Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Some Recommendations

I know you’re capable of finding your own good stuff to read, but here’s some more you may have missed…
by Charlie

Here’s some absolute must reading for you. Please. And also some fun reading.

and more than anything, I would have you not miss this wonderful, simply wonderful, combination of illustrations and historical information from Maria Kalman: And the Pursuit of Happiness. Oh my, it was the most delightful discovery of a wonderful weekend. It made me smile and laugh and, sometimes, at the same time.

“A few hundred years later, a beheading craze swept France. Alexis de Tocqueville’s parents, awaiting execution, were spared the guillotine and freed. This made a deep impression on Alexis, who decide in 1830 to sail to America and observe firsthand this new thing called Democracy. His writing was filled with astute reflections:

‘…if one asked me to what do I think one must principally attribute the singular prosperity and growing force of this people, I would answer that it is to the superiority of its women.’

“Oh, Tocqueville, you’re the man!”

Heavens, don’t miss this fun-filled presentation by Kalman. It should get a Pulitzer.

I guess Kalman does a regular column. I didn’t know. I won’t miss it again. It made me go around whistling all Sunday afternoon.

Second, Garrison Keillor’s column for the week of 24 March 2009, The Poetry of Spring, is justwonderful and will provide you plenty of laughs.

“Here in Minnesota, spring doesn't arrive for good until Mother's Day and the opening of walleye season, when men and their mothers go fishing and sit around the campfire afterwards and pass the whiskey bottle and she talks about her years traveling with the tent show before she met their father, all the wonderful men she knew, ducktailed men with big tattoos on their chests who drove fast cars and carried rolls of fifties and weren't afraid to spend, which is a shock, to hear about Mother's wild roving years, but everyone did have them, so get over it. And the urge to rove wildly does strike people at this time of year.”

Then, Tom Friedman’s column of 28 March 2009: Mother Nature’s Dow

And also, Nicholas Kristof’s column of 28 March 2009: A Boy Living in a Car

Perhaps, as well, see if this comment by Maureen Dowd, from her column of 28 March 2009, motivates you to go read her piece called Blue Eyed Greed. No big deal if you don’t, but the closing is kind of cool. I still adore Michelle Obama and I like what she’s doing for our nation.

“Before Barack Obama, when I interviewed the brown-eyed sons of immigrants who were thinking of running for president, Mario Cuomo and Colin Powell, they seemed torn about taking the big plunge, given how far they had come in relation to their dads.

“I asked Governor Cuomo if he was leaving the field to “the privileged blue-eyed WASPs” like Bush senior and Dan Quayle who felt entitled and never worried about their worthiness. ‘Barack Obama and his family have already had a profound effect on the culture in terms of what is beautiful and marketable. Black faces are popping up in all kinds of ads now — wearing straw boaters and other prepster outfits in Ralph Lauren ads.

“With Michelle urging students to aim for A’s and the president promising to make school “cool,” brown eyes may finally — and rightfully — overtake blue as the windows of winners."

Then also, last Friday evening I prepared Potatoes au Gratin (Fast Potatoes au Gratin) as instructed by the Minimalist, Mark Bittman. It reminded me again why I always check him out in the NY Times. His potato recipe was fantastic. Now, on Sunday, he presented a video on preparing Tiny Seafood Pancakes. Think I won’t try them? Think again. Start with his blog and then view the video.

Finally, if you are prepared for some serious and important reading, you may want to go to the New York Times Magazine, which I get delivered here at the house, and read this absolutely fascinating story about Freeman Dyson, The Civil Heretic, who is the guru of those who argue against global warming. He seems like a charming old codger, and all, who simply wants more facts and less models and opinions.

"Science is not a matter of opinion; it is a question of data. Climate change is an issue for which Dyson is asking for more evidence, and leading climate scientists are replying by saying if we wait for sufficient proof to satisfy you, it may be too late."

There is no question that Dyson has remarkable credentials. Paul Moravec, a classical music composer, calls Dyson "the world's most civil heretic."

Dyson says that the history of science is littered with people "who make confident predictions about the future and end up believing their predictions."

I'm not convinced when I put down this article. Dyson is not saying and has never said that global warming is not an issue. He's merely saying it has still not been proven. He argues more vociforously that science can create a cure for it than he argues against it.

The man proudly keeps his Obama sticker on his car. He works for a reputable think-tank in Princeton, but he goes out and participates in protests against the Iraq war. You get the idea. He's not a wild-assed rightie who opposes the idea of global warming just to oppose it. To him, the concept just hasn't met the scientific burden of proof.

Dyson calls what Al Gore proposes too expensive and claims it would hurt the poor.

"I'm concerned about the Chinese. They've... changed their standard of living the most, gong from poor to middle class. To me that's very precious."

He doesn't think anyone has provided scientific evidence at all that confirms global warming is responsible for giant storms like Katrina or that it's causing the ice in the Arctic to melt.

"Most of the time in history the Arctic has been free of ice... A year ago when we went to Greenland where warming is the strongest, the people loved it."

It's a long read, but very well worth the time. I'm still worried about global warming.

My drawing is based on a photograph in the New York Times Magazine.

There you have it!
Among these are, at least, a couple of items for which you will want to thank me. You’re welcome!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday Morning Magic

Dick Cavett and the magical Slydini

by Charlie Leck

Sunday morning, more than two hours before the sun will rise again, is a wonderful time. Just my black dog and I in my study, with only the desk lamp and the computer monitor throwing out any light. This creates a peacefulness that my soul just loves. I sometimes horripilate in moments like these.

Enter Dick Cavett and the morning becomes so special that one is tempted to call it holy. Cavett has something new on his blog [Dick Cavett’s blog, Talk Show]. This only happens every two or three weeks and that is the only thing I don’t like about his blogging.

