Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Serious Thoughts about Gaza for the New Year

They’re coming to a mall or theater near you!
by Fred Kamm

A few days ago we published some comments by Fred Kamm, a Jew, and a good friend of mine, about the situation in Gaza. Our nation is so pro-Israeli, that it is refreshing to hear some expression of sympathy for the unfortunate, innocent people of Gaza who are being injured, made homeless or killed in the massive Israeli bombings. In Fred’s earlier blog we included some links to maps and background information about Gaza.Here’s a continuation of what Fred has to say.
[Read his earlier comments by clicking here!]
Charlie, 'twas interesting reading my rant, meant for you, in ad astra this morning, but, after rereading it, and making some allowances for my anger, I agree with myself.

First of all we'll be very lucky if this Israeli attack on Gaza doesn't cause a serious terrorist attack on us, here in the United State or on any of our bases or our allies.

Israel now has every Islamic militant (or non-militant for that matter) yelling for the U.S. to stop Israel, and start some real effort to bring meaningful peace to the Palestinians. It can't be done without establishing a state for them, and that state won't work without an economy to support it. The government of the state is the easy part. The economic support isn't. [However,] with U.S. leadership and financial support for the cash heavy oil producers (even with oil at today's low oil prices), an economic free trade zone could be established in the new Palestinian state that could put people to work, feed the nation and give hope and positive options to the generations that are coming.

The alternative is too frightening to consider, but – think about it – how long will it be until the first suicide bomber arrives here? He's coming to a mall or theater near you. She's going shopping at Macy's. They're taking the metro-liner from Boston to D.C..

And, they have Allah behind them. They're doing it for their parents and little brothers that have suffered.

Try to stop them!

Do you think I’m over-reacting? I hope I am. I don't want to be right, but given enough time, [or] given the continuation of hopelessness, [or] given no job, no education, no food, no safe home or future... they're coming! It's all they have!

Yes, I’m still a little pessimistic!


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rick Warren is NOT America’s Pastor

Let’s get this straight! The more I read about this corn-ball, the more I don’t want it EVEN hinted at that he is America’s pastor!
by Charlie Leck

OK! So someone told me that the minister who gives the invocation at the inauguration is then, by tradition, considered America’s pastor. WHOA right there! Full rein! Stirrups and feet forward and shoulders back! Whoa!

Let’s get this straight. I’m not going to consider Rick Warren my pastor, or even allow it to be hinted at that he is America’s pastor!

Give me a pastor, or priest, or rabbi, or prophet with some brains and sensitivity. This guy may have sold millions and millions of his books, but the stuff is pabulum and mush – you know, all mashed and blended and squished up to make it go down easier.

Rachel Maddow put him in his place this week with convincing videos of him contradicting himself. If you want to hear Pastor Rick as he really is, watch this video.

Pastor Rick? I’ll take Ranger Rick as America’s pastor before I’ll allow the Very Wrong Reverend Warren to be called that. With pleasure, I’ll take the Pastor Jeremiah Wright a hundred times over Rick Warren.

Are there pastors who could better represent America?I was simply angered by a comment put up on one blog in response to the Maddow video. It stated bluntly that there were no pastors in America who could better represent Obama and serve as America’s pastor and that they are all alike in terms of their attitudes about the gay and lesbian community. Here’s the comment that I call plain old wrong;

“The sad part is that there probably isn't a better Christian pastor out there that Obama could have chosen. The stuff Warren is saying is standard Christian boilerplate at this point: homosexuals are deviants, homosexuals can't be Christians, homosexuality is equivalent to pedophilia and incest, abortion is murder, etc. It would have been close to impossible for Obama to find a Christian leader that doesn't say those things.’ Posted by: Jason Ouabache December 24, 2008 10:36 AM
Nonsense! I could list, right off the top of my head, a couple dozen pastors (both men and women) who could have delivered beautiful and loving invocations at Obama’s inauguration. Try reading about James Gertmanian, the brilliant pastor in Minneapolis who heads a congregation devoted to community service to those in need. And, there are currently gay pastors who serve on the staff of that church. There are dozens of pastors in America who work as street ministers to the homeless, or pastors to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, or work in far-off lands establishing schools or digging wells or bringing medical care to the hopelessly ill. They don’t spew hatred and they don’t divide people. They heal and unite people. They don’t claim exclusive insight into how God works and how people are saved.

In the video I recommend above, you can hear a real description of the beliefs of Pastor Rick and, if you’ve been raised believing Jesus sends us out to minister to the outcast, the sick, the needy, and the hungry, you’ll be incensed at the thought of this guy being America’s pastor. Katha Pollitt put it very well in her discussion with Madow.

“Projects that teddy bear geniality… the things you notice would fly by the people that that was aimed at, who follow Rick Warren and think they’re the real Christians and that, if you don’t like Rick Warren, you don’t like Christ… he has compared people who are pro-choice to holocaust deniers… he says that women who have abortions are like Nazis… he has very disturbing ideas about sexual inequality… that abuse is not an adequate reason for a divorce…”
Listen! You can slough this off as just a minute or two appearance that this guy is going to make and then it will be all over, or you could more realistically realize that this will give Rick Warren an incredible moment of fame and a world-wide stage that he doesn’t deserve at all.

Obama has made an incredible mistake here. It seemed small at the moment he announced it, but, as we look into just who this freak is, the strangeness of the choice just grows and grows. This is not just a man who has some dissimilar views with Obama. This is a man who stands for all the things most of us voted against in our selection of Obama.

Here’s the argument, represented by Steven Guess, in The Guardian (UK), for NOT worrying about Pastor Rick’s little prayer.

“While in this transition stage appointments and guest speakers seem larger than life, when historians look back at Obama's presidency, this will be less than a footnote in comparison to the real fights to come. It is the calm before the storm, where the only ones fighting are Democrats jockeying for influence. Warren will hold no policymaking power, and although the inauguration gives him an audience with mainstream America, so too does Obama gain an audience with evangelicals to make his case for liberal policies. In the scheme of things, Warren gets a few minutes to speak on inauguration day. That's it. No more, no less. It is certainly an honour that builds his resume, but it does not alter the fate of the nation in one direction or another. In return, Obama adds to the political capital he needs to achieve the progressive victories his critics are clamouring to see before he's even in office.”
I don’t buy that. Pastor Rick is a man who represents an ideology that is simply counter to what Barack Obama said he stands for. Unfortunately for Obama, this issue is not going away. A large segment of those who stood up and supported, worked for, and voted for Obama feels betrayed by him. I can imagine Pastor Jeremiah Wright laughing right now at this new pastor with which Obama has aligned himself.

I’m not prepared to let this matter rest. Obama is certainly in a bind right now and he can’t do much about it, but Rick Warren can. Pastor Rick could withdraw and beg off. That would give Obama a break. The more the media reveals about this guy, the more the pressure will build on him to retreat into more anonymity. These revelations, I am afraid, are going to have to come from bloggers and the alternative news media. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the New York Times or CNN to introduce you to the real Pastor Rick – too many of their “customers” are evangelical Christians who eat up this Kool-Aid from the nutty pastor from Saddleback Church.

Amy Goodman, at Democracy Now, has revealed the real Rick Warren in an interview with Max Blumenthal, who wrote Rick Warren’s Hypocritical Double Life, which is on-line at Daily Beast.

“The media has made a hero out of Rich Warren without really looking at him and seeing what he stands for… Even The Nation magazine has called him America’s Pastor… the real Rick Warren is someone who fights the culture war with a velvet glove… he freely admitted that the only difference between him and James Dobson is a matter of tone… openly back Proposition 8 in California… backed every anti-gay proposition that’s come down the pike in California… called it the God given obligation of our nation to take out evil-doers… once claimed that man walked the earth with dinosaurs… that he won’t allow gays to be members of his church… says he fights poverty, but what has he actually done?... his programs (and churches) in the third world are really an evangelical attempt to make new Christians… he speaks the language that people want to hear… but it is unclear what he is actually doing… he has a doctrine of women’s submission… women have to submit, in a biblical manner, to their husbands… freely admits that he only believes a small segment of Americans are going to heaven and the rest of us are going to burn in an everlasting fire…”
Rick Warren is a master at twisting the truth and back-tracking on statements that he’s made publically – many of which are easily found on video. Rick Rosebrough, on the blog, Extreme Theology, takes one through a case study of how Warren twists the truth to serve his own purposes and reveals some interesting interviews that seem to indicate Warren is a flat-out liar. Take the time to read the blog to the very end because it is a little hazy and disjointed in its opening.

