Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pardon Me Again!

The Presidential Pardon provides a host of interesting stories!
by Charlie Leck

Last week I wrote about Presidential Pardons. I pondered about those people President Bush might pardon before he left office. Bush has been very stingy with his pardon power and that has won him both praise and criticism.

The New York Times ran a story today about one of Bush’s most recent pardons – of Leslie O. Collier, who killed two bald eagles, quite by foolishness and not by intent, several years ago. Mr. Collier was put on probation, but, as a felon, he was not allowed to use or possess fire arms. It was a cruel punishment for an avid hunter.You go ahead and read the rest of the story here….

14 Other Pardons Issued on Monday
Here are the names of, and the crimes of, 14 other people to whom President Bush granted pardons last Monday:

Milton K. Cordes, Rapid City, S.D., convicted of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits importation into the country of wildlife taken in violation of conservation laws.

Richard M. Culpepper, Mahomet, Ill., convicted of making false statements to the federal government.

Brenda J. Dolenz-Helmer, Fort Worth, Tex., convicted of concealing knowledge of a crime, medical insurance fraud.

Andrew F. Harley, Falls Church, Va., convicted of wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine in a general court martial at the Air Force Academy.

Obie G. Helton, Rossville, Ga., unauthorized acquisition of food stamps.

Carey C. Hice Sr., Travelers Rest, S.C., convicted of income tax evasion.

Geneva Y. Hogg, Jacksonville, Fla., convicted of bank embezzlement.

William H. McCright Jr., Midland, Tex., convicted of bank fraud.

Paul J. McCurdy, Sulphur, Okla., sentenced for misapplication of bank funds.

Robert E. Mohon Jr., Grant, Ala., convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

Ronald A. Mohrhoff, Los Angeles, convicted for unlawful use of a telephone in a narcotics felony.

Daniel F. Pue III, Conroe, Tex., convicted of illegal treatment, storage and disposal of a hazardous waste without a permit.

Orion L. Vick, White Hall, Ark., convicted of aiding and abetting the theft of government property.

Sentences commuted:
John E. Forté, North Brunswick, N.J., cocaine offense.

James R. Harris, Detroit, cocaine offense.

Wonder what the rest of the story is!
Behind each of these pardons there are probably some very interesting and personal stories. It would be an appealing book for a research nut to write… Pardons from the President… or, Please Pardon Me!

You do the research and I’ll write it!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jim Klobuchar Writes

Wonderful writers are to be so admired and read!
by Charlie Leck

After election night (4 November 2008), an extraordinary night in all of American History, I went looking for good writers and for exceptional essays about what had happened.

A few days ago I gave you Garrison Keillor’s wonderful piece about the event, in which he said… “A nation spread its wings and achieved altitude.”

Today I’d like to bring you another – again from a Minnesota writer and one of the finest I’ve ever read regardless of where he’s from. Jim Klobuchar wrote a column in our local paper for many years. He had thousands of loyal followers (fans) who would never miss his column (and I’m not embarrassed to say that I was one of them).

Jim’s retired now, but still writes a column on the Internet, but on a rather irregular basis. I check in every week or so to see if anything new got posted. When I checked on Thanksgiving Day I found this delightful piece.

Enjoy! If you want to read Jim regularly, you go to:

Jim Klobuchar returns to an arena that will be familiar to his readers when he was a columnist for the MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE. You’ll find here a periodic mix of commentary and personal reflections drawn from a lifetime in daily journalism. They might season your day.

The Tears of Millions
Dissolve Their Pain
On a Memorable Night
by Jim Klobuchar

Reconciliation does not come easily in a land with the volatile history of the United States of America. It is a country of enormous and impetuous energy born in revolution and settled by people of mixed races and tongues with clashing dreams and purposes.

And when one has lived through nearly a third of America’s lifespan, he learns the hazard of being seduced by naiveté in the face of one more emotional epiphany in the country’s heaving shifts of politics.

So I know—we know—that the brave and beautiful words intoned by Barack Obama in the culmination of one of the glorious hours in American history will seem airy and distant when the meatgrinder of practical politics meets the brave new world.

But they should not be forgotten.

Nor should the tears.

A friend called me Wednesday morning. “I couldn’t help myself,” he said. “I found myself crying watching people cry. Why was that?”

I said I thought it was for the same reason millions were doing the same, why I was.

We’re human. What we were witnessing was not so much the triumph of Barack Obama or the Democratic Party returning to the White House as a cleansing of centuries of hurt and struggle.

Hundreds of thousands of the people we watched in Grant Park last night we’re whispering to themselves. Their words were almost identical. “I wish they were here to see this and to feel it.” They meant family now gone, people who had suffered but had brought their children and grandchildren and descendents to this moment without believing it was possible. They had faced the humiliations and the gulags of second class citizenship. And now this: A man of color voted into the White House of America.

The emotion of the moment was so overwhelming that men and women in the TV newsrooms, professionals, wept, and with them Colin Powell and Jesse Jackson in the crowd and athletes in their lockerooms, millions in front of their TV sets. This was not the emotion of pride but of simple thanksgiving. The words—“I wish they were here tonight”--became a litany that embraced them all and bound them together as surely as the sight of an African- American standing under the lights and in front of the flags as the next president of the United States, telling them:

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves—if our children should live to see the next century—what progress will we have made?”

It was a summons from a man who two years ago had looked at the mountain of odds facing him and decided he might know more about the strength of America than those who boasted about it.

He must have said then, as he did last night to a new generation that must make the decisions of America: “This is our moment. This is our time.”

When you think hard about it, this was an almost unimaginable hour for America, so notorious for its concussive politics. From ocean to ocean people at home and in the streets and the rally halls were enveloped by the magnetic power of it, the Americas of mixed colors and tongues, aging Americas, the new Americas, generations of Americas—brought together by an idea, in Obama’s words: “to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond …yes we can.”
And they did

And billions of people around the world watched. This was an America they had not seen.. It was an America that gave the promise of joining them rather than dominating them, listening to them rather than manipulating them.

There was as much joy in London, Paris, Rome, Lima, Cairo and Rio de Janeiro as there was in Chicago. A new America? Yes, but not necessarily an America yet united. A united America could not possibly exclude the millions of people who voted for John McCain. On election day there is never going to be a united America, or anything close to it. The possibilities of what comes after, at least in principle, were surely heightened by the magnanimous concession speech of John McCain. It was a tribute to the highest values of an old warrior, and surely came closer to the genuine John McCain than the crusty and sometimes aimless candidate of the campaign. It felt good to hear his generosity and his healthy closure to a calamitous season.

And now, back to another reality. Recession, unemployment, peace or war and budgets. Mr. President, welcome back to Washington, and good luck.

By Jim Klobuchar
copyright: Jim Klobuchar

Friday, November 28, 2008

On Jack Nicklaus and Philip Brunelle

Golf and music and life!
by Charlie Leck

In 2006 I published a small book: Quotations from Golf. In it I wanted to show how much the lessons of golf can be applied to living one’s life – that the rules and ettiquette of golf are derived from the highest principles of living. Though the quotations in the book were remarkably illustrative of this concept, I didn’t clearly explain what I was trying to get at in its Introduction.

Nevertheless, I’m proud of the publication and may someday republish it with a much clearer opening statement about the book’s premise or purpose.

For instance, take the following description of Jack Nicklaus by Bob Zender in a book he wrote with Charles Cleveland:
“The ingredient that really made him a standout was his talent for avoiding errors.

“More than anything else, the real mark of his championship caliber was his ability, game after game, year after year, to make fewer mistakes than the rest of us…

“What Jack Nicklaus has done with remarkable consistency over the years is to play ‘smart golf.’ He has learned a lesson that can be summarized quite simply: When you stop throwing away strokes needlessly, you start to play winning golf. You improve your game most effectively when you search out and eliminate your errors. It is the quickest route I know to success on the golf course.” [Bob Zender and Charles Cleveland: Winning Golf the Professional Way (Dodd, Mead & Co., NY, 1985)]
It was a remarkable trait in Jack Nicklaus. I wasn’t happy when he came along and dethroned my hero, the King, Arnold Palmer, as the best golfer of the time. Yet, it was true that Nicklaus could play hundreds of consecutive holes of golf without making an apparent mistake. He didn’t play the bold, challenging and exciting golf of Arnie, but he won more consistently than any golfer up through the history of golf to that time. His record of wins is astonishing. His record of finishing second by a very slim margin is mind-boggling.