On this particular dark and quiet Sunday morning, Cavett introduces me to the great Slydini. It was just the kind of encounter I needed on this morning. I didn’t want to read about Afghanistan or the ongoing, ongoing vote count for the Minnesota Senate seat.

Cavett fell in love with magic as a child and, eventually, Slydini became one of his great heroes. In his blog, he went on and on in introducing this great man as his friend, needing to conclude the introduction by apologizing if he had over-introduced him. I thought he had, until I watched the video of Slydini’s appearance on Cavett’s PBS show in 1977.

What a charming and wonderful man! What magic and gracefulness in his hands!

It’s a half-hour show. I thought I’d watch for five minutes or so. I sat transfixed by disappearing and reappearing cigarettes and silver dollars that smashed through tables and ropes and handkerchiefs that did all kinds of totally impossible things.

“This is real magic,” I thought. Slydini's audience sat immediately next to him. They could reach out and touch the great man. They could see everything, but they saw nothing.

“You knowa why?” He asked them in his stumbling Italian accent. “You noa watch right!”

Yet they watched so carefully that their eyes hurt and so did mine; yet, wonder of wonder, I saw nothing but glorious magical recreations of things that had been cut or tied so firmly together that they would never be single or separated again – except when they passed through the hands of the marvelous Slydini.

You lika magic? You-a-be sura to a-watcha d’clever Slydini.

No super electronics. No disappearing Tigers. No promises to make the World Trade Towers reappear. Just simple, elegant magic. Just amazing, transfixing hands.

Hold on to your bra as you do; for it will seem that Slydini is going to reach out through the years and through your monitor to swipe it from you.

Thanks again, Dick Cavett. No, you didn’t over-introduce your friend and mentor. You did just fine.

[Watch the Slydini/Cavett video ]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Bernie Madoff Story

My drawing is based on a Time Magazine photograph.

It’s the most peculiar, frightening, yet tantalizing story in a long, long time! Who will get to tell it?
by Charlie Leck

How could he have done it? I don’t mean technically, or in financial terms. I mean, how could Bernie Madoff get his soul and heart and mind to come together in agreement to do what he did?
The answer to that question is the big story and someone in the next two or three years is going to write it and give us the answers.

Sometime or other, not too long after he had moved down the road in this Ponzi scheme, Madoff must have realized that it couldn’t go on forever – that, eventually, it all had to come crashing down upon him. Whenever that realization washed over him, I want to know how he dealt with himself and his life.

How was it to fly to the French Riviera and board his multi-million yacht and go slithering out into the Mediterranean?

How was it to play golf at his extraordinary country club in Palm Beach, with buddies whose lives he was destroying by siphoning off their dreams of a comfortable retirement?

How was it to sit at dinner with his family, in his home out in the Hamptons, and realize, deep down, that soon their lives would be nearly destroyed?

How was it to go to synagogue and to sit listening to the Rabbi’s homily about honesty and decency and kindness?

I heard a chattering, seemingly intelligent fellow musing on Public Radio. He speculated that a guy like Madoff takes the first step into a scheme like this believing there is a way out – that there is a fix at hand and all can be made whole and well again. With each ensuing step into the scheme that possibility disappears, and eventually one has waded into such a depth that one realizes it is all hopeless.

Will we ever know the mind of Bernie Madoff? I’m not so interested in the technical methods he used to destroy the financial lives of so many people and institutions; I’m interested in the mind-set of the man and what he thought with each step he took that led him deeper and deeper into this sea of hopelessness.

That will be the great story of the coming decade and there are a dozen or so writers out there dreaming about telling it. Who can get his cooperation? Can Bob Woodward? Perhaps John Seabrook? Or Peter J. Henning? Or Steve Fishman, who has written the best long piece about Madoff to this point (The Monster Mensch in the New Yorker Magazine). Oh, if Truman Capote were only alive to write it.

What a story of evil and destruction! Yet, Madoff doesn’t seem like your typically evil person! The juxtaposition of those two realities makes it a dream story to write.

Is Madoff a sociopath? Or is it some other imbalance of ego? Some inability to deal in reality? What?

Is this something Madoff could not have done alone? Along the way, there had to be people who knew. A poor, slob of an accountant knew barely anything, but falsely validated Madoff’s accounting reports. He probably was paid not to know – not to look and not to do an accounting! He’ll go to prison as an accomplice, but was he? So many questions?

How involved were members of Madoff’s family. His brother, Peter, carried the title of “chief compliance officer” of the firm. He had an obligation to the public to make sure the firm’s internal controls were in place and functioning and that investors were protected. Involved? Guilty? Stupid? In an interesting side-story, Peter’s assets were frozen this week by a judge in Nassau County as the result of a claim brought by a young man who protests that Peter was the sole trustee for the last five years over a trust that had been established for him.

And his sons? What about his sons? Andrew and Mark did not work for the firm, but did they know? What did they know? When did they know it?

And what about Ruth, his wife? Did she have a clue? Did she see a darkness descending over her husband? Were there hints that he had waded beyond the shallow, shoreline waters? There are bloggers damning her and calling her things like “the black widow” and providing solid opinions that she was deeply involved. Is there a shred of proof? Some note or email? Some questionable deposit with her name on it? There appears to be nothing of the sort.

And what about the list of victims in this case? Have you looked them over? There are a number of billionaires on the list. How about names like Steven Spielberg? Elie Wiesel? Liliane Bettencourt? John Malkovich? And, there are significant foundations and non-profit organizations that invested with Madoff. They are now in desperate straits. What a part of the story they make! Amazing! What somewriter, who gets the cooperation of the victims, could do with this story!

Shall we ever know? It appears there won’t be a trial. No explanation will come from that. The accounting is there in the mind of the man, waiting for a genius to draw it out and tell the story. Who shall get the chance?

