh well, just in case you need to make an emergency confession you ought to keep them in mind. St. Paul’s Cathedral is right up at the top of the hill overlooking the Xcel Energy Center where you’re having your convention.

Welcome to Minnesota, the home of progressive thinking and basic fairness.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Silly, Ridiculous, Evangelical Preachers

God's wonder is in the simplest of things. This photo,
by Cynthia Leck, was taken on 17 August 2008, at
the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. It is the view of
a tree and the sky above its leaves and branches, and is taken through
a teleidescopes -- a cross between a telescope and a kaleidescope.

They make things complex when they are simple
and they make things simple when they are complex!
by Charlie Leck

I’m so tired of silly, evangelical preachers of the gospel who have no idea what they’re talking about. They wouldn’t know Christ if he were to walk up next to them and whack them over the head with the ultimate truth; that is, that God is only, and nothing more, and nothing less than Love and that is everything and all things and nothing more matters.

No further spin is necessary. It is simple. It is complex.

[Read about Joel Osteen’s wife… and about Bishop Sheen… and weep for Christ!]

It’s just not enough to be faithful is it? We need giant cathedrals and jewels and miters and incense and massive stained glass windows. It’s all the stuff he didn’t want and didn’t think we needed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Goodnight, Janet Philhower

On the very left of the front row, stands Janet Philhower in our official eighth grade photograph.Next to her is Joyce Roesing, the most beautiful girl I ever knew through my first 8 years of school.Next to Joyce is Marion Smith, with whom I was madly in love as a fifth grader.I’m to the far right of the second row, looking goofy, with a big wave of hair gooed in place.There are so many kids in this picture with whom I wish I had stayed in touch. I adored so many ofthese girls and would have happily fallen in love with almost any of them; yet most of themterrified me so that I barely spoke to them. Now, on a winter’s evening, I’d build a big fire, put outa few bottles of wonderful wine and sit talking to them until the sun rose in the eastern sky.

I said goodbye 50 years ago and should get
kicked in the ass for the way I ignored her!
by Charlie Leck

This fifty-years reunion crap is tough! For those of you who’ve gone through it, I congratulate you for making it and, if you enjoyed it, I congratulate you for taking pleasure from it also. My two, older brothers go on and on about their reunions. They had a wonderful time. They probably didn’t have to do any of the organizing work. It’s kind of eating me alive. I’m going to help the organizing committee put together a reunion booklet and, so, I get some current photographs and little notices about my classmates. There are some laughs and warming smiles all right; but there are an awful lot of gasps and sorrowful moans, too.

The email tells me he is gone – passed on – no longer with us – dead!

“Really? Shit! Whitey?”

Other kids are probably not as emotional as I am, I guess, but a tear runs down my cheek and drops on my fingers as they play across the keyboard.

It shouldn’t have any effect, you know. I made no attempt to see him in the last five decades. I’ve only thought about him the few times I’ve picked up the yearbook and browsed through it, seeing the words he scrawled by his photograph. Yet, here’s how it is with all this. You haven’t seen him grow old. You remember him as he looked standing by his locker in the hallway with two or three silly, sophomoric girls panting at him and hanging on his every word as if he was the Dali Lama. Up here in this remarkable organ that contains more memories than I could ever jam into this massive computer that, off to my right, purrs softly in the early morning, I remember a guy who can’t possibly be among the twinkling stars.

So, too, has Frank McMullen made the glorious journey and I shake my head at the utter impossibility of it. He got that chemistry stuff so easily and he tried to drag me along with him, coaxing me to try harder and promising me that it would just, in one surprising moment, become so clear and simple. It never did! Yet, I remember his promise like it was yesterday. There are too many of them among the stars to scroll their names out here – too many memories that will choke me unmercifully!

As my eyes fly down the list, provided by a sympathetic staff at the current school, I stop on the name of Janet Philhower.

“Don’t pretend,” I tell myself. “Don’t mock her memory by shedding a tear.”

Yet, I do.

“For Christ’s sake, man, I’ve known her since I first wore long pants. She was a goofy girl who looked on with lonely eyes when all the other kids chose up sides for a game of kick-ball. She went to the corner of the rec-room in the church basement and watched forlornly from a distance as the rest of us laughed over the ping-pong and pool tables, or banged out nothing on the old, upright piano.”

Everything about her was good and sweet, but she was just one of those kids who couldn’t seem to let loose and join in, so we left her out.

Janet, out there among the stars, can you hear me? I wish I’d waved a hand to you and beckoned you in. I wish I’d gently slapped your back and been kinder to you. But, what does a young, shitty kid or dumb teenager know about friendship and thoughtfulness? You are there in the photos I’ve been looking at recently, from days even before we first entered Chester Public School. I walked up the little hill, along Main Street, with you plenty of times. Hardly a word passed between us because I was a stumbling, bumbling idiot – and not because you weren’t a special and good and lovely kid. Can you hear me, Janet Philhower? I think you were sweet and pretty and great to be with – and I was wrong to ignore you as I did.