I am reminded these days, as I look at the lives of some young people around me, that one can also choose either of these styles for living life. There is the dashing, adventurous, gambling and daring way of living. It can occasionally lead to victory (success and happiness), but it will more often result in disaster. A young billionaire in our community, who was as dashing and daring, as handsome and bold, and as brilliant and charming as any man could ever be, will soon be going off to spend a good part of the rest of his life in prison because of the dangerous life-choices he made – the mistakes he might have avoided with a different, more conservative approach. He owned grand and famous companies, a national airline and he lived in an indescribably beautiful home on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. He was envied by nearly all who knew him and knew about him.

The story reminds me of the Richard Arlington Robinson poem about Richard Corey (written in the early part of the 20th Century):
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Better to live life the way Jack Nicklaus, who will eternally be hailed as a hero in his sport, lived his life and played the game of golf – conservatively, cautiously, without making the grand mistake that sinks one.

Philip Brunelle
There are many people I admire so greatly in this world, but, perhaps, none more than our local maestro, Philip Brunelle. His is an extraordinary story. He approached and still approaches, life with great hope and constant cheer and optimism. Yet, he lived cautiously and avoided the big mistakes that knock one out of the game. Today, in his mid-sixties, he is a champion as triumphant as anyone I have ever known.

I don’t think any Minnesotan can claim greater prominence or more success in his chosen field than Philip Brunelle.

Here's most of a 2002 story written about him by Matt Peikin that was published in the St. Paul
Pioneer Press
. Take the time to read this story. It will inspire you.
Philip Brunelle doesn't take days off. He finds moments.
A few chapters of an obscure novel here, a laborious French recipe there. He once nodded off while playing the piano, during a performance, after going three days without sleep to fulfill an orchestral deadline. Since asking his parents for the vocal score to Handel's ``Messiah'' as a 6-year-old, Brunelle hasn't stopped working.

With the exception of the deceased Robert Shaw - and with due respect to Twin Cities contemporary Dale Warland - no American has done more than Brunelle over the past three decades to further the cultural and artistic vitality of choral music.

Brunelle has expanded the repertory by commissioning more than 80 pieces from established and emerging composers, broadened it by rooting out and reclaiming long-forgotten works and opened it to new audiences through the Plymouth Music Series' annual ``Witness'' program, which spotlights work from black composers. Brunelle won three ASCAP/Chorus America awards in the 1990s for adventuresome programming.

People who work with him describe his mind as tireless and highly evolved. He can plop himself at a piano and perform music at first sight or home in on one flat voice in a 100-singer chorus. Brunelle has a delicate build, a gleaming scalp, a soprano's speaking voice and the motor of a Chihuahua. He often works past midnight, rises before the sun and starts most mornings by running several miles around his Golden Valley neighborhood.

Before reaching his mid-20s, he had been a pianist and percussionist with what is now the Minnesota Orchestra and music director for the group that became Minnesota Opera. He has been a regular guest on ``A Prairie Home Companion'' since performing on the debut broadcast in 1974.

He has had offers to hop on the carousel that carried the world's elite touring conductors. But in an era when orchestral leaders come and go with the blur of professional sports coaches, Brunelle, 56, is a model of commitment. Amid year-round engagements throughout the Twin Cities, America and Europe, Brunelle on Saturday begins his 32nd season helming the ship he built, the Plymouth Music Series chorus.

``There are dozens and dozens of choral pieces I'm longing to do, and there's still a whole generation that knows nothing about choral music,'' he says. ``People have experiences with choral music going all the way back to elementary school, and it fixes in their minds. But if all they know is an 85-year-old vibrato you could drive a truck through, they don't know choral singing. I'm here to prove there's a difference.''
Separation of church and voice Brunelle exhales with a small, closed-mouth grin, rubs his palms together, looks at a box containing 86 new compositions and says, ``Let's see what treasures we have here.''

The charts are entries in a nationwide Christmas carol contest by Plymouth Music Series and the American Composers Forum. The winning carol earns three performances and a national radio broadcast by Plymouth, and the composer gets $1,000. Brunelle is the lone judge.

He started the contest three years ago because he wanted to dispel the image of carols as the exclusive domain of distant history. This year, Brunelle put out a call for carols set to the harp, but he doesn't guarantee a winner. ``When Christmas comes,'' he says, ``quality can go out the window.''

Brunelle doesn't need a piano or cassette to hear the carols. He simply holds each score close to his bespectacled eyes, and the music and words run through his mind. A few inspire him to bob his head from side to side. Most simply make him smile.

``Nobody submits these pieces to be funny,'' he says. ``It's all very well-meant, all very sincere. But oooooh.''

He picks up one chart, breezes through the first page and giggles.

``I wouldn't want to be a tenor and sing this,'' he says, rolling his eyes.

Brunelle scans another carol and points to a line of lyrics: Where will the sweet little chickadees go?

``Well, they won't be going to the Plymouth Music Series,'' he says, setting the chart into a growing pile of discards.

``Christmas brings out a lot of sentimentality, a lot of tender nostalgia, but splitting the word `bells' into two syllables?'' he says. ``The word `no' comes to mind.''

Brunelle has never had trouble separating his artistic standards from what he calls his ``absolute belief in God and divine provenance.''

Plymouth Music Series started as a function of Brunelle's work as organist and choirmaster for Plymouth Congregational Church, a role he still cherishes every Sunday morning. The church wanted to rejuvenate its community outreach, and Brunelle wanted a series of community concerts.

The chorus's performing, recording and touring schedules outgrew the confines of church business, and Plymouth Music Series soon became independent. Plymouth Music Series, operating this year on a $1.2 million budget, rents office space at the church and performs one concert there each year.

Plymouth Music Series programs have always blended the sacred and secular.

``You have to study and learn music apart from any creed, to learn music for the sake of music,'' Brunelle says. ``I've seen more awful sacred music, but that's also because there's more of it out there.''

Choral music is rife with conservative programming, he says, constricting the repertoire to well-worn classics while stifling audience and artistic growth. From the outset of his career, Brunelle believed new music was the key to invigorating classical music.

He laced Plymouth's debut season with lesser-known works by Handel and Aaron Copland. With his first commission, four years later, Brunelle asked Dominick Argento to compose a choral work. ``Jonah and the Whale'' ran 45 minutes and ``bowled everybody over,'' Brunelle says, and when he asked Argento why he had never written for chorales before, the composer said nobody had ever asked him.

``People in general go with what they feel comfortable with. That's why certain pieces, wonderful as they are, can just be trodden into the ground,'' Brunelle says.

``But you can be comfortable experiencing something new. The person in charge has to believe passionately in doing new work, doing it without apology, without embarrassment, and believe in the music of today.''

Bold and bright decisions
Brunelle was 13 when he watched his father, a minister, die of a heart attack in front of the family. It was Christmas morning.

``It was a big struggle. We truly had nothing,'' says Brunelle, the second oldest of five children. ``The day of our father's funeral, my mother said `I don't have a clue how this will work, but it'll be an adventure, and God will provide.' She had absolute belief, and so did we all. I had no idea we were hardship cases.''

The next few years were crucial to Brunelle's musical development. At Minnehaha Academy, Harry Opel guided Brunelle into a wider world of important choral repertoire and found him cheap organ lessons. Theodore Bergman, a top piano instructor in Minneapolis' MacPhail Center for the Arts, continued Brunelle's private lessons free of charge for several years. Clarice Brunelle kept her son in the dark about the deal until he graduated from Minnehaha Academy.

Mentoring is important to any young artist, says Brunelle, who jumps at the opportunities that come with engaging new and emerging composers. Brunelle's enduring impact on a generation of choral composers is his conviction in their work.

He focused on modern, cutting-edge opera during his 17 years as music director for Center Opera, which became Minnesota Opera under his baton. He has enjoyed more artistic freedom with Plymouth Music Series, and some say one couldn't survive without the other. Brunelle has turned down work - one manager promised to make him one of the world's elite touring conductors - that would infringe on his time with Plymouth Music Series.

Argento was one of Brunelle's music instructors at the University of Minnesota. Even then, Argento says, he saw extraordinary drive and vision in him, along with an nnate musicality.

``Any other church choir conductor must look at him and turn blue,'' Argento says. ``Philip one day called Aaron Copland and asked if he would come and conduct his choral group, and he said he would. The same with (English tenor) Peter Pears. Who else would have thought of that?''

Maria Jette, a first-call soprano and fixture in Twin Cities music for 15 years, says Brunelle brings unflinching commitment to any music he conducts. She remembers being among the early skeptics of an early-'90s program featuring Paul McCartney's ``Liverpool Oratorio.''