Steve Fishman gives us a hint of the drama and the tension that could be wrapped around this story. He writes of Madoff’s 70th birthday party celebration in Cabos St. Lucus in May of last year. By then things had begun to unravel and Madoff must have been feeling the pressure and tension; yet, at the party, he was cool and calm and listened, with pride and humor, to one birthday toast after another. Fishman writes that one guest can recall Bernie, on the beach, crooning Sweet Caroline, a Neil Diamond song.

“Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’…”
What a story! A writer’s dream!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Absence and Love

Chris is on the box with her husband, Paul, who is driving the coach
they purchased from us last year. The photograph was taken on a
trip they made to Belgium.

I must share this little, lovely bit of French with you!
by Charlie Leck

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted a wonderful, little rhyme in French. I was very taken by it and I offer you her translation, which, unfortunately, does not rhyme.

L'absence est à l'amour ce qu'au feu est le vent: il éteint le petit et ravive le grand...

(English): Absence does to love what wind does to fire: it kills the weak and kindles the strong...
I liked that so much that it went immediately into my quotations notebook and somewhere, sometime, I’ll use it. For now, though, I wondered why I shouldn’t just share it with my blog readers.

Thanks, Chris!

Anne in 1984 on a family vacation to San Diego.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s a Never-Ending Job

Keep on trucking and keep on keeping on!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve been searching for the exact source of the following quotation by Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, but I haven’t been able to find it. It’s been attributed to Reich so many times, however, that I’m confident it’s his. Reich currently teaches on the faculty at Berkely. His book, Supercapitalism, is now out in paperback.

"During the last eight years, politics has worked perversely: taxes on the wealthy have been cut, and so have programs directed at the poor. The reason isn't difficult to explain.

Many Americans -- especially those who have been losing ground have given up on politics. As their incomes have shrunk, they've lost confidence that 'the system' will work in their interest.That cynicism has generated a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Politicians stop paying attention to people who don't vote, who don't work the phone banks or walk the precincts, who have opted out. And the political inattention seems to justify the cynicism.

Meanwhile, the top tier has experienced precisely the opposite -- a virtuous cycle in which campaign contributions have attracted the rapt attention of politicians, the attention has elicited even more money, which in turn has given the top tier even greater influence."
That is why we have elected Barack Obama. For each of us who voted for him, this is the important thing to understand: We must remain involved. We’ve got to keep working as hard as we did during the election campaign. To stop now is to turn the country back over to the selfish, rich bastards who tore it apart so badly and left it shambles.

You can find copies of articles and commentaries by Robert Reich on his web site. You might also want to drop in on Robert Reich’s Blog from time to time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Campaign Promises

No President since FDR has worked harder to keep his campaign promises!
by Charlie Leck

Campaign promises are usually considered a joke. The American public knows that they are generally a tall story. Yet, those who campaign for office make promises the way a migrant worker in the fertile growing fields of California fills produce baskets. Obama certainly made dozens of significant promises during his campaign.

Yet, now that he has his administration up and running at a pretty good pace, it is becoming apparent that President Barack H. Obama appears ready to deliver on most of his promises.

That’s interesting because he had a ready out – a clear escape hatch – if he wanted it. “My goodness, whoever expected to inherit the kind of economy that we were given? In the face of this disaster, we cannot send to Congress much of what we hoped to send.”

I’ve tried to look at the heart of Obama’s campaign promises. It appears to me that the following four were at the heart and soul of his campaign.

Tax Cuts for the Middle Class
As President, Obama is adamant about this promise and keeps reminding the Congress about his seriousness. He understands the skill of jaw-boning. He guarantees Representatives or Senators that he will campaign against them if they don’t deliver in this regard. No one earning under 250,000 dollars a year will see a penny increase in taxes and many of them will see decreases. The wild-assed tax relief for the rich legislation of George W. Bush will not be allowed to renew itself. The wealthy will begin paying their fair share again.

Ending the war in Iraq
Interestingly, this is the most difficult of his promises on which to deliver. How do you go into a nation and make the mess that we’ve made – destroying a nation’s infrastructure, and its most significant institutions, and its general cultural body, and then just up and leave it? Obama has a military man heading Defense who appears to understand the will and desire of his President. There are now clear and straight-forward communications and discussions with Iraqi leaders. The job will get done, but not quite as quickly as Obama often implied during his campaign. As John McCain made clear, we’ll have troops there for a long, long time.

Health Care for All Americans
It is interesting that both major political parties are now beginning to understand that this is a problem we cannot afford to not solve. Health care is America’s biggest burden. It must be addressed and nowhere does the new President have a bigger opportunity for bi-partisan discussions and solutions. Nothing puts more of a drag on America’s economy than the high cost of health care – the most expensive delivery system in the world.

Rebuilding America’s Education System
And then come the big, heavy horses, galloping across the open field in a runaway. Who cares to step forward and try to stop them in their tracks? It is in the area of education that the will of both America’s people and America’s leadership will be tested? Is there heart enough to really solve this problem?

No problem facing America and its President and its political leaders is more crucial, more important to solve, and more difficult to tackle. America has fallen hopelessly behind more than a dozen nations in the quality of the education provided its children. Nations against which we will have to compete economically in the coming decades are producing brighter and more talented graduates. Nothing will hasten the decline of our nation as an economic power more quickly than our failure to squarely address this problem

To the job, President Obama has called Arne Duncan, who headed the Chicago city schools for the past seven years – the country’s third largest school system. He is hailed by some and seriously criticized by others; however, on this one, I trust our President and I’m willing to go with the choice. Duncan is not afraid of controversy and he understands the intricate forces that will array against revolutionary changes in our educational approach.

Duncan wants to reward terrific teachers and successful students. Why not? He wants to weed out bad teachers! Why not? He wants to encourage an alternative system of teacher licensure that will bring in the talents of people who just don’t happen to be formally trained as teachers? Why not? He wants to provide economic incentives for states to “think outside the box” and to “encourage them to do creative, innovative things through our Race to the Top program.” And why not? He wants our students to spend more time in schools – as much time as the other great nations of the world require their students to spend in school. And why not? He wants to raise the compulsory school age to 18. Why not?