Listen, this blog could go on and on, revealing to you the real Rick Warren. You only need to do a little creative searching on the Internet to find out about the real Rick Warren and how dangerous his simple-minded thinking is. Then realize he has millions of devoted followers. It’s pretty frightening.

If you go searching, you’ll find stories like Rick Warren’s apology to Joseph Farah, who writes the blog, Between the Lines, for things he said about Farah. The Farah response to the apology is really powerful, but it also reveals a lot about Warren’s real international ministry:

“Thank you for your concern, but I want you to know that I was not personally hurt or offended by anything you said to me in your e-mails. “I was angered – and continue to be – by your seeming lack of concern for Jews and Christians in totalitarian police states like Syria. What must they feel like when they hear the world-famous Rick Warren telling the world that they do not really suffer, that their rights to religious freedom are protected by the murdering dictator Bashar Assad, that you think his regime is an example for others in the Middle East and around the world. That's what angered me. And I believe it is the kind of righteous anger I would direct toward any Christian leader who does not speak up, when he has the opportunity, for the voiceless martyrs and persecuted saints in countries like Syria, a nation that is even today directing the killing of foreign Christian leaders, imprisoning ordinary believers and using the well-honed dhimmi system of Islamic rule to keep a heavy boot of repression on the neck of the body of Christ.

“Please don't apologize to me. I am not offended – at least not for my sake. I am offended for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Syria and Lebanon, my ancestral home countries, who do not, as you suggest, live under a system of religious freedom. Instead, they live under fear – the kind of fear that Bashar Assad and his father before him instilled with mass murder, assassination, torture, imprisonment and terrorism.”
It is really sad that so many people around the world believe that the Christianity represented by Pastor Rick Warren is real Christianity. It isn’t! Warren does not understand the life and ministry of Jesus. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the Christ. He’s only one more Bible toting evangelical preacher making the rounds, like a traveling elixir salesman, and conning people into accepting salvation and easy religion in place of walking the path of the excruciatingly difficult faith of real Christianity.

Let’s raise the roof and see if we can get the silly pastor to withdraw as a participant in the Barack Obama inauguration.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Jewish Reader Opines on Israel

What a lot of crap!
by Fred Kamm
A regular reader wrote yesterday. He was pretty upset and sputtering a lot of anger and pessimism; however, after reading his rant over a few times, I decided he was probably right on and his voice deserved amplification.
“Charlie, this crap in Gaza* is really frightening me. There are [a] dozen different horrible outcomes that we could see in the next few weeks. I wish Israel would declare a unilateral peace deal with the Palestinians, [and] help them establish a free state, and encourage an economy there that would sustain them. Without hope for the future, how can a Palestinian kid grow up to be anything but a hate-filled terrorist? The same is true for most of the Far and Middle East. We're helping to raise generations of future enemies – terrorists and soldiers! And when [I] say “we,” I mean the U.S..

“For the last 50 years all we've done is use the Middle East as our pantry, filled with goodies for our appetite and populated by stupid people who are eager to be our servants... and we wonder why they hate us... I hate us and I haven't even had my spirit crushed for decades.

“I'm ashamed of how we treat the third world, and I'm ashamed of being a Jew and part of Israel.

“And now, we sit here waiting for Obama to fix it all... and it ain't gonna happen... we just wasted a trillion on wall street and a trillion in Iraq and we owe China and the Arabs another godzillion... What, tell me Charlie, is Obama going to be able to do?

“We'll be lucky to get through the next month without another 9/11... Yes, I'm a bit pessimistic today, wish I wasn't..."


Ad Astra has provided the following supplementary material to Fred's submission. It may be helpful to you if you are struggling, as we are, with understanding this mess.

*Gaza was one of the ancient gateways to Palestine on the road to Egypt. It lies on the sea, to the southwest of Israel. See the map above or call up more exacting maps on the Internet [see the one at the bottom of this BBC page].

Here's an incredible video showing Israeli bombs falling on Gaza as children are going to school. This is very graphic stuff. Don't look if you are overly sensitive! Strange thing to say!

Here's an account of an Gaza insider (Sami Abdel-Shafiv) describing the hell in which they are currently living.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

One of Santa’s Gifts to Me!

American Civics and Politics on flash cards!
by Charlie Leck

One of the little gifts in my Christmas stocking this year was a set of Knowledge Cards on Government and Civics (published by Pomegranate with copyrighted text by Alan Bisbort). I guess Santa thinks I need a brush up on my civics.

Thanks, Santa. I found myself flipping through them this morning while a pot of poultry stock began cooking on top of the range – the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, heavily seasoned and getting ready to become the base for some wonderful vegetable soup.

I came upon the card labeled Republican Democracy and I felt very comfortable when I flipped it over and began reading.

Nevertheless, it reminded me of something very important that American citizens should really understand; that is, that our system of government here in the United States is not (not, mind you) a pure democracy. When the founding fathers of this extraordinary nation joined in debate about how our government should be organized, they were nearly unanimous in their opposition to a pure democracy and, instead, finally decided that the nation would be established as a Republic.

The people of California should take note; for they are doing out there exactly what the brilliant men who established our government were afraid might happen under a pure democracy. Referendums that create instant law or popular amendments to the constitution are not sensible.

Why is law by voter referendum foolish?
The California system is foolish for several reasons. Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves as a result of what they do in California – like holding a popular vote on a reasoned decision by its own state supreme court and overturning that decision.

This is why we elect legislative bodies, choosing people who are reasonable and bright. These bodies are supposed to conduct debate over potential governing law. These are people qualified to think through such issues and study in depth the various reasons why one might pass such a law or reject it.

Our national constitution makes it very difficult for our Constitution to be amended. Any such proposal needs to be ratified by the legislative bodies in 38 of the 50 states. Notice, the Constitution was written in such a way that ratification in these states was not put up for popular vote.

Pure democracy runs amuck of problems all the time. Making laws through the direct vote of the people limits law to what might be popular at a given moment.

Bisbort wrote:

“Republican democracy originated as an ideal in the writings of Tacitus, Cicero, and Plutarch, who used the Roman republic as their model. It was updated during the Renaissance by Machiavelli. Egalitarianism, or pure democracy, on the other hand, goes back to ancient Greek civilization and philosophers, equally influential on the thinking of the Founding Fathers. The tensions between these two ideals have helped to shape the American government.”
I think Bisport doesn’t emphasize enough the volume of opposition that came out of the early constitutional debates against pure democracy. Pure, unbridled democracy was quite feared by the authors of the Constitution. They felt it could lead to anarchy. It is much closer to where the Libertarian movement stands today. Libertarianism scares the hell out of me.

Alterations to the Constitution and the creation of law needs to be reasoned and debated and thought about. No one body – not even the Congress – would be able to make law without a process of checks and balances by the other branches of government. The Chief Executive would have the opportunity to veto legislation and send it back for a vote of more than just the majority of the legislative branch. To override such action by the President, the legislative branch would need to convince two-thirds of its body to vote for the law.

Finally, the Judicial Branch of our government, when appealed to, might strike new legislation from the books because it is in opposition to the spirit and intention of our Constitution

No straight, popular vote of any body, including the people themselves, could be unbridled to run free under such a system. The checks and balances our Founding Fathers created and set in place in our Republican Democracy are nothing short of ingenious.

When and if anyone in your state argues to create a system similar to the California instant referendum to establish law, remind people about Republicanism and why our nation was established as a Republic rather than as a Democracy.

Let me conclude this way. I have some wonderful neighbors. I have a lovely collection of friends all over the state of Minnesota. Yet, I wouldn’t want these folks making legislative decisions for me – not on your life… or mine!
P.S. Going to see the movie, Valkerei, tonight. I'm not quite sure just why. I'll let you know a bit about it tomorrow. I'm not hopeful.

Friday, December 26, 2008

An American Christmas

The Day After
and some significant gifts that may interest you!

by Charlie Leck

There is nothing quite like the day after Christmas and the mountainous pile of debris that needs to be sorted into trash and recycling matter. That’s my job this morning and I began long before the sun came up. Mother worked herself into exhaustion yesterday, getting ready for a crowd of 15 for afternoon dinner.

Santa did his part. On Christmas morning the tree, with stockings hung from the window sills surrounding it, looked spectacular. We had vowed to cut back on our gifts to each other this year. We didn’t. It must be something impossible to do.