There, I said it. I’ll go back to bed now and rise only when the light has broken through the dark night. I take one last, long glance out among the stars and I think I see you there, twinkling at me. Good night, Janet Philhower!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Plea for Help from Georgia

The President of the University of Georgia, in Tbilisi,
writes, asking us to "do what you can to bring this
insanity to an end."

by Charlie Leck

Edward R. Raupp is the Chancellor of the most distinguished university in the nation of Georgia… it may be the only university. He wrote, asking that we do what we can to help.

Geez, Ed, what can I do? I mean "I" with a capital "I." You know, me… little, old me, out here in little rural Minnesota?

I've tried to get hold of Senators and Congressman. They have all kinds of electronic traps that catch me and hold me off.

Ed's message and all his contact information follows… if you have pull… if you can get through to the big-wigs, who should be speaking up about this crap the Russians are pulling, get this message in front of them. Problem is, as I said in my previous blog, our nation sure doesn't have a lot of room to talk.

Dear Family and Friends,
1. I'm OK.
2. I got back to Tbilisi last night on a
Georgian Airlines 737 with 20 pax, including French and US diplomats.
3. Most people from Gori, including my host family, have fled and are staying with
friends and relatives elsewhere in Georgia, Armenia, or Azerbaijan.
4. We should all understand that Georgians are not Russians. Vladimir Putin has no
inhibitions about slaughtering Georgians (or Chechens, for that matter, who also
are not ethnic Russians).
5. What Putin has done is consistent with what Hitler did to "rescue the Sudeten Germans." In the past, Russian soldiers have massacred Czechs, Hungarians, Chechens, and Georgians, among others. It took the world six years to stand up to Hitler. How long will it be before the world says "Enough!" to Putin? 6. Don't worry about me. I've been in worse spots. Rather, do what you can to bring this insanity to an end. The world should never forget -nor should it ever forgive - the Russian Genocide of August 2008.
With love from Georgia,

Dr. Edward R. Raupp, Chancellor
The University of Georgia
77 Kostava Street, V Building
Tbilisi 0175, Georgia (Republic)

Mobile tel. +995 99 19 87 17

I'm still dialing, Ed, but everyone seems to have their shields up!

Is this what they mean by Hemming and Hawing?

"Practice What You Preach"
by Charlie Leck

Another war has broken out! This is no time to be thinking about high school reunions, but I've lately been spending plenty of time with my old graduation yearbook from fifty years ago. One little item may be relevant here, as Russian armies push violently into the small, sovereign nation of Georgia. Freddy Kamm, one of my buddies in high school, wrote something of interest across the space that contained his senior photograph. Knowing that I had mused some about going into the ministry after college, this good friend wrote: "I leave you with a word of advice: Practice what you preach!"

Here and now, fifty years later, I pass it along to President Bush as he tries to figure out what to say to his Russian fishing buddy, Vladamir Putin.

There is a lot of hemming and hawing* going on in the White House as they try to figure out what to say to the Russians and just how to say it. It is difficult for them to castigate the Russians for invading a sovereign nation. How, if you are President Bush, do you tell them that it's an outrageous thing to do? How do you condemn them as international thugs? How do you express deep concern about the bombing and strafing of innocent civilians? How do you tell them to pack up and leave?

Listen carefully as the administration chooses its words.

It appears that the Russians are lying to the world about what they're doing and why they're doing it. Lying, mind you! That ought to be a direct charge that Bush will level against the Russians. Oops! Practice what you preach!

Saying anything more, on my part, would be overkill. And, perhaps, stating the all too obvious!

"Hemming and hawing speaking hesitantly and inarticulately, with numerous pauses and interjections." (Urban Dictionary)

Next: "Goodnight, Janet Philhower!"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Media Matters Because the Press is No Longer Liberal

The stuff Obama must overcome seems so unfair!
by Charlie Leck

I hope, by now, all of my regular readers have also become regular visitors to the Media Matters website and that they also make some kind of donation to the Media Matters project. This is one of the nation’s most important ventures – an exhaustive attempt to keep the press on the straight and narrow.

Remember the days when everyone claimed the press was controlled by liberals? Folks, it’s just not true anymore – not even at the NY Times and not even in Public Broadcasting, which have become extremely balanced. The majority of media coverage now – both print and broadcasting – is clearly center and right of center. If you are a student of Media Matters, you get that figured out quite quickly.

I rarely print an entire blog written by someone else, but this is an occasion when I shall.