The problem is carefully explained by Duncan, who says "we cannot afford to fail." He says that we need better training of students and better testing. He argues that we need to set the standards bar much higher. He states clearly that we need a national standard so we can accurately compare kids in New York and Mississippi, in California and North Dakota, in Georgia and Utah.

And why not?
Duncan himself explains most clearly why we cannot afford to fail and why we must now, at this moment, finally and forthrightly deal with this problem.

“There is an economic imperative – we have to do this. And there is a moral imperative – this is a civil rights issue. When we don’t educate and we have substandard opportunities, we perpetuate poverty; we perpetuate social failure. This is really the fight of our generation!”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Sometimes, I just need a little break from the stress caused by spewing out my guts!
by Charlie Leck

A few of my most faithful readers – and these also happen to be good friends – gave me a lot of grief about my blogs over the last few days.

Leck, are you kidding me? A recipe for Chinese Steak? Instructions on how to compost? A few of your favorite photographs? My Lord, man, I go to your blog to see how close you’re getting to cracking a significant artery and finally having done with it? I don’t go there to find out how to cook. And, I already know how to compost. Anyone who wants to know how, can just google it, for God's sake. Cut it out, okay?” [Ralph, Galveston, TX]

“What’s up, Charlie? Have you taken some time off? Have you some two-bit sissy writing your blogs lately. I think it would be better just to tell us you’re worn out and
have flown to Antigua for some rest. Whoever has been writing lately isn't worth a spit – not even close!” [Susan, Geneva, Suisse]

“Jesus, Leck! What are you doing? Throw a piece of crap out for one day every once in awhile, but not for three days running. What’s this all about? I can’t afford to waste my energy, clicking my index finger on a mouse a couple of times, only to arrive at your blog and find some two–bit recipe for NY Strip steak. For cryin’ out loud, man. You take a strip steak, throw it on the grill and pelt it with a little
salt! Every guy knows that! Where’s your anger? Where’s the profanity? I can’t handle this nice-guy stuff. I know you. Some nice-guys are good friends of mine. And you ain’t no nice guy! Either rev it up or I’m not coming back!” [George, Manchester, NH)
What can I say? When I started to blog, I never really expected readers. I did this as a discipline to write everyday – to write something that could become a record for my grandchildren. I envision them, twenty years from now, showing a little interest – showing a little curiosity about who their slightly dingy grandfather was. Then I discovered I had readers and it became more of a mission to express my rage about this and that. Eventually, I felt like I got trapped into writing for a larger general public and not for those sweet, little kids.

One gets tired of ragging all the time and I do feel, sometimes, like I’m going to burst a blood vessel.

Hiding my rage!
This particular time, however, I just want to vent on the revelations released last week by Mark Danner, a professor of journalism at Berkeley. Danner is one of the leading experts on what happened at Abu Ghraib – the Iraqi prison – while it was under American control.

Recently some documents came into his hands in a rather mysterious manner. They were highly classified reports from the International Red Cross (IRC) regarding its interviews of 14 detainees who had been transferred to Guantánamo from Abu Ghraib. There are plenty of reasons to bank on the validity of these testimonies. The IRC itself believes they are credible because of the element of consistency in the testimony of 14 different individuals. Danner chronicles these cases in a long article, US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites, in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books [read it]. I’ve read it thoroughly and carefully.

Prosecution of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld and others
Here’s something I’ve been avoiding for a long time even though I have known, way back in my mind, that it was inevitable that I would come to this conclusion. The former President, George W. Bush and his Vice President, Dick Chaney, and a number of other high ranking Bush administration officials ought to be prosecuted for serious war crimes.

I don’t think it will happen in my life time, but it ought to.

Danner provides this firm quote from the IRC and says that it “has the power of a legal determination.”
“The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The case by case accounts of the treatment of these human beings made me want to vomit. It is the kind of thing I grew up, as an idealistic child, believing that the United States never did. We might be tortured as prisoners of other nations, but America is too great and believes too firmly in the dignity of the human being to ever do such a thing. Now can you believe it? I actually was sucked into a bunch of the cockamamie bullshit.

Under George W. Bush, and with his approval, prisoners were subjected to the following treatment
  • Deprivation of sleep
  • Starvation
  • Conditions of extreme cold or extreme heat
  • No movement from a single position
  • Kept naked for long periods of times (days and weeks)
  • Forced standing with hands shackled above head
  • Covered with icy cold water for periods of time
  • Painful beatings
  • Extremely loud noise levels
  • Constantly threatening, dangerous sounds

Now this is low level stuff. The really nasty, vicious stuff is yet to be listed. It is important to know that the report says that all of these things were approved by high-level figures in the U.S. government. Dick Chaney and Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft often attended meetings of the National Security Council at which these treatments were discussed and approved.

How about having a towel wrapped around your neck that could be used as a sling to swing you around and smash your head against hard walls – repeatedly? It happened and it was approved treatment. This particular treatment appears to have been refined over time so that a specially fitted plastic collar was created and used for the slinging.

How about being put into a coffin-shaped, coffin-sized, small box for long periods of time? What if the box provided very little amounts of oxygen?

What if wounds and injuries went untreated?

What if sensations of drowning were created during periods of oxygen deprivation?

Of course, the ultimate was the water boarding – the creation of the sensation of drowning.

“What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.”

Until now, I have not favored criminal prosecutions of the former President and Vice President and those other members of the administration who gave approval to this treatment. Now I do.

If anger burns in you, as it does in me, be sure to read the entirety of the Danner article.

It appears Congress may now act. I have asked my U.S. Senator and my Representative in the House to support an investigation that might lead to criminal indictments. I hope you’ll do the same.