I got, in addition to my bacon gumballs and other little stocking trinkets, like a deck of Knowledge Cards about American Civics and politics, which will provide me an extraordinary reserve of information with which I will be able to wow you in the coming months, a pile of new books about which you will hear, also in the coming months. [Go ahead and diagram the previous sentence. I dare you. You may be surprised to learn that it works okay! The basic sentence extracted from the long, dependent clauses, boils down to this: “I got a pile of new books.”]

Some of the books I had hoped for and others I knew nothing about, but I’m excited to tackle them. In the interests of preserving a history of the American Christmas for future generations, I list them here for you.

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals
John le Carré: A Most Wanted Man
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea
Jody Compton: Sympathy Between Humans
Garry Willis: What the Gospels Meant
A.J. Jacobs:
The Year of Living Biblically
Michael Oriard: Brand NFL
*Henry D. Thoreau:
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
*Sarah Orne Jewett:
Novels and Stories [Michael Davit Bell, editor]
*Nikki Grimes: Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope

Those three books above, noted with asterisks, deserve, I think, some further explanation that may help you understand the significance of them as gifts.

A Christmas Book
The book by Thoreau was republished in 1966 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company as a Christmas Book. A note from our dear friends, who gave it to me, indicated their hope that I still collected Christmas Books. For all the world to know, indeed I do and, as far as I have been able to discover, I may have the most noteworthy collection of them in existence. I believe I have written here before about my collection of Christmas Books and I will not bore you with an explanation of what they are. If you’re interested, ask me in a comment or email and I will explain them to you. I have Christmas Books written by William Styron, Robert Frost, John Updike and, of course, by Charles Leck and many, many others. How exciting s to receive this Christmas Book because it provides me clues galore that may lead me to others!

Sarah Orne Jewitt
This book was in my stocking, so the gift must be attributed to Santa; however, one of Santa’s helpers admitted to making a mistake in ordering it. She meant to get something else I had asked for and ended up getting this one instead. The book, published by the Library of America (a non-profit publisher “dedicated to preserving America’s best and most significant writing,” left me terribly curious since I knew nothing about it or the author.I began with the obvious question: Who in blazes in Sarah Orne Jewett? Frankly, I’d never heard about her. So, why is she being preserved as part of America’s “best and most significant writing?” Then I read on the dust jacket that Willa Cather “ranked” her with Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne. My!

And the Chicago Tribune said of the book: “An incandescence of humanity… descriptions so sharply etched you want to put them in your pocket like magic pebbles.” Wow!

And I don’t know about her?

So, what an extraordinary, accidental Christmas gift! You will learn of my reactions to the book in the next week or so because it is atop my current reading piling – having pushed several others to lower rank.

Should you want to read more about Sarah Orne Jewett, you should go to this web site devoted to women writers.

A Children’s Book: Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope
Nikki Grimes book, illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a children’s book and my copy is signed by Grimes. A note was with the book, imploring me to read it to my grandchildren. Can’t wait! The book begins this way:

They used to call him Barry.
His family stretched from Kansas to Kenya,
his mama, white as whipped cream,
his daddy, black as ink.
His mama’s folks, Gramps and Toot, were part of the first family
he ever knew.
Love was the bridge
that held them all together.
I look forward to reading it to the little ones.

I hope you had as fine and as interesting a Christmas as I.

Granddaughter, Caroline Jean, on Christmas Day

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Day

May the joy of this day fill you with hope!
by Charlie Leck

There is nothing to blog about on this day. It is a day to surround and oneself with, and surrender oneself to, family and love. That is what I fully intend to do.

However, I want to extend my sincere wishes to you all in this season of light and hope, that you will be filled with peace and with the love of God.

Pray without ceasing for our President-Elect. Pray for our nation. Pray for peace over all the world. Pray without ceasing! Let your every breath be a prayer for peace.

Christmas Eve 2008
Some of our Christmas visitors have been
known to ask if this half-circle alcove in
our house was designed for a Christmas tree.
There are 3 levels of windows like the ones
you see here and, when I was younger, we
would bring in a tree that reached nearly to
the top level. Now grandpa has no interest
in decorating such a monster and could not
climb the ladder to do it even if he had the
interest. And, no, the alcove was originally
designed for a Steinway baby grand piano,
which now resides in the home of one of our

A Story

The Birth of Christ by Raphael

Joseph of Nazareth
by Charlie Leck

Joseph was a Jew from Nazareth in Galilee. He was a good Jew and followed the laws, the Chamisha Chumshei Torah, expressed in the sacred writings of Judaism as recorded by Moses who was divinely inspired to write them.

Now it was the Chanukah season and he should have been in Nazareth, celebrating this important, historic moment for all Jews. It was the season of the miracle of lights, when Jews celebrated their great victory over oppression. They had won the right to practice their faith – to be Jews. It was the season of joy and freedom.

Yet, the pig of Rome, the Governor of all the land of the Jews, had ordered a census of Jews and each of them was to return to the land of his forebears to register. What nonsense! It was determined that Joseph should return to Bethlehem, in Judea. He was anything but pleased. It was a long and difficult journey of nearly 70 miles and it was a busy time for him in his carpentry shop in Nazareth. However, there was no option. Rome ruled with a fierce grip and its decrees were not to be disobeyed. They cared nothing about a Jew’s occupation or his holy seasons or his inconveniences.

The woman was struggling and showing great discomfort. Her labor pains were coming with more frequency. The only blessing seemed to be the weather and the bright skies.

It was a balmy evening and nearly light as day. The stars were shining brightly and a full moon was nearly as intense as the winter sun. It made the final stage of the journey more bearable.

The man and woman were finally approaching their destination. They were much later than they had expected and they were tired and anxious to find some place comfortable to sleep. Yet, the donkey that carried the pregnant woman looked strong and determined.

Had Mary not been so close to the time when she would deliver her child, Joseph would have left her in Galilee. She had sisters who would have taken care of her, but she insisted on being with Joseph and told him that the child was destined to be born in Bethlehem.

Destiny! Messages from angels! Joseph fought his sense of anger. He was tired of the talk of angels and miracles. He loved Mary in a very powerful way, but no man could have accepted what she was asking him to believe – that she had never slept with a man and that the child was God’s and she had been commanded to give birth to the baby.

In spite of his doubts and the pain he felt, Joseph was determined to wed the woman and it would happen in Bethlehem, after the birth of the child. And, the carpenter was determined to raise the baby as his own and vowed that the child would never hear from his lips that he, Joseph, was not the father.

The donkey struggled up the gentle hill, pressing faithfully on. Joseph hoped that this was the final climb and from the top of it they would be able to see the village. He led the animal on.

At the top of the slope, they looked down on Bethlehem and Joseph and Mary and even the animal were astounded at what they saw. A star shone brightly. It was like no star that they had ever seen before. Music filled the skies. They, including the donkey, were filled with renewed energy and a sense of peace and happiness came over each of them.

The star had settled over a stable behind an inn. They moved down, into the village, guided by the glowing star. They came to the inn and Joseph rang the bell that hung from the front door. He knew, even before he asked, that there would be no room. He saw angels now, hovering above the barn behind the inn. The innkeeper told him there was no room. Joseph explained about his pregnant wife and explained how tired they were from the journey. He pleaded with the man.

“You may stay in the stable, if you like. There are several clean stalls. It is all I can do, and I am sorry.”

“Bless you,” Joseph said.

“Sleep well,” the kindly innkeeper said.

“Wait,” Joseph called to the man who was about to close the door.


“Did you notice the bright star that has settled over your stable? And, do you see the angels there?”

The man came out from the inn and walked to the corner of the building, where Mary and the donkey waited. He looked back toward the stable and saw nothing.

“It is a very bright night,” he said, “but I see nothing more. There are no angels! You must be very tired from your journey.”

Joseph didn’t understand. They were there – nearly a dozen of them and, very softly, they sang songs of the faith, praising God.

The man returned to the inn and his bed. Joseph and Mary moved around behind the inn, Mary still upon the beast. The lovely sounds of music seemed to attend them and they saw the star hovering low and over the barn. Angels were everywhere and Joseph was filled with tears. He turned to his wife and begged her.

“Mary, my darling, please forgive me. I couldn’t have believed, but now I see. My eyes have been opened and now I know. This is not our child. This is a child of God.”

“Why have we been so blessed?” Mary asked her bretrothed in a voice so soft and lovely that it too sounded angelic.