``All kinds of people trashed it, just by its existence,'' Jette recalls. ``When we soloists heard about it, we all kind of rolled our figurative eyes. I thought, `Philip, c'mon.' But I got the music, and it was fun. Then we got to rehearse it with the orchestra, and I thought it was just so cool. Interestingly enough, quite predictably, it got scoffing reviews from both papers. But there was no comment about the audience reaction, which was huge. People in Minnesota usually stand up after a show no matter what, but in this case, people were thrilled by it, and I just thought it took a lot of guts for Philip to do this.''

Garrison Keillor started working with Brunelle when both were at the University of Minnesota, and he brought Brunelle into ``A Prairie Home Companion'' for his ability to cover vast musical territory. Today, along with Brunelle's regular appearances on his radio show, Keillor travels with him around the country to perform with major
symphonies. Brunelle conducts and Keillor recites and narrates comic works such as ``The Young Lutheran's Guide to the Orchestra.''

``It's a big hit; people laugh a lot. It's also a tricky piece to conduct, a lot of difficult
passages, a lot of solos. Musicians need some shepherding on that piece, and Brunelle is very good at that,'' Keillor says. ``He's a very bright boy, very quick, very sure of himself. Brunelle is one of the least anxious musicians you could ever find in your life. He is unflappable and he is possessed of daring. He will cheerfully go off and do the most complicated thing with less rehearsal and more bravado than anybody else.''

Mind, life steeped in song
If everything ping-ponging in Brunelle's head took on shape, texture and color, it
would probably look a lot like his office.

Unsolicited compositions are piled like compost along the floor beneath the tall stereo speakers behind Brunelle's desk. There's a black Steinway piano in one corner. In another, an electric typewriter Brunelle still uses despite the ribbing of his staff. His
floor-to-ceiling bookshelves hold oratorios, masses, cantatas, solos, poems and hymnals from all over the world. He needs a librarian's ladder to reach everything.

Hardly a day passes when someone doesn't ask him to verify an odd fact about an even odder piece of music. Brunelle has just answered an e-mail from a Plymouth chorus member asking for ``a simple song to sing at the gravesite of my mother-in-law.''

People have presented Brunelle degrees and honorariums - some in English, a few in Swedish - and some sit on the floor near the door, as if in a waiting line for open wall space. People have also given Brunelle what he calls ``crazy gifts,'' including several versions of the Statue of Liberty. One, in green, dances when you sing into it.

Carolyn Brunelle met her future husband through choral work and sang in the Plymouth Music Series chorus for 25 years. She has long regarded her husband's pace and aplomb as ideal contrasts to her own quiet, modest nature. A floral designer early in their relationship, she dedicated herself to homemaking through the raising of their three children, now grown and married.

She now indulges her work as a fine art painter but still makes Philip's coffee each morning - he sets out the beans before leaving for his daily jogs - and can't imagine life outside her husband's musical storm.

``People don't think he knows how to relax. He does. He just does it differently than most people,'' she says. ``I suppose I help him slow down, sometimes. But vacation for him isn't sitting on a beach or skiing. He loves to read, loves to eat, loves to cook, loves to explore. He's supportive of me and the children - not just saying `go for it,'
but helping. He's always willing to go the extra 20 miles.''

Brunelle didn't stop working through his mother's death this past June. ``She would never have thought I'd sit home and mourn,'' he says.

He's chairing the next World Choral Symposium 2002, when the world's top conductors and chorales converge on Minneapolis. Then there's the current Plymouth Music Series season, built in typical Brunelle panorama. The calendar features a Nov. 12 bow to Linda McCartney and a cabaret opera premiering next April that tells the story of Jenny Lind's American tour 150 years ago with P.T. Barnum.

``If you're going to do what I do, you have to have huge belief in yourself, but also
believe in your frailty,'' Brunelle says. ``You know you're going to make mistakes. But I hope I've come to the point where people open up their season brochures, see names and pieces they've never heard of before and just trust that I'm going to take them someplace moving and memorable.'' [END QUOTE]
“You know you’re going to make mistakes,” Brunelle said, and Nicklaus would own up to it also. The important thing is not to make the big ones and keep the small ones to a minimum. Classic Nicklaus! Classic Brunelle!

Since that story in 2002, Philip has gone on to pile up more and more honors… Here’s how a program from a Vocal Essence performance outlines those achievements.

Honorary doctorates:
St. Olaf College
Gustavus Adolphus College
St. John's University
United Theological Seminary

Kodaly Medal (Hungary),
Royal Order of the Polar Star (Sweden)
Minneapolis Award
F. Melius Christiansen Award
(highest honor of the Minnesota Chapter of the American
Choral Directors Association)
Minnesota Music Hall of Fame
U.S. Bank Sally Ordway Irvine Award
GMCVA Copper Top Award
Mpls.St.Paul "Best Impresario”
Michael Korn Founder's Award for Development
of the Professional Choral Art (Chorus America's highest lifetime achievement award)
Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit

Board of Regents
St. Olaf College
Board of Directors
International Federation for Choral Music
Chorus America

Recent guest conductorships
BBC Singers
Houston Symphony
Hollywood Bowl
Berkshire Choral Festival

And this only scratches the surface.

Champions make themselves Champions. Phillip Brunelle has made himself one. He is one of Minnesota’s greatest and most important citizens.

And the most important thing about this story has to do with the way he did it. It is from this that we should learn life lessons. Philip Brunelle didn’t have to stomp on people or climb over people or claw his way to the top. He let his talent take him there through hard work, perseverance and without ever forgetting to be honest, kind, caring, gentle and meek. (Well, as I think about it, ‘meek’ might be a stretch!)

Philip eliminated the mistakes and took home victory after victory. He is a friend, but he is also one of my heroes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What Makes You Come Alive?

A message for Thanksgiving Day from Doctor Howard Thurman…
Introduced by Charlie Leck

Here’s a little message I wouldn’t mind leaving behind for my grand grandchildren. It comes from Doctor Howard Thurman.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
My grandchildren, Doctor Howard Thurman was born about the same time as my father, your great-grandfather, who you never got to know. Your great grandfather never taught me anything about Howard Thurman. He probably didn’t know about him. I was nearly 30 when I first read about Doctor Thurman. He was an author of prose and poetry, a theologian, a teacher and a leader in the civil rights movement. In his lifetime he met many distinguished and famous people, but no one impressed him more than Mahatma Gandhi.

Thurman brought Gandhi’s message of non-violence back to the United States with him. Thurman’s thinking and writing greatly influenced Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr, and he eventually served as King’s spiritual advisor. Because of his influence on King, he’s been called one of the most important figures in American History. At the time of his death, his autobiography, With Head and Heart, was published in Chicago.

Thurman defined the work of Christmas this way:
  • To find the lost

  • To heal the broken

  • To feed the hungry

  • To release the prisoner

  • To rebuild the nations

  • To bring peace among others

  • To make music in the heart

Those would be good thoughts to keep in our minds as move into the Christmas season.

I won’t write a blog today, Thanksgiving Day, so instead I’m bringing you a special Thanksgiving message. A nephew of mine, one of your cousins, dear grandchildren, sent it along to me because it was used to open a meeting he attended recently at Boston University. Thurman was the first black dean at that institution. I was flattered that my nephew said the litany made him think of me.

This piece by Thurman is a perfect prayer for us to have in our hearts on this wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

Howard Thurman

In Your presence, O God, we make our Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

We begin with the simple things of our days:

Fresh air to breathe,

Cool water to drink,

The taste of food,

The protection of houses and clothes,

The comforts of home.

For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

We bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that we have known:

Our mothers' arms,

The strength of our fathers,

The playmates of our childhood,

The wonderful stories brought to us from the lives of many who talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and diverse kinds of magic held sway;

The tears we have shed, the tears we have seen;

The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

We finger one by one the messages of hope that await us at the crossroads:

The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of our security,

The tightening of the grip of a single handshake when we feared the step before us in the darkness,

The whisper in our heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied,

The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when our decision hung in the balance.

For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

We passed before us the mainsprings of our heritage:

The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before us,
without whom our own lives would have no meaning,

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp, and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see,

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations,

The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places,

The savior whose blood was shed with the recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.

For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

We linger over the meaning of our own life and commitment to which we give the loyalty of our heart and mind:

The little purposes in which we have shared with our loves, our desires,
our gifts,

The restlessness which bottoms all we do with its stark insistence that we have never done our best, we have never reached for the highest,

The big hope that never quite deserts us, that we and our kind will
study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters
cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel, we make as our sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee, Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Old Scout on our President-Elect

I tried like hell to say it better than anyone else could, but the Old Scout punched me silly!
by Charlie Leck

“A nation spread its wings and achieved altitude.”
Geez! I sat for hours here by the big window in my study, looking out at the bare tree tops and the blue skies. Right after the election, I was wondering how to put it. How to exclaim it! How to put in plain words what we had achieved here in America! I made the mistake of going to the Old Scout (Garrison Keillor’s column). After reading it, I knew I couldn’t possibly improve on what he was saying.