There you are Susan, Ralph and George! No pabulum today. Our nation is guilty of the utterly inhumane treatment of prisoners. Nasty! Will the U.N. have the guts to punish us? No! The only hope is that we do it through our own system and that will need to start with Congress.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Compost

Anne allows Jasper to check out the new composter from
Envirocycle Systems of Canada. It's easy to load and easy
to rotate. Liquids drain into the base.. and it's one of the
least expensive rotating composters we found...
inexpensive enough to put a second one next to it.

We're making an effort and trying our best!

by Charlie Leck

ow seriously are you taking the new era under President Obama? Remember, he's asked each of us to find the little things we can do to make the nation and the planet better. It's great if you're doing some of the big things, but don't forget the little things, too. Become a great recycler! Donate to your local food shelf. Volunteer to help out at the food shelf or other community projects.

Among our other efforts, we've begun to compost. We didn't get the hang of it right away, but now I think we're figuring it out. I'll tell you this, the effort has reduced our trash -- the stuff we put out for weekly collection -- by at least one-half.

The rich, dark compost we'll create will go in our garden. Even if you don't garden, go through the process and give the results to your neighbors who do garden. It really doesn't take up much time and it does not have to be costly to get started. We've moved up to rotating barrels, but you don't need much at all to do a good job. Lot's of communities provide composting contraptions and others provide them for small fees. And, as you'll learn below, you can easily make your own.

I've attached an article from wikiHow, to help you out if you don't know where to begin. In addition, if you want to watch WikiHow's video, here it is.

If you are not a composter, this may be one blog you'll want to print out and keep it handy when you get started with your composting.

How to Compost

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Good composting isn't only about building a good bin and correctly mixing the compost. It's also about what you add to the compost. This article will provide a simple outline of what you can and can't compost. Follow the reduce, reuse and recycle way of life to reduce the amount of things you have to end up throwing away.


  1. Choose or construct a bin for your compost. While you can compost successfully in a pile on the ground, a bin will keep the process a bit neater and help to discourage animals if you are composting food scraps. Depending on the construction of the bin, it can also help to regulate moisture and temperature. A good minimum size for a pile is at least 1 cubic yard or 1 cubic meter, though a pile can go larger than this, and smaller-scale composting can be made to work.

  2. Fill your bin with a balanced mixture for best results:
    • Green stuff (high in nitrogen) to activate the heat process in your compost. Perfect heat-generating materials include: young weeds (before they develop seeds); comfrey leaves; yarrow; chicken, rabbit or pigeon manure; grass cuttings; etc. Other green items that compost well include fruit and vegetables; fruit and vegetable scraps; coffee grounds and tea leaves (including tea bags - remove the staple if you wish); vegetable plant remains; plants.

    • Brown stuff (high in carbon) to serve as the "fiber" for your compost. Brown stuff includes fall (autumn) leaves; dead plants and weeds; sawdust; cardboard & cardboard tubes (from foil wraps etc); old flowers (including dried floral displays, minus plastic/foam attachments); old straw and hay; and small animal bedding.

    • Other items that can be composted but you may not have thought of before: paper towels; paper bags; cotton clothing (torn up); egg shells; hair (human, dog, cat etc.) Use all these items in moderation.

    • Air. It is possible to compost without air (anaerobically), but the process employs different bacteria and an anaerobic compost pile will take on a sour smell like vinegar. If you believe your compost pile needs more air, turn it, and consider adding more dry or brown stuff to open up the structure.

    • Water. Your pile should be about as damp as a sponge that has been wrung out. Depending on your climate, you can add water directly or rely on the moisture that comes in with "green" items. A lid on the compost bin will help to keep moisture in. If a pile gets too much water in it, it might not get enough air.

    • Soil or starter compost. This is not strictly necessary, but a light sprinkling of garden soil between layers can help to introduce the correct bacteria to start the compost cycle a little more quickly. If you are pulling weeds, the soil left on the roots may be sufficient to serve this purpose.

  3. Layer or mix the different materials in your bin so that they come into contact with one another and so that you avoid any large clumps. Especially avoid compacting large quantities of green materials together, since they can rapidly become anaerobic.

    • If possible, start with a layer of lightweight brown material, such as leaves, to help keep enough air near the bottom.
    • Try for a mixture of anywhere from 3 parts brown to 1 part green to half and half, depending on what materials you have on hand.
    • Sprinkle each layer lightly with water as you build the heap, if it requires additional moisture.

  4. Turn your pile regularly, once every week or two. Clear a patch next to the pile. Then use a pitchfork and move the entire pile to the clear spot. When it is time to turn the pile again, move it back to the original spot, or back into the bin. Mixing the pile in this way helps to keep air flowing inside the pile, which kills the anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria smell very stinky and they decompose very slowly compared to aerobic bacteria. Turning the pile helps to encourage the growth of the right kind of bacteria and makes for a nice, sweet-smelling pile which will decompose faster.
  • Try to move matter from inside to outside and from top to bottom. Break up anything that is clumpy or matted. Add water if it seems to need it. If you are still adding to the pile, take the opportunity while you turn it to introduce the new matter and mix it well with the older matter.

  1. If you live in a colder climate that has a shorter composting season, be careful of adding slow rotting items such as tough branches, twigs and hedge clippings; wood ash; wood shavings and wood pruning. They can be composted, but you may want to compost them separately due to their longer break-down time.

  2. Try to avoid composting bread, pasta, nuts, cooked food, and newspaper. They don't break down very easily, become quite slimy, and can hold up the heating, rotting-down process. (Old nuts left in the garden will disappear quickly if you have squirrels or monkeys around!)

  3. Never compost the following items for reasons of health, hygiene and inability to break down: meat and meat scraps; bones; fish and fish bones; plastic or synthetic fibers; oil or fat; pet or human feces (except for manure of herbivorous creatures such as rabbits and horses); weeds that have gone to seed; diseased plants; disposable diapers (nappies); glossy magazines; coal and coke ash; and cat litter. These items should be removed in the normal garbage collection.