“It is our holy season, Mary. God is all powerful. He has set us free from oppression. And now he has sent a baby to guide us.”

Joseph put the donkey in an empty stall and then he began to prepare another, fixing a comfortable place for Mary to lie down. As he worked the woman softy sang a chant.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam... Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe...
The angels sang with her.

Joseph began to clean out the manger that sat in a corner of the stall. He padded it with straw and laid a soft blanket upon it. As he did, while the woman sang, he prayed.

Be'zeh ha'shaar lo ya'voh tzaar
Be'zot ha'deerah lo ta'voh tzarrah
Be'zot ha'delet lo ta'voh ba'halah
Be' zot ha'machlaka lo tavoh machloket
Be'zeh ha'makom te'hee bracha v'shalom

Let no sadness come through this gate,
Let no trouble come to this dwelling,
Let no fear come through this door,
Let no conflict be in this place,
Let this home be filled with the blessing of joy, and peace.
“Joseph,” Mary called softly to him, “it is time!”

And in the fields above the village there were shepherds tending their flocks. They saw the great star and an angel came to them and told them the news, that a King was to be born this night, for them and for all mankind. It was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.

The astonished shepherds began to walk toward the village, toward the star that shone so brightly, and as they went they sang out.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God! The LORD is One!
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God — the LORD alone.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the world,
Who has kept us in life and sustained us,
And brought us to this moment.
Joseph took the new born babe from the arms of his sleeping mother, and wrapped it in swaddling cloth and laid it in the manger. Now, as the child slept, the angels sang only in a soft whisper. Joseph knelt beside the child and prayed without ceasing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Because it is there!

Making it to the top!

by Charlie Leck

George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were preparing to climb Mount Everest in August of 1924. Mallory was asked why he wanted to make the climb.

“Because it’s there!” Mallory bluntly answered.

The two climbers disappeared on their way to the mountain top. The expression of grief around the world was intense and enormous and “marked the beginning of Everest’s allure and attraction.” [Larry Gormley]

The challenge to make it to the top never seems to recede in the souls of men, women and children. They continue to climb mountains around the world, simply because they are there.

Ann Rose Deiters and Caroline Jean Deiters,
grandchildren of the author,
are the climbers used to illustrate this blog.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Invocation Prayer

Is Rick Warren really to be considered “America’s Pastor?”
by Charlie Leck

Several days ago, when it was announced that Rick Warren was asked to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, my reaction was to utter an expletive.

Why? Why in hell would he do such a thing? That is a worthy question, but I’m not really going to deal with it here. I’m going to just pass over it very superficially.

Is it politics?
In terms of pastors, Obama is most closely associated with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, an obvious liberal of some radical proportion. I’ve made it clear here that I like Pastor Wright and I find easy comparisons of him to the Old Testament prophets who also spoke in ways that made people uncomfortable and edgy. Wright has some depth to him as well as mystery. I like the verbal pictures he paints.

Of course, Obama couldn’t have invited Pastor Wright to do the prayer. That’s pretty politically obvious.

But why, from a political perspective, Pastor Warren? Balance! Another move toward the center where there might be better dialogue and surer compromise.

Wisdom of Rivals?
This is the concept I like most. Obama, I think, is caught up in the philosophy that Abraham Lincoln held during his Presidency. Keep rivals and advisors of differing opinions around you. It makes sense to have people who don’t necessarily agree with you tell you what they think of actions you may take. You’ll get a quick glimpse of how a portion of the electorate is going to react to these actions. It gives you time to reconsider or it allows you a chance to reframe and rephrase what you are going to do.

Rick Warren’s thinking sucks!
As far as I’m concerned, Rick Warren’s thinking (both theologically and sociologically) sucks! I’ve no patience with him. His comments about gays show an utter stupidity and ignorance about our gay brothers and sisters.

How about his comparison of the situation to pizza? He really likes pizza, but he wouldn’t marry pizza. That is like the thinking of my kids when they were about 9 or 10.

“Dad, do you love this car?”

“Sure, I really love this car!”

“Then why don’t you marry it?” And off they’d run, giggling together like a band of hyenas.

“Just because I like pizza it doesn’t mean I should marry it,” said Warren. “Biologically, I am predisposed to enjoy the immaculate melding of mozzarella cheese, red sauce and thick crust baked to tasty perfection. But that doesn’t mean I should enter into a lifelong commitment with Sicilian or plain, nor bed it down, nor bring children into the world and have them have to explain to their classmates why their mom’s crust is not a crisp as it once was. Does any child deserve to have their friends tossing Monday 2 for 1 coupons in his face? Not in my world they don’t. Yet, to say that I am against pizza-eaters or gays is absurd. Our Saddleback Church offer more weight-watchers meetings to overeaters than any other evangelical megachurch on the west coast.”
Go figure!

But, it’s not just on the issue of gays that I think Pastor Warren’s thinking sucks. He is overly simplistic about most of Christian Theology. I call it one glance theology. There’s no wrestling with issues going on in his thinking. There’s no plummeting to any depth. Everything, to him, is superficial and obvious.

In fact, the great story of Christ is complex, deep and multi-faceted. Pastor Warren would disagree. He boils Christianity down to accepting Christ and gaining salvation.

I would ask: “But, who is Christ? And, don’t give me any glib, simplistic answers. I have struggled with this question for a life time and I intend to take the struggle with me to the stars.”

Obama deserves better than Warren,
but I’m sure it was all thought out! Obama’s organization has been too thorough and too careful to this point, to have made this decision without deep thought and analysis. They must know what they’re doing. I’m sure they’ve put some restrictions on Warren because, if not, the prayer could be a disaster.

As for Warren, here is what he said about the invitation:

"Three years ago I took enormous heat for inviting Barack Obama to my church because some of his views don't agree (with mine)," he said. "Now he's invited me."
And Obama laid it out clearly:

“During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that's how it should be, because that's what America's about. That's part of the magic of this country ... we are diverse and noisy and opinionated."
Obama explained that a Methodist pastor, Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader who supports same-sex marriage and gay rights, will deliver the benediction.

My prayer!
Had I been asked to deliver the inaugural prayer, it would be as follows.

Mighty creator and controller of the universe,
Attend us this day and be patient with us
As we struggle to discern Thy will for creation
And what it is Thou wouldst have us do in coming days

Thou hast come to us in many forms and visions
As Father, Spirit, Prophet, Master and King
And we invite Thee into our lives in many divergent ways
Yet Thou dost remain One and Beautiful in all our thoughts

We have but one prayer on this historic day
And Thou knowest it before we utter it aloud
Asking that Thou wouldst guide our new, young President
With Thine own hand and spirit in all he does

Amen! Amen!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh Brothers, Where Art Thou?

My brothers, John and Frank, have neither email nor Internet connections in their homes. Can you believe it?
by Charlie Leck

I want to tell my brothers that I went visiting today. I got on Google Maps and zipped back to Leland Avenue in the Bronx – exactly to the spot where I used to play stickball in the street when I was a little kid who had been shipped into the city to spend some time with his grandparents. This seemed to happen with some regularity and makes me wonder if someone wasn’t getting me out of his or her or their hair.

Well, anyway, I wanted to tell my brothers that I selected “street view” on Google Maps and I found myself standing on the corner of Leland Avenue and Gleason Avenue, peering up the street toward Westchester Avenue. I could see the 5 story apartment building in which my grandparents lived. There was the little corner grocery where Grandma frequently sent me to buy ice cream for her and to pick up “a number” in hopes that it would be a big money winner on that day.

And there was the street in which I played stick ball with the city kids, who regarded me as somewhat of a freak – a hick from the country who could hit a ball harder and further than any of the other kids my age. I was bigger than they were, too. I guess it was the country air. Maybe, truer, it was all cases of Coca Cola I lifted and moved around in the old store in Chester. There was great competition among the neighborhood kids to get me on their particular team.

I had no regrets about being sent into the city. I loved the atmosphere and I loved being with my grandparents. I would fall asleep at night on their sofa bed and, in the distance, I could hear the rumbling sounds of the elevated train that ran above Westchester Avenue. Sometimes my grandma and I would board that train and go to some extraordinary places – the Bronx Zoo, or Jones Beach, or to Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty, or to Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s amazing and huge department stores. I was astounded that we could go anywhere in the city by boarding one of these marvelous trains. I was determined to learn how to navigate around on them and I did. It gave me an enormous feeling of freedom and adventure. The 125th Street Station seemed to be the hub of the world! From it you could go anywhere.