Jamison Foser’s blog of 8 August 2008 is extremely important and I hope you’ll read it through. It will frighten you somewhat and it will give you reason to pause and begin thinking about what an uphill battle Senator Obama has in front of him on his attempted journey to the White House.

Does Obama look too presidential to be President? Is he too thin to be President? Are his speeches too good for him to be President? Are his crowds too big for him to be President? Is he too well educated to be President? Too popular? Too well respected? Too fit? Honest to God, these are all ideas various nuts in the media are floating these days!

If you want to see the blog in its original setting, click here. Otherwise, the following is from Jamison Foser.

Obama coverage finds dark lining around silver clouds
by Jamison Foser

Looking at recent media coverage of Sen. Barack Obama, it's hard not to be a bit amused at the contortions reporters have gone through to portray the Democratic presidential candidate in a negative light. News organizations that know Sen. John McCain's campaign is lying about Obama adopt those lies as the framework for their coverage. Reports on campaign polling obsess over Obama's inability to garner the support of more than 50 percent of the public -- all the while McCain struggles to stay above 40. And, increasingly, reporters and pundits have taken to describing Obama's seemingly positive qualities as fraught with electoral peril.

None of this is particularly surprising. Two years ago, I wrote:

No matter who emerges as a progressive leader, or a high-profile Democrat, they're in for the same flood of conservative misinformation in the media. Too many people chalk up outrageous media treatment of, say, Al Gore or John Kerry to the men's own flaws, pretending that if they were better candidates, they'd have gotten better press coverage. That's naïve. The Democratic Party could nominate Superman to be their next presidential candidate, and two things would happen: conservatives would smear him, and the media would join in.

The eagerness with which the media have spread some truly bizarre criticisms of
Obama confirms this theory. Just think about some of the things Obama has seen the media portray as weaknesses. He's too popular and respected. He's too well-educated. His great speeches are attended by many enthusiastic people -- just like Hitler!

He's too fit.

Yes: The Wall Street Journal would have you believe that Barack Obama faces an uphill electoral climb because he may be "Too Fit to Be President." Journal reporter Amy Chozick devoted more than 1,300 words to exploring this pressing topic:

[I]n a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama's skinniness be a liability? Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.

Just for good measure, the Journal included a graphic depicting Obama, McCain, and five presidents. For four of the five presidents, along with McCain, the Journal respectfully chose photos in which the men were wearing suits (though Taft was without his jacket.) In the photo the Journal chose for Bill Clinton, he was in mid-jog, in shorts, T-shirt, and a baseball cap; Obama was in exercise garb, with a basketball in his hand.

Chozick apparently had some trouble finding people to support the crackpot premise that Obama's physical fitness might cause voters to question his fitness for office,
so she turned to trolling Internet message boards in desperate search of someone -- anyone -- she could quote. As the blog Sadly, No! revealed, Chozick posted a Yahoo! Message Board thread on July 15, asking, "Does anyone out there think Barack Obama is too thin to be president? Anyone having a hard time relating to him and his 'no excess body fat'? Please let me know. Thanks!"

About three-and-a-half hours later, Chozick got her first response -- a post ridiculing her for her focus on "totally meaningless drivel." Nearly an hour after that, Chozick finally got the response she was looking for. A user posting under the name "onlinebeerbellygirl" wrote, "Yes I think He [sic] is to [sic] skinny to be President. ... I won't vote for any beanpole guy." Chozick quoted the post in her article -- one of only two quotes agreeing with the premise of the article. She did not, however, disclose that the quote had come only after she started a thread encouraging people to make such comments. After she got caught, the Journal acknowledged: "The article should have disclosed that the reporter used the bulletin board to elicit the

There may be more to it than that. A post in a subsequent Yahoo! Message Board discussion thread devoted to Chozick's article noted that "[n]either Chozick nor 'onlinebeerbellygirl' has made any other posts on Yahoo before or since, and both profiles appear to have been created on 7/15, the day Chozick started the topics. It certainly looks like Amy Chozick constructed the whole thing."

Another post wondered: "Do WSJ reporters make up fake IDs and make up fake quotes?" Chozick's original thread has been deleted (a cached copy is available here).
Even more curiously, a search of the Yahoo! message boards for "onlinebeerbellygirl" comes up empty. Whether "onlinebeerbellygirl" ever really existed at all or was a Chozick invention, running a 1,300-word article suggesting Obama is too skinny to be president, based upon a random Internet message board post, is insane. As's Tim Noah noted, "In the vastness of cyberspace, you can always find somebody who will say whatever you want."