  4. Harvest your compost. If all goes well, you will eventually find that you have a layer of good compost at the bottom of your bin. Remove this and spread it on or dig it into your garden beds.

  • You may wish to sift it through a coarse mesh screen or use your hands or pitchfork to remove any larger chunks that haven't yet broken down.
  • Very fresh compost can grow plants, but it can also rob the soil of nitrogen as it continues to break down. If you think you are not all the way done, either leave the compost in the bin for a while longer or spread it in your garden and let it sit there for a few weeks before planting anything in it.


  • Composting works almost magically if you begin with a cubic yard of proper materials and turn it weekly. Less than that on either point and results quickly diminish.
  • Locate your compost bin somewhere that is easy to access, so that you and family members will be encouraged to use it.
  • Share a composting facility if you live in an apartment complex.
  • Have a mini compost bin indoors that you keep near your meal preparation area. It should be something that is easy to fill up, transport daily to the compost bin, and keep clean. You could consider a small plastic container (there are fun tiny garbage cans with lids) or use something as simple as a glazed terracotta plant saucer - it looks nice, is easy to clean and transports easily.
  • To aid the decomposing, add some red worms, which can be bought online.
  • Cut around the top of a plastic milk jug leaving it attached at the handle. Keep it under the kitchen sink to collect your compost.
  • For faster break-down, shred leaves, clippings; and crush egg shells.
  • Layering is very effective if possible - one layer brown stuff, one layer green stuff, one layer composting worms (as long as the temperature of your compost does not exceed 25ºC).
  • Contact your local municipality if you can't compost for whatever reason, to see if they will collect garden waste for composting. Many municipalities will collect Christmas trees and chip them for compost in January.
  • In dry weather, fill your bucket with water each time you dump in the compost pile. This will help add needed moisture.
  • If you mow your yard, collect your grass trimmings! It's free, and it's a great way to get more compost, unless you have a mulching mower. A mulching mower will add the grass back to your yard as mulch (not thatch), which will provide your lawn with 40% of its fertilizatin needs. Also, never compost grass that's been mowed within a few days of adding chemical peticides or fertilizers.
  • Bury food scraps under a layer of general yard waste if you wish to include them. It will help to discourage animals and flies. So will having a contained, covered bin.
  • While it's not strictly necessary, a compost pile that's working at its fastest will heat up. If you have created a good mix, you may notice that it's very warm inside, even steaming on a cold morning. This is a good sign.


  • Don't add the things to the compost that are marked above as "never compost" - they will absolutely ruin the compost for one reason or another and some are downright unhealthy.
  • While it is slowly becoming possible to compost dog feces, this must only be attempted under very special conditions in municipally sanctioned compost bins; usually these are located in local parks. Do not use this compost in or near vegetable and fruit gardens. Check with your local municipality for more information. Encourage your municipality to supply these bins in parks and on dog-walking routes.
  • If you are going to compost weeds, dry them out before adding them to the pile. If you don't, they might start to grow.

Things You'll Need

  • A location for your compost pile
  • Vegetable scraps, yard waste, and other compost materials
  • A pitchfork or other tool to turn the compos

Sources and Citations

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Compost. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Great Steak Recipe

Chinese Style Steak – Steak Chinois
by Charlie Leck

Here's a fine recipe that worked perfectly and it looked wonderful, too. If I did it again, I would take the time to do a red wine reduction sauce (recipe upon request) but that might have been over-kill. I did this dinner for two, but it could effortlessly be done for a large number, except then I might be forced to use the outside grill.

Here’s the recipe from the notes I put together from earlier tests. It really is delicious. The garlic level will depend on how lightly or heavily you use the black bean and garlic sauce.

Chinese Style Steak – Steak Chinois

  • NY Strip Steaks
  • ½ Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Black Bean & Garlic Sauce
  • Large Onion
  • Good Grilling Pan (I have an All Clad Ltd no stick, square pan with ribs)

  1. Take out NY Strip Steaks and rub with olive oil on both sides

  2. Salt & Pepper steaks to taste on both sides

  3. Rub steaks with light coating of black bean & garlic sauce on both sides (I like Lee Kum Kee)

  4. Allow steaks to come to room temperature

  5. Slice onion thinly and brown onion in frying or stir-fry pan with olive oil

  6. When onions are nearly done, grill the steaks in hot pan for about 5 minutes on each side or to preferred doneness

  7. Spread onion on platter and put steaks on top of onions

  8. Serve while very hot
Serve with a baked potato or mashed potatoes, a green vegetable or stir-fried vegetables and a French baguette.

Enjoy, with my compliments.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Photos I Really, Really Like

This photograph was sent to me on a postcard by the wife
of this fellow who died just about two years ago. He was a
great guy and this splendid photograph captures the
spirit of him precisely. I smile every time I look at this
terrific picture. I keep it very near my desk so I can see it
often and remind myself of the happiness we should let
loose in ourselves.

A portfolio of wonderful photos I own (sort of)...
by Charlie Leck

Isn’t photography great? What a wonderful hobby and activity!

I’m playing around on Facebook a little bit, trying to figure out its in and outs and its general value to society and to me. Big, inconsequential job!

Right off the top, I can tell you one of the wonderful things about this “social networking service” is that it provides an opportunity to share photos with people we call friends – and I love photographs.

On Facebook, I’m able to communicate with people I really like and see the latest photographs of them and their kin. So, that part I’ve got figured out and I like it.

I’m putting together an album on Facebook – right now – of my favorite photos; that is, photographs I’ve taken and others that have been given or have been sent to me by friends. If you’re on Facebook, you’ll be able to look at this album. They’re things like those I’ve included here, as a little preview for you.

I took this photograph in May of 2007 at Colgate University.
This delightful young lady is one of my daughter's good friends.
I had never seen a more beautiful smile and I had to have a
photograph of it.