The little rural town in which I lived out in New Jersey seemed so dull and abnormal after a week or two in the spectacular Bronx.

More than once, my grandpa took us to dinner at an Italian restaurant a few blocks down Westchester Avenue and each time explained to me, in a whisper, that it was owned by the mob and that the guys having dinner together in the corner were “made men.” The food was like nothing I’d ever tasted and I left nothing of the big plate of pasta and crusty bread that was served to me.

One time, a big, burly, dark-haired man rose up from the corner table and came over to our table. He had a huge laugh and he slapped my grandpa on his back and leaned over to kiss my grandma’s cheek.

“Hey, Frank – Paisano! How you been?”

My grandpa pointed at me and introduced me to Uncle Carmine. His hand engulfed mine and he gripped it hard and shook it vigorously. With his other hand he slapped my cheek so hard that I felt the sting. He laughed very hard and shook all over as he did.

“Another Bohemian, no? Un bel ragazzo, si?” Uncle Carmine said. “Egli assomiglia a sua madre. How is Milly?”

He pulled up a chair and joined us at our little table.

My friends in Chester didn’t have the foggiest idea what it meant that my Uncle Carmine was a made man. I didn’t either, but I couldn’t wait to tell my buddies at home.

“I had dinner with my Uncle Carmine DeLeggio. He’s a made guy! Big and tough! And he carries a gun underneath his jacket.”

“Oh, go on! You ain’t got no Italian uncle!” They weren’t so impressed.

I thought about that and realized it didn’t make sense. We had not a single Italian in the family. My grandpa had to explain to me that we just called Carmine an uncle as a matter of respect for his lofty position in the gang. “It’s the thing to do.”

My grandpa could take me to the ball park from that same train station up on 176th Street and Westchester Avenue. They were wonderful trips. We’d go see a ball game in Brooklyn, in the day time, with the sun shining on green, green grass, and then we’d stop for ice cream at a special Italian place he knew.

“The Waps make the best ice cream,” he’d tell me. “I think if I had to do it again, I’d be an Eye-talian,” he’d laugh at himself. “They’re the best. Except, the Germans make the best beer and the Irish make the best whiskey. We Bohunks, we got the best women, though!”

So, my brothers, today I went back in time. I returned to the corner in that neighborhood and looked it over and faintly heard the sound of the broom stick connecting with a rubber ball and I saw the ball soaring way out over the row houses on the west side of the street. My teammates were screaming and hollering as I jauntily rounded all the bases. A train was clacking along on the elevated rails up on Westchester Avenue. Uncle Carmine was walking down the avenue, on his way to visit Grandpa, and he cheered loudly for me.
"Ehi, guarda il bambino!"

Oh brothers, where art thou?

Had you the right connections you could have gone with me – for just those few magical moments I spent there today, in my youth again and happy as a clam as I ended the day in the arms of my grandma!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Recount in Minnesota for the U.S. Senate

You can call it dead-even right now and we won’t know more ‘til January!
by Charlie Leck

Every state in the nation has two U.S. Senators, EXCEPT, of course, Minnesota. Right now Amy Klobuchar is our only U.S. Senator for the 111th U.S. Congress, which begins at noon on 3 January 2009. She’s a mighty fine legislator, but we need another one in the Senate.

It is likely that we will not know, even at the beginning of the session, who our second U.S. Senator is (or will be) because the recount of the November 4th election will still be going on. It’s getting close to the end, but those involved don’t feel it can be finalized and accomplished and certified by the time the Congress goes into session. As a matter of fact, it is quite possible that the upcoming U.S. Senate may have to decide this issue.

There are a number of contested ballots to be checked over. These are ballots challenged by the Senator Coleman team and so it is likely that they are basically cast for challenger, Al Franken. He’ll get most of those votes. The ballots that the Franken organization challenged are already counted.

Then there are a number of absentee ballots that were originally incorrectly disqualified. Both sides are in agreement that they should not have been disqualified. For whom did they vote? We won’t know until they are carefully opened and inspected by the recounters.

With the count essentially dead-even, the election could go either way, but there are whispers from friends pretty deep in the Party that “Al is gonna win!”

Then, when a winner is declared by the Secretary of State, you can bet there will be legal challenges that will go on for a long time.

In the meantime, Minnesota is the only state in the nation represented by only one Senator.

Oh, forgive me, someone just reminded me about Illinois, New York and Alaska. Those states, however, will likely have Senators appointed by the opening of the session. Minnesota probably will not.

Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog, the Daily Dish, for The Atlantic:

“What’s taking so long in Minnesota? They are having 10 minute conversations about the existence of Lizard People. As of last night Coleman was citing a 2 vote lead. Now Frankin appears to be up for the first time.”
And, on the same blog, Nate Silver guessed:

“I’m now projecting a Franken lead of more like 70 votes, which would bring my numbers closely in line with the Star Tribune’s estimate.”
Jeff Fecke, on the Blog of the Moderate Left, tries to answer the question about what happens if nobody wins by the opening of the session.

Joel Stein in the December 13th Time Magazine sang the praises of Minnesota’s steady determination to count every ballot and of its blatant honesty.

“What if the 2000 presidential election had hinged not on a diverse, messy, weird and slightly creepy hick state like Florida but on the most organized, practical and cordial one in the Union: Minnesota? What if, instead of going to court after court over hanging chads and butterfly ballots and whether a recount should happen, election officials had just calmly looked at each ballot and tried to figure out what the voter wanted?”
He wasn’t so kind to voters, but pretty clever, and probably correct, when he wrote:

“If it had been Minnesota instead of Florida in 2000, this is what we would have found out: Voters are idiots. You make a clear, statewide ballot with neat little ovals to fill in? Some voters will put in check marks and X's. They'll fill out two ovals. They'll mark one candidate's oval in ink, try to erase that mark and then put their initials next to their correction, even though there's a law on the books forbidding voters to sign their ballots, to prevent voter bribing. They'll scrawl something about taxes in that oval, or about lizard people. You spend enough time trying to figure out the intentions of some voters, and you'll learn their real intention is to be put into special care.

“This is what democracy comes to. It's sloppy and human…”
If you really don’t have a life, you can actually watch the state canvassing board doing their work live! That’s right! You did not hear me incorrectly. You can watch the recount live. That seems whacky! Yet, there actually are people who are doing it, as excitedly as if it were a Packers/Vikings game, and keeping their own tallies in their living rooms. You people in Colorado, North Carolina and Georgia have got to realize it gets really cold up here in the winter.

To further prove to you how cold it gets up here and what that chill get do to the human brain, I’ll conclude with one more quotation from Stein’s article:

“All the sensible, civic-minded spirit doesn't guarantee the losing camp won't sue when it's all over. But Minnesota law, which was perfected after a gubernatorial recount in 1962, has a plan in case of a dead tie: a coin flip. The state already did one this year for a school-board seat in Farmington. Ritchie has been looking around for a good coin for the Coleman-Franken race; he says the quarter with Minnesota on the back is the way to go. 'I was watching Leatherheads, the football movie, and you realize there are angles on coin-tossing as well. Who flips it? Who calls it?' By next year, rest assured, Minnesota will have the best coin-flipping law anywhere.”
It got down to 13 below two nights ago. Today they’re calling for at least six inches of snow. It’ll be a white Christmas. What a strange year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Should we kiss the newspapers goodbye?

Not on your life! A ‘news day’ is dawning and we’ll love our newspapers again!
by Charlie Leck

My wife cringes on those mornings when my newspaper doesn’t show up. I get so violently involved in trying to call the paper to tell them my paper didn’t arrive that she runs and hides.

What do I get when I call? A recording! It asks me to touch this number and then that and it never grants me the satisfaction and psychological release of screaming at someone about my paper not showing up in my box at the appointed hour.

I am a newspaper lover. I like to see the ink on my fingers after spending an hour with the morning paper.

“Careful,” my wife shouts at me as I push back from the kitchen dining counter, “don’t touch anything. Wash your hands!”

Yes, newspaper ink is awful. It is supposed to be better than it was in the “old days,” but it is still pretty bad.

Newspapers are folding left and right. A few dailies on the east coast have announced that they’ll home deliver only 3 times a week now.

This is crazy! I love the internet. I adore the blogs I read, but no newspaper? Has the world gone stark, raving mad?