Who, beside Keillor, would have the testicles to write something like this:

“One bright light in the marquee is Michelle Obama, that witty, jumpy woman with the quicksilver smile who said, ‘How does Barack prepare for a debate? He just talks to me and he's ready.’ The good mother who said, ‘People ask me how I am, and I say, I'm only as good as my most sad child.’ Come January, we will have a president whose wife calls him Baby. Good for you, Mama. And now she becomes America's No. 2 celebrity, the object of giddy curiosity.”
I wanted to scream out to Michelle when I realized that Obama had been elected. I wanted to raise the roof in celebration that we would have THIS first lady in the White House. Keillor put it so well that I gave up my scream.

Keillor gave Michelle such extraordinary advice:

“When life gets too unreal, sit down with a good book.”
I wanted to write that line. He beat me to it.

And, I wanted to conclude my blog with a bang – with the perfect paragraph. Keillor ruined any hope I might have had.

“This job is one you were cut out to do and a big part of the job is to keep up the national morale and you are already doing that big-time. And thank you, sir. All those cheap motels, all those flights, all of that chip dip. We are deeply grateful.”
Jeepers! The guy can write.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Presidential Pardon

How do you feel about this sweeping power that the President has and how it is used?
by Charlie Leck

A Brief and Incomplete History of the Presidential Pardon
The Presidential Pardon is absolute and cannot be overturned by Congress, the Courts or the people! It is an awesome “big stick” that the President wields and, though it is most often used sparingly and judiciously, it has been occasionally abused and used expansively. In 1991, for example, Bill Clinton pardoned 141 people. (More about that later.)

The first presidential pardon, and the first pardon that overturned an impending death sentence, was used by George Washington in 1795. He pardoned and granted amnesty to those people who had participated in the Whiskey Rebellion – a protest against the tax that Congress had placed on whiskey sales. The government had to call in troops to put down the rebellion and the leaders of the uprising were convicted of treason.

Andrew Johnson, the 17th President, who took office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, granted a blanket pardon to southern civil war soldiers on the condition they would swear an oath of loyalty to the United States of America. The pardon was issued shortly after the Civil War ended.

One of the nation’s most famous pardons was issued by Richard Nixon in 1971. Nixon imposed a condition of Jimmy Hoffa that he would not engage in the direct or indirect management of any labor organization. After getting Hoffa’s promise, Nixon pardoned the jury tampering conviction that had sent Hoffa to prison.

Gerald Ford pardoned Tokyo Rose the famous voice of the Second World War that had so tormented American soldiers on the front lines.

Ford’s pardon of the former president, Richard M. Nixon, was probably the most famous one in American history. Nixon had resigned from office as a result of the Watergate scandal and it was highly likely that he would have faced criminal prosecution for his participation in the events surrounding it. Ford told the American public that it was a scandal that could go on and on and that only he “could write the end of it… and, if I can, I must.”

George H. W. Bush pardoned those government officials who had been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan’s administration, including Casper Weinberger, former Defense Secretary.

Bill Clinton’s Presidential Pardons
No president in history made use of the Presidential Pardon as Bill Clinton did. On 20 January 2001, his last day in office, Clinton issued 140 pardons. The two most famous of those were his half-brother, Roger Clinton, of drug charges for which he had already served the entire 10 year sentence, and Marc Rich, a fugitive who had been charged with tax evasion and whose wife was a huge donor to Clinton campaign coffers. Roger would be charged with drunk driving and disorderly conduct with a year of that pardon. Rich was required to pay a fine of 100 million dollars and to waive use of the pardon as a defense against future civil charges.

On that date, Clinton also pardoned Susan McDougal, a close personal friend, who had been convicted and served her sentence for her role in the Whitewater scandal, and Dan Rostenkowski, a former Democratic Congressman who had been convicted in a Congressional Post Office scandal. Rostenkowski had also served his entire sentence.

One of the more scandalous pardons on that final day of the Clinton administration was the one granted to Melvin J. Reynolds, a Democratic Congressman from Illinois, who had been convicted of bank fraud, 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice, and the solicitation of child pornography. Clinton commuted Reynolds’ sentence of the bank fraud charges and he served the final months of his sentence in a half-way house. Fortunately, he had already served his entire sentence on the child sex abuse charges.

Prior to that date, Clinton had granted pardons of one sort or another to 16 members of FALN, a violent Puerto Rican nationalist group. They had been sentenced to serve terms ranging from 35 to 105 years in prison. All had put 19 years or more of time in prison prior to their pardon. Ten Nobel Peace Prize winners had appealed to Clinton to grant the pardon. The action incited a storm of protest and a severe condemnation from both the Senate and the House.

Clinton granted 459 pardons during his presidency. Ronald Reagan granted 409.

Who Might Bush Pardon?
The heavy talk regarding a Bush pardon is about Scooter Libby and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Stevens has said he will not ask Bush for a pardon and will allow his case to play out its life in the appeals courts. Libby already had his prison sentence commuted, but he was forced to pay a quarter-million dollar fine and give up his law license in the District of Columbia. Most people are saying that Bush will avoid any further leniency for Libby, but I think he may restore his license to practice in the Nation’s capitol.

Bush has over 2,300 applications in front of him for pardons, including that of Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King, who had pled guilty to six felonies. Milken paid 200 million dollars in fines, served 22 months in prison and has since been a generous philanthropist.

Bush is also considering the application of Edwin Edwards, the former governor of Louisiana who was indicted in 1998 of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud.

The former California member of the House, Randy “Duke” Cunningham is also asking for a pardon. He was convicted of only 17 counts of accepting at least 2 million dollars in bribes. He also pled guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion. The current President’s father has lobbied hard for Cunningham’s pardon.

Marion Jones, the former Olympian who was stripped of her medals, has also asked for clemency. She is a strong candidate.

The most closely watched case has to do with two former U.S. Border Patrol agents who were convicted of killing a fleeing Mexican drug dealer in 2005. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean have had strong and sentimental support from American citizens who think they were unfairly punished for doing their duty. Appeals for their sentence commutation have come from Republican House members Tom Tancredo (Colorado) and John Cornyn (Texas). Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein (California) has also appealed to the President to pardon them.

John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and has been referred to as the “American Taliban” has also applied. Lindh has pled guilty to serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

There is also some speculation that Bush may extend a preemptive criminal pardon for any administration officials who might have been involved in torture of prisoners or unlawful surveillance. This, however, may involve disclosures that Bush would rather not make.

I haven’t yet tried to understand what was in the minds of our founding fathers when they provided this incredible stroke of power to the Chief Executive. We’ll leave that for another time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What’s Wrong with GOP?

It’s not quite as complicated as people think; however the cure is desperately difficult!
by Charlie Leck

The Republican Party (GOP), cleansed of its most significant problem, would still be the party of power in America and would, at most times, control both houses of Congress and the White House. Now, that doesn’t make me, as a loyal Democrat, very happy, but it’s the truth.

Right now, however, the GOP has hanging over it an awesome and awful cloud that interferes with the gears that operate the mechanism. It’s a three letter word that begins with G and ends with a letter than rhymes with P. The G-O-P is being mucked up by G-O-D. The party’s problem is as simple and as overwhelming as that.

A quack religious attitude dominates among a significant minority contingent within the GOP. The Party big-wigs know it. They also know they could identify and throw out the quacks; however, giving up those votes is something very difficult to do. A number of the level-headed, sensible people in the GOP wonder if getting rid of GOD wouldn’t be the beginning of a strong third party in America that would put the Democrats in the driver’s seat for a long, long time.

That’s the conundrum with which the GOP is struggling today in regard to the religious whackos who have invaded their party. They can’t live with them and they can’t live without them.

There’s another element at work here that is also hurting the GOP. As long as the Republican Party holds fast to these strange religious groups within the party, the more quickly it chases the more standard religious people from the party. I know of dozens of ordinary people who’ve moved out of the GOP because they felt they were being pushed by the religious types, symbolized by Sarah Palin’s eccentric leanings, to accept positions with which they couldn’t possibly agree.