I took this photograph in Dallas in 2005. This is one of my brothers,
totally immersed in his enjoyable dinner at Joe's Crab House. When
Frank has a lobster before him, and a bucket of clams, he gets
pretty serious about the moment.

The Pro
This photograph I took in the early '80s on a golfing
trip to Scotland. It was originally a 35mm color photo
that I later digitized and converted to gray scale.
Then, on Photoshop, I used some art filters on it,
including pencil sketch.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Two Old Bags

These old ladies do get it right most of the time. This time they nailed it!
by Charlie Leck

I hate to keep sending you to Helen and Margaret’s blog because I think the old girls are fictional and it’s really written by two young girls at Smith College or Vassar.

Nevertheless, here I am sending you to their blog again today.

Helen covers some of the basic rules of life that should be in play in America – in order for it to consider itself a great country. An example follows.
“No child should go to bed hungry and no parent with a sick child should have to worry about not having health insurance.”
Makes sense, doesn’t it? That is, in a really great nation!

Or, how about this one?
“At the intersection of all the major world religions, you will find the Golden Rule. It’s a place where you will never run into Limbaugh, Coulter or Palin. We all should have directions to that intersection.”
There are lots of others in-between and I recommend you give them a read and then drop me a note, thanking me for the favor of sending you there.

[Read the old bitches, Helen and Margaret: WE HAVE A DREAM!]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Edgar Sawtelle

A Novel by David Wroblewski
by Charlie Leck

Never judge a book by its cover!

If I were to judge a book by its cover, I might call The Story of Edgar Sawtelle an absolute winner even before I cracked the spine. I’m a big fan of beautiful dust jackets. I wonder if they give out awards for dust jacket design. If they don’t, they should!

Allison Saltzman did the design of the cover of the Wroblewski smash hit, bestselling novel. Debra Lill did the artwork. I loved the artwork when I first looked at it in the bookstore, where I bought my copy of the novel, and I appreciated it even more when I put the book down, after reading it; because I held it in my hands and looked at Edgar and Almondine strolling through the field on his farm, walking back toward the big, spectacular barn, and the story just burned into me again.

Someone in the little bookstore in Wayzata pushed the book across the counter to me. I looked down at it and was taken by the melancholy scene of peacefulness and companionship. The colors were soft, but spectacular.

“It the best novel of the year,” the cute, little clerk said, “and maybe the best novel of the last several years. New York Times best seller list for weeks and weeks now. It’s the best novel I’ve read in a long time. You don’t want to miss this one.”

There was an Oprah’s Book Club sticker on the front of the dust jacket. Too bad! It was marring the wonderful art work. I bought the book in spite of it being an Oprah selection. I liked the weight of it – a big, thorough story and I liked holding it in my hands, so I could glance down at it from time to time.

“No bag,” I said. “I’ll just tote it along like this.”

The story opens with a brief, mysterious and intriguing prologue. I forgot the little 5 page story within moments after getting into the heart of the main story. It was only when I was two-thirds of the way through the entire book that my wife reminded me of the prologue.

“Lord, yes,” I nearly shouted. “Yes. That’s it! I’d forgotten about it.”

I rushed back to reread the little fore-story again, and I began to understand everything about Edgar Sawtelle, and his father Gar, and his uncle Claude – everything! Enough said!

This is not just a good, long story. If you’ve read it, you know that. If you haven’t, I want to prepare you. This is, as Stephen King writes on the back of the dust jacket, “…a novel about the human heart, and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate. Wonderful mysterious, long and satisfying: readers who pick up this novel are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip.”

There you go! It’s all about the dust jacket again. Don’t judge a book by its cover – except, maybe, in this case. Richard Russo, my favorite contemporary novelist, says, again on the dust jacket: “David Wroblewski’s got storytelling talent to burn and a big, generous heart to go with it.”

If you haven’t read the book yet, do! As I said to one person, “Don’t walk – run to the bookstore and get a copy of this wonderful book and settle in for hours and hours of extraordinary fascination.”

“Now Almondine occupied his thoughts. He hadn’t seen her for two months or more and suddenly it felt like he’d been severed from some fundament of his being. At the end of the next day or the day after that, they would be joined again. Perhaps she would have forgotten his crimes, for which he wanted more than anything to atone. Everything that had happened to him since he’d left made him think of her. Others dreamed of finding a person in the world whose soul was made in their mirror image, but she and Edgar had been conceived nearly together, grown up together, and however strange it might be, she was his other. Much could be endured for that. He knew also that she was old, and he had squandered some portion of their time circling in the woods, blind, confused, stopping and starting with only vague notions of what to do. Without the strangest kind of intercession he might never have seen her again. Perhaps only when he’d become an old man would he realize how reduced he’d been by that decision, how withered he’d become, away from her.“He’d left in confusion, but his return was clarifying. So much of what had been obscure while he faced away was now evident.”
David Wroblewski writes very clearly. It is easy to ramble along with him and his words flow comfortably. Though he is not, I don’t expect, a great writer of the sort Updike was, or even Russo, I think he is a better storyteller than both. He reminds me of Mark Helprin in that regard.

That’s all. I’ll tell you no more because I don’t want to ruin your journey through this spectacular story.

I only want to guess for you that I found the paragraph that must have lay open when Debra Lill created the image that makes up the dust jacket.

“They walked up through the mantle of tree shadow stretching across the western field. Ahead, the red siding of the barn glowed phosphorescent in the mulled sunset. A pair of does sprang over the fence on the north side of the field – two leaps each, nonchalant, long-sustained, falling earthward only as an afterthought – and crashed through the hazel and sumac. The air was still hot and the hay rasped dryly at Edgar’s legs. Stalks of wild corn dotted the field, leaves frayed and bitten to the cane, and the Indian tobacco was brown and wilted from the heat. All of it brittle and rattling as if folded from sheets of cigarette paper.”
Happy reading! You’re going to fall in love with Edgar Sawtelle.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Was 2008 the Year that Changed America?