During this financial crisis it is very possible that we will see a half dozen major newspapers around the United States just announce they are closing up.

I keep thinking that we’ll never let it happen. What are the guys who ride the train from Hastings-on-Hudson into Manhattan going to do without their newspapers? Or the women for that matter? What am I going to do with my Sunday morning breakfast? Will I instead need to read again The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, as I chomp on my English muffin? No sports column by Sid Hartman? That’s outlandish!

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune let a couple of its best news people go last week. Katherine Kersten and Nick Coleman were the class of the paper – la crème de la crème. They were simply making too much money and the paper unabashedly announced that it couldn’t afford them. Scott Johnson on the Powerline blog writes about this move as if it has something to do with ideology and an improvement of the paper’s balance. That’s crazy Scott. This is an economic move. It’s a Hail Mary pass with only seconds left in the fourth quarter.

I harbor this fantasy that the newspaper will become king again – King of the news industry and that the public will long again for the days of printer’s ink on its fingers and significant stories that run on for column after column, giving us not only the news but an analysis of it.

I have a Long and Personal History with the Newspaper

The Newspaper and I
by Charlie Leck

My old man sold newspapers. I never saw the numbers laid out before me, but it was a big part of his livelihood. Of course, we didn’t have Excel spreadsheets back in those days either.

Selling the Sunday morning newspapers was quite a process that began sometime on Saturday afternoon. I was deeply involved in that process from early on in childhood. It was something I could count on every single weekend. Other activities, like the Saturday matinee movie at the Borough Hall or the high school football game, had to be fitted around the preparation of the Sunday newspapers.

I’m talking about a lot of newspapers. Sixty years ago, the newspaper was a really big deal. To understand, you need to imagine a world without CNN, MSNBC and FOX News. As a matter of fact, for that period at the beginning of my history with the Sunday newspapers, you need to imagine a world without TV. Really!

We sold a lot of different newspapers on Sunday morning – the New York Daily News, the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Daily Mirror, the New York Times and the Newark Star Ledger. Mountainous piles of each were waiting for our customers on Sunday morning, when we opened the doors at 8:00 A.M..

I’ve tried my best to describe my old man’s store in the past. It’s not an easy thing to do. A friend of mine, in an email to another friend, did his best in trying to describe it.
“The Leck general store [was] on the square with the Chester House Hotel and Post Office. The store was a kind of Norman Rockwell building with a broad wood porch and one big room with a long counter on one side and an ice cream fountain on another. The front and the other side were windows so you could see the traffic, if it ever came by. Then there were tables and chairs for the fountain customers and a big stove in winter. Charlie’s mother and father served customers from behind the long counter, taking down the cans from the tall shelves against the wall as they asked for them. It was our favorite place for ice cream and candy if we could get some. In fact, the only place! There were always kids you knew there when you went in or hung out on the porch….” [John Hopper]
That’s not a bad description, but the old place looked very different on a Sunday morning because the newspapers were stacked in tall piles in front of that long counter. As a small boy I wondered at how all those newspapers could possibly be sold. Even more, I wondered at how anyone could possibly read any newspaper as thick as the New York Times; yet, some customers would come in and purchase three different papers for their Sunday reading.

The pre-printed sections of all the papers began arriving on Saturday afternoon. Big bundles of the advertising sections, and the magazine sections, and ‘the comics’ were all dropped off by big trucks that pulled up to the long porch in front of the store. We had to haul the big bundles inside and tuck them out of sight.

On Saturday evening, when business slowed to a trickle, we began pulling out the big bundles of the advanced sections of each of the papers. Piles were created on all the dining tables around the store with each table representing a different paper. My old man was always in charge of the NY Times table. The advance sections were all slid together so that there would be only one compiled section to fold into the “hot” news sections that would arrive in the early morning. These were left sitting on the table or on the chairs next to each of the tables.

Early on Sunday morning, long before the rising of the sun, from my bedroom above the store, I could hear the big, heavy bundles of the newspapers landing on the porch down below. The whole building seemed to shake as each bundle crash on the old, wooden landing area. One truck would arrive with some of the papers and another would arrive with the others.

“All hands on deck!”

My father would pop in and alert my brothers and sister. In those early years, before my sister and brothers moved away, there was always plenty of help. Even in the later years of the store’s history, though my brothers lived in their own homes with their own wives, they would show up faithfully on Sunday morning for the massive assembly line.

Each of us had our assigned duties. In the early years, when I was but a little tike, my main job was taking finished papers in small piles and stacking them in front of the counter as high as I was able. When they reached the height of my eyes, one of my brothers would take over my task.

As I grew older and taller, I migrated into the assembly line and had my own table and my own papers to assemble. Three, four or five sections, depending on the newspaper, had to be assembled and then Saturday’s advance section needed to be folded into each of Sunday’s packet to make a final Sunday newspaper.

It all had to be completed by eight o’clock when there would be a dozen or more people standing out on the porch waiting for my old man to unlock the door and allow them in. Often, someone who thought he was a special friend would signal that he would like early entrance. Some people even tapped on the glass windows from the porch. My father pretended not to see or hear a thing and instructed us to do the same. To interrupt the assembly process would mean we wouldn’t be ready for the opening at eight o’clock.

The dining tables were nearly black with printer’s ink when the last paper was assembled. My mother was on the job by this time and she went from table to table, scrubbing each of them and wiping down their chairs as well.

I watched in amazed wonder when the doors were finally opened. People strode in rapidly and grabbed their favorite newspaper, or even a couple of them, and then asked for a quart of milk, bacon and a dozen eggs to take along home. Some fellows took their paper to a table and spread out, telling my mother they’d like a hot cup of coffee and, perhaps, an English muffin with marmalade. All the tables would be taken within 10 minutes and, sometimes, one old-timer would join another local at his table.

The big piles of newspapers began to diminish. For some of the papers there were reserves that had been stacked in the store room in the back of the store and my job was to refresh the piles when they began to get near the bottom.

“Come on! Make it snappy,” my old man would call out to me.

There were other commands as well.

“Fetch me a pound of Maxwell House!”

“Bring a pint of heavy cream!”

“Get me down a box of Corn Flakes!”

“Gotta have four bottles of cold Coke!”

Things seemed to fly off the shelves, out of the big refrigerator box and from the soda cooler.

Every customer seemed to know my old man personally. They’d call him Hank, or Hennie or Henry, depending on how personally they knew him.

I remember making judgments about the sophistication of our townspeople depending on which newspapers they purchased. Of course, those who picked up the NY Times were the learned, reading folks in town. The guy who picked up the Daily Mirror was tagged as a less complex person.

All kinds of items moved off the shelves on a Sunday morning. No one seemed to purchase just the paper. Work gloves sold like crazy during the gardening months. Magazines could be chosen from a long, low counter in the front of the store, and there were dozens and dozens from which to choose – all the way from Popular Mechanics to Look Magazine. Candy bars, in the display cases right above the stacks of newspapers, sold swiftly too. So did chewing gum and packs of Chesterfields and Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Things would calm down after an hour or so, but then the pre-church and after-church rushes would begin. By one o’clock, nearly all the papers were gone. We’d shut the store down for an hour and my old man would hang out a sign, telling folks we were having our Sunday dinner and would open again at two.

My mom would have something special for us all to eat. The dining room table, pulled out into the middle of our living room, would have her best china all set out on it. We’d enjoy Yankee Pot Roast, or leg of lamb, or Virginia Baked Ham. Sundays were never fish days. That was Friday.

The old man would finish dinner and have time for a half-hour nap before he had to open up again. He’d lie down on the sofa that paralleled the dining room table and drift off, snoring loudly. Most times we’d try to let him sleep and my brothers and I, or Blanche, the neighbor lady who worked for us on Sunday afternoons, would open the place up.

My mother might offer specials to luncheonette customers, depending on what was left over from our Sunday dinner. A nice Virginia baked ham sandwich on a home-made dinner roll was always popular. So, was a hot, Yankee pot roast sandwich smothered in thick gravy, with mashed potatoes on the side. Top it off with a chocolate milk shake and our customers would have a spectacular Sunday afternoon meal with no reason to worry about dinner on that night.

The last few, scattered newspapers would be gone by evening. If there were any left, they’d be bundled and marked for return to the truckers on the following Saturday. We’d never have anything more than a small bundle to put out for return.

I’ve known the feel and smell of printer’s ink for nearly all my life. When I’ve worked my way through the paper on a Sunday morning, I look down at the blackness on my fingers and I’m reminded of those days in that little town and in that general store where we mixed assembling the newspapers with jerking behind the soda fountain.