It would be sad if this strangle-hold that the religious right has on the GOP causes the death of real conservatism; for the real conservative movement brings honest dialogue to debates with the liberal side of the aisle. Instead, these debates deteriorate into shouting matches between liberal elements and empty-headed religious freaks.

And Jewish conservatives are virtually thrashed out of the GOP by those who claim they have the only real way to God. In this past election, for example, there were many thoughtful Jews who struggled with voting for Barack Obama. The alternative, however, left them with a bunch of screaming meemies who demanded that everyone be reborn to God through Jesus.
Someone seems to have forgotten that we are a very diverse nation and that we are no longer overwhelmingly white and Christian.

Thoughtful independents around the country, like Minnesota’s Dean Barkley, are speculating about the weakening of the GOP and they see some hope for the growth of the Minnesota Independence Party as a result. Barkley, by the way, was extraordinarily strong in the recent Senate campaign and he did himself proud. My wife and I thought long and hard about voting for him and, in the end, did not because we felt he couldn’t be elected.

It was interesting to watch the Democrats over the last four years, under the leadership of Howard Dean, as they retooled and redefined themselves. If the GOP can’t do this over the next four years, there is a good chance that will see the birth of a new, totally different, new conservative party in America. I hope so. American politics needs a strong conservative political party. And, a party of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians will be a non-factor.


A friend of mine, who proof-read this blog for me, pointed me to a column of similar sentiment written by Kathleen Parker in last Wednesday’s Washington Post. You might like to take a look at it. I think she’d concur with what I’ve written here:

“…the future of the GOP looks dim and dimmer if it stays the present course. Either the Republican Party needs a new base – or the nation may need a new party.” [Kathleen Parker]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Andy Borowitz

This one is worth posting here for you!
by Charlie Leck

This blog by Andy Borowitz was originally posted on
his web site on November 18, 2008 12:47 PM (EST)

Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it "alienating" to have a president who speaks English as if it were his first language.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an

The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, the public may find itself saying, "Okay, subject, predicate, subject predicate -- we get it, stop showing off."

The president-elect's stubborn insistence on using complete sentences has already
attracted a rebuke from one of his harshest critics, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

"Talking with complete sentences there and also too talking in a way that ordinary Americans like Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder can't really do there, I think needing to do that isn't tapping into what Americans are needing also," she said.
Borowitz has another news item on his site indicating that President Bush is in a furious race against time if he intends to totally wreck the country.

Andy Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears in
The New Yorker and The New York Times, and at his award-winning humor site,

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Sanctity of the Voting Booth

The sanctity of the home versus the sanctity of the voting booth…
by Charlie Leck

The following is fiction. It could easily be fact, a true story, but it just doesn’t happen to be.

A county judge up here in Minnesota, in a case regarding the U.S. Senate election recount, ordered his county’s election officials to provide the names and addresses of those voters whose absentee ballots had been rejected and the reasons for that rejection.

The scene is my home last evening, as my wife and I are having dinner together – a spicy, Italian sausage fettuccini that I had worked all day long to prepare. The door bell rings and it is a team of lawyers and volunteers from the Al Franken for Senate campaign.

They tell us, while standing out on the front stoop, in the cold, windy evening, that it is extremely important that they talk to my wife.

Wow! I’m excited and I invite them in and offer each a glass of a lovely wine we had opened to go with the fettuccini. We gather around the fireplace in the living room. As a political junkie and student of political history, I am just about out of my mind with excitement.

So, the scene is set. Lights! Camera! Action! Barry Wold, a lawyer and part of the Franken team, speaks first.
[Wold]: Mrs. Leck, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your absentee ballot was rejected here in Independence

[Anne]: What? Why that’s impossible!

[Me]: Wow!

[Wold]: I’m afraid it’s happened, ma’am. It seems you got mixed up about the envelopes and put your ballot in the white envelope instead of the manila one and put the white envelope inside the manila envelope instead of the manila envelope, with your ballot inside it, in the white envelope.

[Scootch]: That’s right lady! (Laughing and shaking his head.) It’s hard to believe you could get that big white envelope into that little manila one.

[Wold]: Scootch, that’s not important. Things happen.

[Scootch]: (Still laughing!) That’s right, man, shit happens! Got any dope around here?

[Wold]: Scootch! For Jesus sake?

[Anne]: (Embarrassed and annoyed) Does that mean that my vote was not counted? That I was disenfranchised?

[Scootch]: Right! You got screwed!

[Wold]: Mrs. Leck, let me explain. Scootch, keep quiet and stop the snickering. Mrs. Leck, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your vote was not counted. The recount is now down to only 1 or 2 votes in separation between Franken and Coleman. This is a crucial moment. We’d like to confirm that you voted for Al Franken, though, because of your husband’s involvement with our campaign and the significant amount of money he gave to us this year, we doubt that it’s even a matter of conjecture. Then we want to strenuously argue with the county, and in the courts if need be, that your ballot be counted.

[Me]: Wow! How ‘bout that, Scootch?

[Scootch]: Yeh, man! (Scootch slaps me on my back!) No shit, Toledo! Wish I had a joint!

[Wold]: Scootch! Knock it off, man!

[Me]: This is great stuff, man! Never dreamed I’d be involved in a deciding vote situation! Shucks, man! The papers are going to eat this up. Let me get a pen!

[Anne]: Whoa, there! Sit down, Charlie, and calm down, too! Mr. Wold, I’m troubled by all of this. It’s such a tradition in America that voting is an absolutely secret thing! And, now, here you are in my living room asking me to tell you who I voted for.

[Me]: Awe, shucks, Anne, don’t be so technical. It’s really important, here! Tell the man you voted for Al and he’ll scurry back to the precinct and get that ballot validated, they’ll take a look at it, and we’ll probably have a winner.

[Anne]: It’s not that easy Charlie. I mean it's about this secrecy stuff! It’s really important. I’ve never even had to tell you about this stuff.

[Me]: Now, dear, you know we always talk about all this stuff ahead of time, before we vote.

[Anne]: No, you talk about it, Charlie! You talk about it! You tell me who you think I should vote for. I never tell you who to vote for. And, I never tell you who I voted for!

[Me]: What? Dear! Whatta you mean?

[Scootch]: Wow! They may go at it right here before our eyes!

[Wold]: Shut up, Scootch! Mrs. Leck, this is really important. An election for the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance and your vote is probably going to tip this thing.

[Anne]: Charlie, I think you should leave the room. As a matter of fact, you should leave the house. Go take the dog for a long walk!

[Me]: What? What!

[Anne]: I mean it, Charlie. Voting in America is a secret thing and that secrecy is sacred as far as I’m concerned. You better go! Now! …Or, I’m kicking these gentlemen – or this gentleman – out of my house!

[Me]: Whoa! Hold on!

[Anne]: I mean it! Go!

Well, that’s all I can tell you. I left. As a matter of fact, I left with Scootch, the dog and my tail between my legs. What an extraordinary moment to miss. I couldn’t figure out what the little missus was so jumpy about.

All’s I know is that I opened the next morning’s paper and there was the headline: “COUNT FINISHED. FRANKEN FINISHED! LOSES SENATE SEAT BY ONE VOTE!"
[Me]: Anne? Dear, where are you? Anne?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Like Andy Rooney?

You bet! So What?
There's a new imitation... made in China!
by Charlie Leck

I think of him as a cuddly, warm, old curmudgeon. That’s Andy Rooney. I don’t take him very seriously. I don’t think we’re supposed to.

I’ll tell you this, though, he sure can speak in short, crisp sentence that are crystal clear. Wish more people (I’m thinking here of guys like Russ Limbaugh and that O’Reilly fellow) could do it.

Rooney has a down-home earthiness to him, with an east coast (New York) accent. Sometimes he talks about his collection of rubber bands and other times about the problems of the American automobile industry. He makes sense on both subjects and shouldn’t be dismissed as a nut-case just because he’s gotten old and crotchety. (I have a personal stake in that statement.)

Now, as always seems to happen when America has something really cool to offer the market, comes along a cheaper Chinese imitation of the real thing. His name is Poyuan Wei. He’s damned funny and no one tries to hide the fact that the entire concept for his commentary is complete thievery. They’ve swiped Andy Rooney from us. He’s bound to be a hit on Chinese television.

Here’s Poyuan Wei telling us what’s so absolutely wonderful about the Chinese government. Don’t miss it. You’ll thank me for pointing it out to you. I found it on one of my favorite blogs, Laughlines.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Change We’ve Been Waiting For

We are who we’ve been waiting for!
by Charlie Leck


Someone sent along a series of cartoons from around the nation that were drawn within 24 hours of the announcement that Barack Obama had won the election. It was enjoyable to go through them. One, in particular, has relevance to what I’m writing about today, that is, how anxious – how terribly anxious – many of us are for the big day when Obama will be sworn in and address the nation. He’ll challenge us! I’m betting on that.