You might think that The Wall Street Journal's speculation that Obama's failure to be overweight might cost him the presidency was so inane and baseless that no other journalist could possibly repeat this nonsense. You might think that, if you haven't been reading Maureen Dowd. Sure enough, Dowd raced to quote the Journal article in her Sunday New York Times column:

In The Wall Street Journal, Amy Chozick wrote that Hillary supporters -- who loved
their heroine's admission that she was on Weight Watchers -- were put off by Obama's svelte, zero-body-fat figure.

"He needs to put some meat on his bones," said Diana Koenig, a 42-year-old Texas housewife. Another Clinton voter sniffed on a Yahoo message board: "I won't vote for any beanpole guy." It's a good thing The New York Times keeps Maureen Dowd around. How else would their readers be exposed to crackpot theories found in ethically questionable Wall Street Journal articles?

But the most cynical assault on Obama has been the suggestion that he's "too presidential." That's what much of the media criticism of Obama's recent trip abroad boiled down to, James Rainey explained in the Los Angeles Times:

The candidate's crowning demonstrations of hubris, according to those building a case, came during his extended trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe. Recall the pundits demanding the freshman Illinois senator prove he could be presidential in the foreign arena? So he appeared at ease with world leaders, talked animatedly with beaming American troops and drew huge civilian crowds. Then the pundits -- who had been taking a round of bashing for supposedly going easy on Obama -- told Obama he needed to beware of appearing too presidential.

What makes this criticism so distasteful is that throughout the primaries, the media kept saying various candidates looked "presidential" or "like a president." The pundits rarely explained what it means to "look[] like a president," but those candidates had at least two things in common: They were white, and they were men. I don't remember Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) being described that way. So, after excluding Barack Obama from their lists of candidates who "look presidential," the media have moved on to suggesting he looks too presidential.

Too popular. Too well-educated. Too fit. Too presidential. The guy doesn't stand a chance. No wonder media coverage of poll results that show Obama beating McCain makes it sound like McCain is winning.


NEXT: “Goodnight Janet Philhower”

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sam Can’t

Sam Thinks He Can
But He Can't!
by Charlie Leck

I have a little friend up the road. His name is Sam. His wife, like mine, is a horse person, so they have a small farm and a barn and life is supposed to be idyllic in those conditions; that is, to the people who don't know that manure needs to be forked out and spread; horses need to be fed 24-7-365 a couple times a day; feed and hay need to be stock-piled somewhere; water has to be provided even when the temperature dips way below zero; farriers and vets need to be regularly contacted; manes need to be pulled and groomed; and general affection and attention needs to be given to the horses or they will turn into banshees.

Some time ago, Sam started a blog that he called: "Sam Thinks He Can!" That is, as in "Sam thinks he can write and manage a blog." A few months ago I suggested he think about renaming it, so he changed it to Prairie Ponderings. I'm not going to give you a link to it because Sam hasn't posted anything in over two months. I have come to think that he can't. It's difficult to do much pondering when you are as busy as Sam is.

I keep a blog list active on my computer. It tells me about all the blogs I like to visit regularly, including when they were last updated. Most of them say something like "twenty minutes ago" or "1 day ago" or, at worst, "1 week ago." Sam's now says "over 2 months ago."

Now, I've been patient – especially so for an impatient man – but I've had to come to the conclusion that I have been trying so hard to avoid: Sam can't.

Sam is a very bright guy. He writes well. He's very creative and imaginative. He's just too damned busy! That's generally because he can't say no. I've asked Sam for quite a few favors. He's never come up with an excuse. "Sure!" That's what he always says. I think he says that to everyone. He has an active law practice. He's very involved in politics. He helps his wife around the farm. There just isn't time to write a blog.

For quite a few years, I used to help around the farm. What I discovered was that, no matter how much you did, there remained an unending list of things to do. I just had to say that I couldn't do it. I didn't marry to work a farm. I forked years worth of manure into spreaders and I cut thousands and thousands of acres of weeds and several thousand acres of grass and pasture. I loaded thousands of bales of hay on wagons and hauled them out to the pastures and paddocks, broke them in sections and threw them into hay-feeders for breakfast or dinner.

Then came the sheep. That was the end. My wife hired a farmer who can do in two hours what it took me a long, long day to do. He's a professional. So, he can do it. I can't.

For good or bad, however, I can blog. Sometimes there's good stuff here. Sometimes there's material that is very ego-driven. Sometimes its sentimental or maudlin. Sometimes there's crap! However, count on this: four or five or, sometimes, 7 times a week, you'll get something new. I do it because I love it and because I want to leave behind a record – something of a memoir – before I head out to the stars. And, I do it because I love each and every ridiculous moment I'm doing it – with all the same energy and enthusiasm that our farmer spends plowing, planting, harvesting, stacking, feeding, repairing and starting all over again. Every single day he's out before daylight, getting his tasks done. So am I.