Late in the summer of 1959, I left New Jersey and ventured west. Mother had left for the stars. My brothers and sister had their own homes. It was difficult to leave Pop alone, but I had some of my own hillocks to climb and I needed to sit with someone sweet beneath the stars, examining them. I came home in the summer of 1960 and worked a few jobs to earn tuition money for college. I also helped out in the store and assembled Sunday papers for the last time. That autumn, I left for good and never again put together a newspaper or waited on another customer in Leck’s Confectionary.

The old store was played out. The old man’s heart wasn’t in it anymore. I knew that. He wouldn’t hang on much longer.

TV had arrived. Walter Cronkite talked the news nearly every evening of the week. Newspapers consolidated and changed their emphasis.

It would take another 50 years, but the newspaper industry had begun its slow decline toward extinction. As certain as death is, I still refuse to believe in it!

I close my eyes and see those towering stacks of newspapers, standing taller than I, lined up in front of the candy counter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Minnesota Charities and Nonprofits are in Trouble

Nonprofits must change their approach to fundraising!
They could be saved with an Obama type effort!
by Charlie Leck

When it comes to charitable giving, my wife and I have tried to be cautious, informed and wise in our donations. We consider the Charities Review Council (CRC) here in Minnesota one of the important tools we use in educating ourselves about organizations that ask for money. We turn to CRC to get reports on how wisely organizations use the money that they are given. And, we make sure we give a little support money to the CRC each year for the work they do. You can get a lesson on how to be a smart giver at the CRC web site.

The economy is hitting your favorite charities very hard right now. Many of them have had to cut staff and cut programming. The stories about this matter have been abundant in the newspapers over the last couple of weeks. About 50 percent of Minnesota’s nonprofits have had more than a 50 percent decline in revenue. And, about 50 percent of all our nonprofits have had nearly a 50 percent increase in expenses. At the same time, these nonprofits have had nearly a 50 percent decline in individual contributions. It gets more staggering when you understand that most of these organizations have had a 40 percent increase in the demand for their services. On top of all this, about 10 percent of these worthy organizations have seen about an 8 percent drop off in volunteers. [Source: Star-Tribune report of 17 December 2008]

Big time givers (I’m talking about people who give hundreds of thousands of dollars) are cutting back their giving by up to 50 percent. When you are a non-profit that is accustomed to getting $200,000 annually from an individual giver and that donation gets cut in half, you are in big trouble. It means a cut back in staff and/or programming.

The criminal case against Tom Petters here in Minnesota, and against Bernard Madoff, in New York City, has really hurt a number of significant nonprofits. Hundreds of thousands of dollars – more likely millions of dollars – are at stake. A couple of those big nonprofits who had invested in Madoff’s funds are Minnesota organizations.

Hundreds of fine organizations are feeling the pinch because of this very tight economy. I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime.

Nonprofits must change their approach to fundraising
Nonprofits must change their approach to fundraising and they could learn a lot from the way Barack Obama financed his campaign for the Presidency. To really raise dough, Obama turned to the little guys – to small donors – looking for gifts of a few hundred dollars or more, rather than thousands of dollars; however, there were thousands and thousands and thousands of those small donors and the amounts that came in each time Obama made an appeal for help were astonishing.

I’m told by someone within the apparatus of Obama’s fund raising operation that they didn’t even push the gas pedal completely down. They had a contingency plan, had they needed more money, to really put out a call to thousands and thousands more of the ordinary people in America. They never had to engage the plan.

The Obama organization used email and the Internet as creatively as it can be done. In a single 24 hour period they could restock their treasuries with millions of dollars. The money came mostly from people who had never heard of hedge funds and/or derivatives.

I’m currently watching a little non-profit, cooperative food market try to get going in our region. They’ve plodded along so slowly, at a snail’s pace or worse. They haven’t tapped one little bit into the Internet or into email fund raising and membership growth. I’m astonished at their lack of sophistication in this important arena.

The nonprofits that will survive, and even thrive, in our current atmosphere will be those that learn how to harness the power of the World Wide Web. Snail mail is a thing of the past. I don’t believe I ever got a letter in the mail from the Obama organization; yet I found myself making $100 contributions about a dozen times during the course of the campaign. And I was only one of millions who did that. Play with the numbers! And remember, the Obama organization barely used a piece of paper or a penny for postage.

The Red Cross is using the Internet and email wisely. So are a lot of political and lobbying organizations. Beyond that, I haven’t seen any of the nonprofits I favor using the power of email. Even the CRC hasn’t used email as wisely as it should or could.

The case against Arkansas!
Among telephone solicitors for charitable organizations and nonprofits, those from Arkansas dominate on our telephone. I can’t tell you the number of calls I get from that state, soliciting money for every type of charitable organization. I always beg-off and decline to give. Why? Because Arkansas has very loose regulations for fundraisers in that state. The calling company can actually peel away more than 50 percent of the funds given to a particular charity. It’s another instance about how we can be smarter in the way we give.

If I give, for instance, to the Special Olympics, I try to give to the Minnesota Chapter or directly to the national offices of the Special Olympics without going through an independent fundraiser. I don’t want a big chunk of the money I give going to a private, for-profit, fund raising organization.

Give more than you can afford this year!
I urge you to give until it hurts this year! Give wisely, but give more than you usually do even if it means you need to cut back on your own life style. And, if it's possible think about volunteering some of your time to one or more of these organizations. It’s time for Americans to show what they’re made of.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meeting Eunice

Some people are just special, and you can see it and feel it in those who are!
by Charlie Leck

I went along to a Christmas gathering with my wife the other night.

I didn’t know the crowd, but my wife works with the hostess and was thrilled to be invited. It turned out that most of the people there were family members and I began to feel a little bit like a misplaced person. That is, until Eunice showed up.

Eunice brightened everything up. She made everyone smile and feel glad they were alive. Once we got her talking about herself and her own life, I was so wishing I had a tape recorder hidden in my pocket so I could capture some of the extraordinary stories and meanderings of this lovely woman.

It turned out that Eunice is the grand-dam of the family. She’s 94 years old but still filled with vim and vigor. (Geez, I’ve never used that – “vim and vigor” – in any of my writing before. What the heck is “vim” anyway?)

Eunice had 6 kids of her own and then was blessed with a dozen or so grandkids and a couple dozen great-grandkids.

Sitting next to Eunice all evening was her 64 year old son, Jimmy. He didn’t say anything much because he can’t. One might be inclined to call him a vegetable; however, you certainly won’t do that once you hear him humming “Jingle Bells” or see him looking over at you, smiling and working to point a finger as if trying to greet and welcome you to the family gathering.

Every few minutes, Eunice would reach over and lovingly pat Jimmy on the arm, letting him know she was there and that she loved him then and forever.

Jimmy lives at home, with Eunice, in the same house they owned when Jimmy came into their lives. Some birthing problems, which would be easily solved in today’s hospitals, caused severe and permanent damage to Jimmy and everyone soon learned that he’d be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life and wouldn’t be able to talk or do much to care for himself.

It was no big deal to Eunice. Jimmy was her boy and she’d just make sure she was always there for him. It’s clear that the brothers and sisters feel the same way. Watching each of them greet Jimmy, as they arrived, with hugs and kisses or a rough, boy-like rubbing of his hair and head, made the outsider’s heart just leap with happiness and delight. It’s wonderful to watch people loving each other right before your eyes.

If you express that wonder to any of them, they look at you as if you’re strange for saying it. What else? Of course we’ll love him forever and do everything we can to make his life meaningful! Of course! What else?

The siblings take their turns going to the old family house to make sure Jimmy gets bathed and tended to – stuff that is too heavy or awkward for Eunice to do anymore.

When Jimmy arrived at the party the other night, I watched Mary, one of his sisters, so expertly lift him from his wheel chair and set him comfortably on one of the soft, cushy chairs in the living room. Jimmy is not a little man. Mary understood weight and leverage so perfectly and used them to her advantage. I guess a life time helping to care for the boy, grown into a man, would do that. Yet, it was more than just the physical routine of lifting him and moving him. There was such love and tenderness in the act that I was pretty overwhelmed as I witnessed it.

And, I was spellbound listening to Eunice talk about her life. I kept encouraging her with questions. I wondered how a 94 year old could be so young, alert, strong and vigorous. It was as if she knew she had no choice. She had to stay that way because there was always Jimmy in her life. He needed her to be tough and active. He needed her love and he deserved it, too.