The next President of the United States cannot succeed without us. He’ll tell us how much he needs us.

Last night I attended a lovely little dinner to honor Will Steger, the polar explorer, and his foundation. The story about the warming of the polar ice caps is pretty frightening. Is there hope? The talked turned to Obama. There isn’t much time to spare. It would be better if he were installed into the office now. Who will his environmental Czar be? The big dining room was buzzing with excitement about the change in Washington.

It’s been torturous for people like Steger to watch the snail’s pace at which the last administration moved and government, in general, operates. Not only is change needed. Rapid change is needed. Immediate attention is required.

What can we do? Remember, Obama is going to ask us to be involved. He is going to tell us that our hopefulness for the rebirth of America is dependent on us. Is that mere prattle?

Last evening, Steger said it isn’t? It must start with us. Get to know your state representatives and state senators. Call them! Write them! The same with our congressional representative and our U.S. Senators. Make sure they understand that this is an immediate problem. Make sure these people know your name and that the issue is important to you.

Most people guffaw when they hear such things. Talk to your representative! Ha!

Yet, it is absolutely true that we can do that. They’re local folks just like you and I. They have phone numbers and they have home addresses. They go to the grocery store and they have to get haircuts. They put their pants on, as the saying goes, one leg at a time.

If you were to sit down and ask Barack Obama where to begin, this community organizer would tell you to begin in your own community, in your own state legislative districts and then in your own congressional districts. Put the pressure on. Make sure these legislators understand that the issue is a burning one and that their constituencies want action.

Remember when Obama so inspirationally told us that we are who we’ve been waiting for. Does it make sense now?

Wait if you want for the Inaugural Speech, to hear it from our new President, or get going now. You are who you’ve been waiting for. Why keep waiting?

If millions of us begin contacting the offices of our state legislators and our governor – if we make sure they know our names and what we’re concerned about – we can be the change we’re looking for.

The stories out of Washington are exciting. Millions of people will jam themselves into the nation’s capital on Inauguration Day. There isn’t space for all the people who want to hear the new President challenge us. Hotels, motels and B&Bs are fully booked. Rooms in private homes are being rented out. The crowds that will gather for the inauguration will probably be the largest ever to gather in Washington.

Across the nation, people will gather around televisions sets to watch the swearing in of the nation’s first African-American president and then they will listen with hopefulness as he addresses us.

Change is coming. It is surely coming; however, the startling thing we shall learn is that we are the change we’ve been waiting for. Without us it won’t happen.

“Don’t ask what your country can do for you! Ask what you can do for your country!” Those words ring in my ear and pound at my heart as if it were just yesterday, and not 47 years ago, that I first heard them.

Without us Barack Obama will fail. He knows that. He will challenge us to be great.

In a story in today’s NY Times (written by Eric Lichtlau and John M. Broder) Obama says that his environmental initiatives will not be postponed because of the economy. With some urgency, he indicates that we can’t wait.
“Mr. Obama indicated that he intended to move rapidly on one of the most ambitious items on his agenda, tackling climate change. Speaking to a bipartisan group of governors by video, the president-elect said that despite the weakening economy, he had no intention of softening or delaying his ambitious goals for reducing emissions that cause the warming of the planet. ‘Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.’

He repeated his campaign promise to reduce climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and invest $150 billion in new energy-saving technologies. Some industry leaders and members of Congress have suggested that Mr. Obama’s climate proposal would impose too great a cost on an already-stressed economy — having the same effects as a tax on coal, oil and natural gas — and should await the end of the current downturn. A bill similar to Mr. Obama’s plan failed to clear the Senate this year, largely because of concerns about its impact on the economy.

Mr. Obama rejected that view, saying that his plan would reduce oil imports, create jobs in energy conservation and renewable sources of energy, and reverse the warming of the atmosphere.‘My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process,’ he said.”
Change is coming my friends. It is surely coming.

Please visit the web site of the Will Steger Foundation and find out how you can be involved – how you can be the change you are looking for. At least, be certain to watch this short video in which Will Steger explains the challenge.

Who is Will Steger?
‘A formidable voice calling for understanding and the preservation of the Arctic, and the Earth, Will Steger is best known for his legendary polar explorations. He has traveled tens of thousands of miles by kayak and dogsled for more than 45 years, leading teams on some of the most significant polar expeditions in history, earning him the Lifetime Achievement award from National Geographic Adventure Magazine in 2007.

Will led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without re-supply in 1986, the 1,600-mile south-north traverse of Greenland (the longest unsupported dogsled expedition in history) in 1988, and led the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica (the historic seven month, 3,471-mile International Trans-Antarctica Expedition) in 1989–90.

Will has continued his commitment to education and exploration through the Will Steger Foundation. Recent expeditions have included a dynamic online component and have taken Will and his expedition teams to Ellesmere Island and Baffin Island in Canada's High Arctic. From the front lines of global warming, Will Steger is inspiring, educating and empowering people around the world to take action on global warming solutions.”

Pole without re-supply (1986), the 1,600-mile south-north traverse of Greenland (the longest unsupported dogsled expedition in history in 1988), the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica (the historic seven month, 3,471-mile International Trans-Antarctica Expedition in 1989-90), and the first dogsled traverse of the Arctic Ocean in one season from Russia to Ellesmere Island in Canada (1995).

Steger received his B.S. in Geology and M.A. in Education at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, and taught science for three years at the secondary level. In 1970, he moved from his birthplace in suburban Minneapolis to the wilderness north of Ely, Minnesota. There he founded a winter school and developed innovative wilderness programs for 10 years. In 1991, Steger received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters; University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN and Honorary Doctorate of Science; Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT. His unique ability to blend extreme exploration with cutting-edge technology, have allowed him to reach millions of people around the world, under some of the most hostile conditions on the planet and be a pioneer in online education. Over 20 million students followed the 1995 International Arctic Project via on-line daily journal entries and the first-ever transmission of a digital photograph from the North Pole.

Steger joins Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen in receiving the National Geographic Society's prestigious John Oliver La Gorce Medal (formerly the Gold Metal) for “Accomplishments in Geographic Exploration in the Sciences, and Public Service to Advance International Understanding” in 1995. This was the first time the Society had presented all three categories. In 1996, he became the National Geographic Society's first Explorer-in- Residence and received the Explorers Club’s Finn Ronne Memorial Award in 1997. In 2006 Steger joined Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Dr. Thor Heyerdahl and Neil Armstrong in receiving the Lindbergh Award. Steger was given this award for "numerous polar expeditions, deep understanding of the environment and efforts to raise awareness of current environmental threats, especially climate change". The same year Steger was appointed by Governor Tim Pawlenty to serve on the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group, a group charged with recommending a Climate Action Plan to substantially reduce Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, Steger received the prestigious Lowell Thomas award from the Explorers Club and the National Geographic Adventure Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on climate change.

A recognized authority on polar environmental issues and ceaseless advocate for the Earth’s well being, Steger has been invited to testify before the United States Congress, as well as, advising world leaders on the environmental protection of Antarctica. Steger’s pioneering work in adventure-based environmental education was pivotal as he founded the Global Center of Environmental Education at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the World School for Adventure Learning at the University of St. Thomas in 1993.

Steger is the author of four books: Over the Top of the World, Crossing Antarctica, North to the Pole and Saving the Earth. [from the Will Steger Foundation web site]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Little Known Bloggers

There are undiscovered gems in the blogosphere!
by Charlie Leck

The blogosphere is an incredible place. There are so many good writers and thinkers out there and we can find them and follow their writing. I’ve told you often about some of my favorites. Most of them are well known thinkers who have followings in the thousands and hundreds of thousands.

However, a couple of the bloggers I follow have readership only in the hundreds or even less; yet, they are damned good and awfully worth reading.

David Williamson,
who writes in Wales, is one of those. I read him with great consistency. I always find his writing delightful and I like the way his mind thinks – even when I disagree with him.

On the day following Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency, Williamson’s post, Hope Should Be Rewarded, included these words:

“But at 4am yesterday morning a man of Kenyan descent was elected leader of the world’s only hyperpower.“This is a grand and startling disruption in history yet it is not the result of a catastrophe but the manifestation of a revitalised democracy.

“Regardless of whether you support Obama’s individual policies on Iran, climate change or trade, it is a joy to witness this spectacle of politics. It ranks alongside the moon landings as a triumph of human achievement.
“Obama, a rhetorical rocketman, escaped the gravitational powers of condescension, underdog status, latent racism and scepticism. With grace and eloquence he defied doom-mongers and won the trust of millions of Americans who were more than ready to join him in the adventure of transforming their nation.”
Yesterday, his long blog, Dust to Starlight, included these words:

“To imitate God is to learn to learn to see life with [His] gaze of love. How would it transform our lives if we looked at neighbours, families, patients, rivals, the life in a test-tube and animals as God first looked at us?”
A Brand New Blogger
A new blogger is trying her hand at this fascinating activity and, because she wrote to me with a comment, I have discovered her very nascent effort of the blogosphere. So far I’m enjoying what she’s written. Carol Schatz calls her blog, for reasons you’ll discover, Closely Knit. Give her a try and see what you think.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Aiming Low

About choosing Palin, Cavett says, “McCain aimed low and missed!”
by Charlie Leck

I just must have my Dick Cavett read every week [Talk Show by Dick Cavett]. He appeals to my sense of humor. I don’t much appreciate the obvious punch line jokes that lean toward silliness. I like the dry, hidden humor of guys like Will Rogers and Woody Allan and even Colbert. After they pull the trigger on a joke there’s just a slight pause before it goes off in your brain and you suddenly get it. A brother accuses me of not having a sense of humor. It’s probably more correct to say that I have a different kind of appreciation of humor.

This week, Cavett writes about Sarah Palin. He calls her “the wordsmith of Wasilla.” As evidence, he presents us with one of her sentences he found particularly poignant:

“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”
“Has she no first language?” Cavett wonders.

Cavett exhibits some deep curiosity about the lady’s loyal followers – the ones who ache for her to run again in 2012 – and wonders how Presidents like Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and, perhaps, Eisenhower managed to get along so well in office without being soccer moms.
“Without being whizzes in the kitchen, whipping up moose soufflés? Without executing and wounding wolves from the air and without promoting that sad, threadbare hoax — sexual abstinence — as the answer to the sizzling loins of the young?

“(In passing, has anyone observed that hunting animals with high-powered guns could only be defined as sport if both sides were equally armed?)”
What has caused the Palin Swoon? Cavett wonders aloud and invites answers from us.

Damned if I know! Perhaps it’s something in the water. That’s the best I can do, so he’ll get no response from me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fred, Fred, Fred!

Save your postage, Fred, and use it to buy me lunch sometime!
by Charlie Leck

Fred is a good, good friend. He is one of the most loving and generous guys you’ll ever meet. We’ve been paling around for 30 years. No one is more fun in a round of golf or in any conversation outside of politics and religion. He’s a sucker when it comes to those particular topics. He’ll believe anything that is over there to the right of Ganges Khan and disbelieve anything to the left of Billy Graham and George W. Bush.

He must think my liberal soul is leading me to Hades and he’s trying to hold me back from such an eternal fate. He’s constantly sending me messages about my political errors and the glory of the right wingers. He recently urged me to read and get on the band wagon with a retired Iraqi General, Georges Sada, who wrote the book, Saddam’s Secrets. Mr. Sada claims to have proof that the weapons of mass destruction, which we were unable to find in Iraq, were flown out of the country to Syria by a group of Iraqi pilots.

I try not to answer Fred’s remarkably innocent and simple messages. This time, however, I could not resist.

Dear Fred:

I read the book by Georges Sada nearly a year ago. Your buddy and fellow radical right-winger, the Crozz, sent it over to me. An amazing read even if not solidly backed by evidence to document what it claims… “Some guys told

I always get suspicious when I read words like that, Fred. Don’t you?

And even fellows in George W. Bush’s administration were (are) leery of Mr. Sada and his opinions. He’s generally viewed as a nut case, but smart enough to have gotten himself on the American speaking circuit.

The fact that he’s an Arab Christian doesn’t hurt him among the evangelicals in America either. They want desperately to believe him and so they do. “Kurds are converting by the hundreds in northern Iraq.” He said that over a year ago. No one – not even conservative FOX News – has been able to document that claim or find evidence of any more than a single conversion here and there.

Fred, don’t you smell a book deal here somewhere?

The General – excuse me, the Major General -- reported that “he had been told” that Iraqi pilots, in private planes, flew weapons of mass destruction “to undisclosed locations” in Syria in 2002.

Great, Fred! Who told him? The Major General gets vague about that.

“Some guys!” That doesn’t translate well to English.

So far the evidence from Georges is about as solid as the stuff President Bush presented to the Congress and General Powell presented to the United Nations. If you want to believe it badly enough, you will.

It took the Major General a long time to come forth with his revelation – happened to be after the April 2004 story broke of an al Qaeda plot to unleash tons of explosives, including sarin nerve gas in the city of Amman. The General started putting 2 + 2 together. Let’s see, some guys told him about those pilots and Jordanian intelligence (that word always strikes me as oxymoronic) reported the plot. Hhmm!

“Yes, yes,” is his evidentiary conclusion, “the weapons must have fallen into the hands of terrorists.”

Yup. I’m convinced.

Fred, wait up here a second or two. I was simple enough to be convinced by Bush, Cheney, Rummy and Powell that the Iraqis had WMD in their nation. Why should I be silly enough to believe some pompous, former Iraqi military guy who has less supporting documentation than Rusmfeld and Powell presented?

Here’s the answer, Fred. If I really WANTED to believe, I would. I would be orgasming with excitement and belief because I can now write to Charlie Leck and say: “See!”

Fred, go ahead and believe in some two-bit, former Iraqi military officer. I’m not falling for it twice. The fact that he’s Christian doesn’t impress me. So were Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld and Powell.

God preserved his life for a purpose! That’s what Major General Sada says. God preserved mine for a purpose also: To finger frauds like Sada.

The Iraqi people were thrilled to be liberated by the U.S. armies! That’s what Sada tells us in his book. Sure!

He (the Major General) personally talked Saddam out of hitting Israel with a massive chemical weapon! Come on Fred! Come on! Israeli and U.S. Intelligence both know that Saddam did not have and never had a delivery device that could put “a massive weapon” into Israel.

“The U.S. liberation saved hundreds of thousands of lives!’ Now we’re down to pure bull-shit, Fred. Pure! Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have died as a result of our war in Iraq and you probably really know that and just won’t admit it.

He smuggled the Bible into communist Russia. Fred, there have been Bibles in Russia and openly available for the last three decades. Come on, Fred.

“In 2006, U.S. forces found WMD in Iraq. Our government just won’t tell us about it.” Again, that’s what Sada says. Fred, please, don’t insult my intelligence. If such had been found, George W probably would have gone to Ground Zero in NYC to make the announcement. He wouldn’t keep his trap shut about such a discovery. What purpose is served by keeping it secret? Fred, do you ever wonder? Do you ever question?

Now, our author is a speaker for the Young America Foundation. Wow! I’m sure it’s an organization to which you give considerable funds, Fred. That’s sad! I read the line-up of other speakers the Foundation offers us and I want to throw up. John Ashcroft! Now there’s one of my personal heroes. Ann Coulter! Oh, gee whiz!

Fred, I tried to be open-minded when I read this book. At every turn I found an abundance of vagueness and the sleaziness of an old west medicine man. You’ve gotta watch out for those guys, Fred. If you don’t, they’ll be selling you vats of Doctor Spermkin’s WONDER CURE ALL!

And it’s all published by Integrity Publishers – now that’s a great name in publishing – they also produce the work of Pat Robertson (another of my very favorite commentators).

Fred, to repeat, the Bush Administration wouldn’t touch this one. It knew that citing this book would blow up its face.

Sada did testify before the House Select Committee on Intelligence. I didn’t see or hear any of the testimony. About all anyone got out of the Major General was that the men who flew the weapons out of Iraq weren’t talking about where they went.

Fred, save the postage you spend on these goofy mailings and use it instead to buy me lunch some time, will you? Then we’ll talk about golf and football.

Your friend,Charlie

Thanks to Joshua Holland and his article, “Bushco, the dog, flew my homework to Syria,” for helping in answering Fred’s letter.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Striking a rich, keen, provocative or appealing tone!
by Charlie Leck

I like good cartoonists – the bright ones who often have something poignant to say through their art. It’s why I go nearly every day to the laughlines blog in the NY Times. I check in on Doonesbury and then on the work of Tony Auth, Jeff Danziger, Glen McCoy, Pat Oliphant, Ben Sargent and Tom Toles.