Lordsy, every once in a while you meet someone who confirms for you your hope that people are really good and confident and loving.

My, oh my! Eunice made my Christmas for me! She made me hear the angels singing; and she made the great star, leading us toward the birth place of a little child, grow brighter and brighter.

I looked at Jimmy and I saw the little lord who was born in a manger. I looked over at Eunice and I saw the purity and wonder of the woman who gave life to him and loved him with a never fading intensity.

The Lord once promised us that we would meet him in the strangest places, when we were unprepared for the encounter, and when we would least suspect that it was he.

Could it be?

Have a joyous Christmas filled with love and loyalty!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Texan in Arkansas prison for 30 years is innocent

Harold Davey Cassell, known as Dinker, will file his last appeal...
by Danny Lyon

John Gibson, the head of the Arkansas Delta Truth & Justice Center, who I got to know this summer while I was down in Mississippi at a reunion of civil rights workers from the 1964 Voter Registration Project, asked me to publish this story, by Danny Lyon, on my blog. John Gibson is a good man, devoted to the principles behind the name of his non-profit organization. I gladly place the story here. Danny Lyon is an American filmmaker and photographer who received his BA from the University of Chicago in 1963. He began publishing his photographs in that same year while he worked as a volunteer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

My name is Danny Lyon. I am a well known photographer and filmmaker. In 1962, when I was twenty, I was in jail in Georgia with Dr. Martin Luther King. When I was twenty six I did a major photo documentary inside the Texas Prison system, published as Conversations with the Dead. At the time there were 12,500 inmates in the Texas Department of Corrections. Today there are 200,000. Inside the prison I met an inmate named James Renton.

Early in the morning of Dec. 21st, 1975, in the woods outside of Fayetteville, a young police officer from Springdale, named John Hussey was murdered. Kidnapped, handcuffed and shot four times in the head with his own gun, it was clear from the beginning that his abduction and murder were connected to a burglary that had happened a few hours earlier, in Rogers, Arkansas. The FBI believed that four men were present that night at the burglary, and all four were present at the murder, and that all four fired a shot into Officer Hussey.

One of these men, Don McLaughlin, committed suicide. Another, Larry Wallace, vanished into the Texas prison system. The third was Renton, who was convicted and sentenced to Life. Renton died in prison in 1995. The fourth man was Harold Davey Cassell. Cassell, who would not testify at his own trial and refused to “help put Renton in the electric chair” was also found guilty of capital murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Cassell, whom most people call Dinker, is still in prison.

During the process of writing “Like a Thief’s Dream” (PowerHouse Books) a book about Renton, I visited Fayetteville and went through thousands of pages of documents and evidence that has been preserved in Springdale. I also interviewed all the major figures still alive in the police department and the FBI that were active in the case. I interviewed Cassell many times for many hours and collected other documentation from inmates that knew both Cassell and Renton in prison.

There is absolutely no question that Cassell was not present during the burglary at Rogers that proceeded the crime and was not present during the abduction of Officer Hussey. He and another burglar, who had been in Fayetteville the previous night, were 100 miles away in Oklahoma when the officer was murdered by two people (McLaughlin and Renton), not four, in the woods west of Fayetteville.

Cassell, who is today at 58, an extremely likable and educated inmate, has been in prison for thirty years. He is innocent. He is also one of over one thousand men doing life sentences in Arkansas who will almost certainly die in prison. In the United States there are at least 100,000 inmates also serving life sentences. Most of these men will almost certainly never be released.

Cassell has unsuccessfully used up all but one of his Federal and State appeals. His wife, Colleen McGrath, who still awaits him in the free world, says “Dinker should be released for time served.” She is right. Whatever his role in this horrendous crime, and it was zero, he has done enough prison time. Father Louis Franz of Arizona has hired the West Memphis Lawyer, Gerald Coleman to file what is Dinker’s last chance to leave the Arkansas prison alive. Dinker is a teacher in the Cummins Unit. His address is...
Harold Davey Cassell #73885
PO Box 500, Blk #2
Grady Arkansas, 71644 – 0500.

Media interested in this story may contact me at

Father Lou Franz can be reached at
Arkansas Churches for Life
PO Box 1208
Flagstaff, Arizona…..

Thank you for reading this.
Danny Lyon

Monday, December 15, 2008


How a dog can change your life
and what’s wrong with ignoring the needs of the U.S. auto industry!
By Charlie Leck

A reader posted a comment on one of my recent blogs, telling me she also has a dog named Jasper.

Odd? I think so, because it’s an odd name. I don’t ever remember hearing of another dog with that name. Now I learn that an old and good friend has a Jasper also. [Molly, we’ll have to have them meet up some day!]

I certainly hope her Jasper is as wonderful as mine. She writes that her dog doesn’t have strong loyalties and that the grass on the other side of the fence (literally) always looks greener to him. When she lets Jasper out, he immediately goes over to the neighbor’s house, eats the cat food and finds a comfortable bed on which he can rest.

My Jasper has been wonderful for me and it was very bright of us to get him. He exercises me daily, something that I had gotten out of doing. My first walks with him were of about a quarter mile or so. Now it’s no problem to walk with him for 3 or 4 miles. The weather is having some impact on our exercise. Neither of us likes these very frigid conditions and he’s had it with the great outdoors after 5 minutes or so.

Last weekend the weather turned balmy, so we were able to take him over to the dog park for a couple of hours. I got a nice long walk in and I immediately realized how much I miss those strolls.

This wonderful guy has literally changed my life. For the last couple of years I’ve spent nearly every day at home by myself, reading or writing. Both my muscles and spirit had begun to atrophy. That’s not good. Now I have a responsibility to him. He needs his exercise and I don’t have options about that. We pick the warmest part of the day and head for the trails and spend an hour or so wandering together. I chat with him all along the way. He’s not a great conversationalist, but he gives every impression that he is a good listener.

When I sit at this desk, writing, he likes to lie right at my feet and sometimes directly on top of them. That keeps my toes warm. His snoring is gentle and rhythmic and doesn’t bother me.

Today’s Star-Tribune (the newspaper of the Twin Cities) has a good column by our former U.S. Senator, Mark Dayton, about how to fix Minnesota. He criticizes our Governor’s “no new taxes” pledge. If ever there’s a time to raise taxes, especially on the upper-income citizens, it is now. Tough times, like these, call for those of us who can afford it to make sacrifices and contributions to the general good of the entire population. That’s always been part of the American spirit and it’s wrong not to tap into that character now.

Jasper is in complete agreement with me on this matter. Instead, we are both afraid that our state legislative bodies with curl up in a tight fetal position and, to the detriment of us all, do nothing.

Lorie Sturdevant’s column about the U.S. Senate election recount process here in Minnesota was certainly worth reading. Jasper and I hope this incredibly close race teaches people that it is crucial to exercise your constitutional right to vote. I am astounded when I meet people who don’t vote.

Jasper also agrees with Rick Taft’s letter in this morning’s local paper.
“Those senators who want to guard the taxpayers against the auto industry never batted an eye when sending this country into perpetual debt bondage to make war against a country that never did anything to us. What a bunch.” [RICK TAFT, WOODBURY]
I agree with Taft. We’ve only dropped a cool 3 trillion dollars in Iraq alone. That’s not a misprint – trillion – 3 of them to pursue an absolutely stupid and unnecessary war. However, we can’t pump 15 billion into the auto industry. Japan has a long history of subsidizing its auto industry, to help it compete against us. It would, I think, have disastrous affects if we allow the U.S. auto industry to go under.

I’m not a William Kristol fan, but I read him regularly to try to retain some balance in my thinking. Kristol’s column of today (15 December 2008) has an interesting take on Congressional assistance for the auto industry. It might be worth your time to read Kristol’s opinion on this matter.

“Now there are other ways to explain the disparate treatment of G.M. and Citigroup. Finance is different from manufacturing, and banks from auto companies. It may be that the case for a huge bank bailout was strong, and that the case for a more modest auto package is not. Still, it seems to me true that the financial big shots haven’t been treated nearly as roughly in Congress or in the media as the auto executives, who have done nothing remotely as irresponsible as their Wall Street counterparts.” [William Kristol]
Well, the warmest portion of the day is approaching, so I’m going to take Jasper out for about a 45 minute walk.

Come on back tomorrow!