The Obama victory proved to be rich ground to mine for the really good cartoonists in the country. I looked at dozens of fine and provocative statements by these artist/commentators. I thought I’d bring you my two favorites. They’re in the heading above. The one on the left recreates in the famous fist dap between Michelle and Barack Obama that caused a bunch of right wingers to shout that it was a terrorist hand signal. Bizarre! The cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune. Want to see more of his work? Go to his archives!

The cartoon on the right quite speaks for itself – poignantly! It’s by Mike Keefe at the Denver Post. You can see a great deal of Keefe’s work at this site.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Most Likely to Succeed

What makes for success? How do you define it?
by Charlie Leck

I’ve just finished assembling and editing a commemorative booklet of approximately 90 pages for my high school graduating class. We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of our commencement in 1958.

This has been a terribly interesting task for me. It brought laughter and it brought some tears. How great to get reacquainted with so many of my old classmates again – both those who were buddies and those I just barely knew. It was joyful to see how well some of the kids preserved themselves. It was sad to see how some of us did not. I, and one of the classmates who helped me with this project, enjoyed looking at recent photographs and talking about those kids that we would recognize on the street, even today, if we were to meet them. There weren’t many, but there were a few – George List, Per Petterson, Al Kuelling, Denis O’Rourke, Marion Smith, Val Chew and Donald Schuld were easy to pick out. I think I might also recognize Dotty Simcox, Kenny Freund, Roger Lindemann and Carol Rademacher.

That’s a pretty good number of kids who have remained young and vigorous looking. Congratulations to them.

It was enjoyable to look at my classmates’ future prognostications; that is, who would be most likely to succeed and who would likely be publishing the 50th reunion booklet. Amazing that they picked me for the latter. Yes, amazing!

Nick Steneck and Peg Langdon were chosen the “most likely to succeed.” My classmates may have nailed that one, too; though, who really knows what success is and how some of our other classmates have done. Nick and Peg are definitely in the running, however.

They began a romance in high school and kept it going over the years. They’re still married and they, apparently still have a high degree of respect for one another and seem to be in this thing for the long-haul. They’ve got great jobs. They’ve made important contributions to our society. They travel a great deal and they still look great. Congratulations to them! At least, they didn’t take this projection about their futures and turn into abject failures.

Yet, here – in this blog – I’d like to reflect on just what success is. And, believe me, I don’t really know. I can only reflect. So, don’t expect to be taught anything.

Let me talk about a couple other of our classmates. You see, I’ve had this wonderful opportunity and advantage of talking to many of them, corresponding with others and getting biographical accounts from still others. We’ve had a lot of success out there in this class.

Right at the top, let’s dismiss financial success – that is, the gathering of wealth. I’ve never counted it as one of the great signs of success. And, this is not bad-mouthing because I’ve done all right in that regard. I just don’t think it tells you much about anyone!

I had a great time talking to Charlie Bates. A lot of guys called him “Chuckie” in school, but I didn’t. I’m a ‘Charles,’ too, and ‘Chuck’ or ‘Chuckie’ didn’t work for me. I always called him Charlie. I remember him really well. He was one of the nice guys. He wasn’t a ‘stud’ or an ‘academic’ or a ‘big talker’ but he was a nice guy. How did Charles do on the success monitor?

Charlie graduated and went right to work for Picatinny Arsenal after trying a few other jobs. The arsenal is a federal facility and provides the military with a great deal of its tools for defense. Charlie put in 25 years there and then took a pension. He also worked as a fire-fighter and as a messenger for one of the local school districts.

Now, his wife of many years is quite frail and ill. She’s confined to a wheel chair and needs constant attention. That’s Charlie’s job. He’s taken a job with a gardening center that is right across the street from his house. That way, he can work and keep a constant eye on how his wife is doing also.

“I can’t come to the big party. I’m so sorry. I need to be with my wife at night!”

Congratulations Charles Lester Bates. You’ve got your priorities right! I call that success.

Frankie Cautero has been successful, too. He put in 42 years at Picatinny. He’s got a great wife and still loves her madly. He’s young looking and his body is tight and strong. He’s had two kids and now he’s been “blessed” with five granddaughters.

“They call me Pops,” Frankie proudly informs us.

Just a few years ago, he took up playing the piano and he takes music classes at a community college.

Frankie Pasquale, you were one of my favorite guys in high school and I think you still are. You’ve tasted success and you’ve been blessed with it too.

One of the most popular kids in our class was Ed Edwards. Congratulations, Ed, because you get one of my awards for success, too. Ed’s in a massive battle with cancer right now. He’s made his plans a number of times, when the monster in his body subsided a bit, to make the 3,000 mile trip to the reunion. He’s canceled his plans a number of times, too. Now, he writes, finally, that he doesn’t know if he’ll able to make it; for the cancer has moved to his lungs and radiation is taking its toll on him. He’s not sure about the reunion. I’m a betting man and my money is on Ed being in New Jersey for the big party.

He also writes that he moved to California after graduation and “met a wonderful girl and was married to her for 42 years.” He lost her to breast cancer. He also lost a daughter to breast cancer. Yet, his thoughts are mostly with us. “God bless you all,” he says. He had a great smile in high school. He still does.

“God bless you, Larry Edwards,” from all your classmates from good, old Roxbury ’58.

Gary Griffiths will be at the reunion also. He’s also on the success ladder and we can be proud of him. Right after graduating in June of ’58, he went right back to work for our wonderful, old high school in August of the same year and he’s still working there, taking care of the grounds and proudly putting down the lines for football, baseball and track. He cuts the lawns and removes the snow from the walkways in the winter. He’s single and has lived in the same house for 57 years.

Congratulations, Gary! You are a success. Have a great time at the reunion.

Al Kuelling has been very successful, too. It’s a bit complicated for me, but all my classmates should talk to him at the reunion and get the straight story. He was very responsible for developing night vision apparati. He left school with a very scientific bent. He was troubled by concepts of God because they didn’t fit in with his scientific experiences. Yet, he kept struggling, found out about metaphors, and kept searching. Now, he’s reconciled all that spiritual and scientific stuff and sees how they can all fit together.

He developed a lot of ideas about education and went to Indiana to try them out. He applied his knowledge of statistics and sociology to the problem of minority and low-income education. They worked extraordinarily well and testing results in Al’s little area in Indiana soared.

On top of all that, Al and his wife, Judy, just celebrated their 540th wedding anniversary – they celebrate monthly. And, as well, I’d still recognize Al in a dark alley. He’s taken good care of himself and looks young and fit.

You, Al, are a success!

I could go on and on about dozens of our classmates. Marion Smith spent her life as a teacher and educator. Judy O’Brien has devoted her life to the church. Gretchen Den Braven and George Fischer got married, both became Methodist ministers and have devoted their lives to serving their Lord. Doug Schimmel spends his life in the high mountains as a hunting guide. He has stories to tell that will become legends about him. How many of us has nailed a 450 pound mountain goat and hauled it down from 9,000 feet on his back? Janet Robinson also spent her life teaching and was named in the Who’s Who of Teaching! She’s traveled through all 50 states. Another winner! Liz Metzger has done it all. Teacher. Coach. Deli owner. Back into education. Now, she’s retired and devoted to volunteer work feeding the hungry, visiting the elderly and working in prisons. Liz, you were great as a kid and you’re a big success as an adult. Sandy Masino fed kids for 35 years as the cafeteria manager for the Hackettstown, New Jersey, school system. That’s steady. She also likes bird watching. That’s steady! And, that’s great. Congratulations on your wonderful success. Barb Christensen spent 35 years as a floral designer, traveling to conventions all over the place, teaching people this fine art and representing FTD and Teleflora. Wow! Anyone who loves flowers has a touch of greatness. She took the artistic techniques she learned at good, old Roxbury and translated them to wonderful success. Way to go, Barb!

How about Chuck Giffith devoting his life to fighting fires and serving the general public – 25 years as a Chief. That’s the way, Chuck!

Finally, I chatted for a while with John Levens. He graduated and joined the Marines. After that he put in a long time for Thomas’ English Muffins. He’s been married for 38 years. His health is shaky and he won’t make the reunion, but he still laughs and laughs about the good old days in high school.

You must be getting the idea. Just what is success?

I began editing this book as a chore. Now I realize that someone passed off to me a great gift. I couldn’t be prouder of my classmates. I should name you all, but I can’t. Nevertheless, Afferton, Dowe, Apgar, Apostolik, Chew…. and on and on, I am so proud of you all… Post, Ribe, Roesing, Seeger and Stanich… you’ve all done yourselves proud… List, Lawrey, Strohmeyer and O’Rourke… you did just great!

I must have been part of one of the finest high school graduating classes on earth. Three cheers for Roxbury… Roxbury High!