This Tom Friedman column keeps rattling around in my brain, keeping me awake at night, wondering!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve been thinking a great deal about a Tom Friedman column from a couple of weeks ago. As a matter of fact, it’s actually had me thinking about its argument in the middle of the night, when I should be sleeping.

Is it possible that 2008 was really a momentous year – a year that changed America forever?

If so, should we worry about it? Or celebrate it?

Friedman begins the column by pointing to a faux story by The Onion in its June 2005 edition. “Sometimes the satirical newspaper… is so right on,…” Friedman says. He quotes a paragraph from the story.

FENGHUA, CHINA—Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western
markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the "sheer amount of shit Americans will buy."

"Often, when we're assigned a new order for, say, 'salad shooters,' I will say to myself, 'There's no way that anyone will ever buy these,'" Chen said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. "One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?"

"I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I've made for them," Chen said. "And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible."

[Read the original Onion story: Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe the Shit He Makes for Americans]
Then Friedman asks his column’s essential question:

“What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
Friedman describes the American system as one that can not go on ad infinitum – that the system is not economically or ecologically sustainable. Our scheme, he says, depends on us “building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff.” That all requires more and more energy usage while China grows astronomical wealthy based on an American dollar that eventually collapses, leaving us as one of the largest debtor nations on the planet.

He quotes Joe Romm, physicist and climate expert, as saying:

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.
Already our world is facing a scarcity of water and great parts of it have been deforested. The great seas have been over-fished. Our air, water and soil are polluted as well.

We are living beyond our means!
This is the tragic, searing truth that Americans must soon face up to and 2008 may have been the year that made us realize it.

This is not a depression we’ve entered. No, it is a great, uncomfortable awakening that will make American face reality. We cannot have whatever we want. We cannot travel constantly and recklessly. We cannot, each one of us, create mountains of waste. We cannot spew chemicals into the atmosphere that gag and choke the life out of the only world on which we can live. And, it may have been 2008 that made us realize all this.

With Friedman’s column nagging at me, I wandered around my house and waded through the piles of excess in the garage. We – just the two of us – have enough for a number of large families. On the top storage shelves in the garage and in the back cupboards in the kitchen are ‘things’ we haven’t used for years and years and there was no serious reason why we needed to purchase any of them in the first place.

Did we really need that dog hammock? (Yes, you read correctly!) What about this barbequing set (spatula, fork and brush with golf shafts and grips)? It has sat here for more than 12 years. I found five sets of golf clubs for just the two of us – and one of us hasn’t golfed in 20 years. I found enough serving bowls to feed the entire army stationed in Afghanistan at one sitting. There are a dozen coffee mugs that haven’t been touched since we bought them in 1991. If it weren’t so boring, I’d go on and on and on. And, I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to all my collectibles – things I assembled over the years because… well, because… well, just because!

I want to stop buying things. I do not need that salad shooter. I do not like shooting things. No more golf shirts because I already have so many that I could wear one each day of the summer and not wear any one twice. I have a stack of sunglasses I’ve never worn.

I swear, I swear on my mother’s memory that I will stop buying things that cannot be easily passed on and used and enjoyed by someone else when I am finished with them or tire of them. I think of myself as a diligent recycler, but I will get even better at recycling every single thing that I can.

2008 may not change America
but it has changed me and I will never be the same. For the sake of my grandchildren and their grandchildren I must stop being wasteful.

I promise! I will not buy that salad shooter!

[Read: Friedman (8 March 2009), The Inflection is Near]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Welcome Home Sara Jane!

There’s a lot of revisionist history going on around here! Well, never, never, never forget Kent State!
by Charlie Leck

I have always called the massacre at Kent State University, in May of 1970, the event that ended the historical and psychological decade of the 60s. It was, and has remained over all these years, one of those five days that I call the horrendous days of the decade – along with the John F. Kennedy assassination, the disappearance of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi on 21 June 1964, the shooting of Bobby Kennedy in April of 1968, and the gunning down of Martin Luther King, Jr. less than three months later – the most awful days of my life.

Before this calendar year is out, I will finish the final draft of a book about those horrible, nightmarish years in America. I am motivated to write the book because I see so much revisionist history going on about those years – a general sugar-coating of them – and I want to set the record straight and paint them as they really were.

Racial injustice was being confronted and the racists were fighting back with a vengeance. Some, perhaps many, hateful whites burned black churches in the south and killed people just because they were black. Black riots broke out in the north and parts of many cities were torched, including sections of my own city. The famous riots in the slums of Watts (Los Angeles), Detroit and Newark were frightening and terrible moments.

An unnecessary, evil and immoral war was being fought in Southeast Asia. There was no decent justification for America to send troops there. It was immoral for America to splash Agent Orange over the countryside, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent Vietnamese.

I was among those hundreds of thousands of young people who actively participated in protests against that war. We felt called to stop our nation because our nation was wrong. History – real history – vindicates us on this point. It was a war that proved nothing and accomplished nothing.

I personally believed and devoted myself to peaceful, nonviolent protests. Most of the protestors of those years were committed to protest without violence or injury to other human beings.

I made my first official statement of my opposition to the war in 1967. It was a difficult thing to do because many people believed it was unpatriotic to speak out against the actions of one’s own nation. One needed only to point to Nazi Germany, or to southern slavery in our own nation, to realize that wasn’t true. How I wish I still had that original statement of opposition to the war; however, it and hundreds of other pages of my writing and thinking were destroyed in a Minneapolis fire in September of 1970.

Minnesota, like most states, was awash with demonstrators against the war during the late 1960s. Marches and demonstrations were constant. There were draft card burnings, flag burnings, sit-ins, traffic disruptions and general hell-raising everywhere.

Whenever I could, during those last years of the 60s, I took to the streets and joined the protest marches that nearly always ended up at the Federal Building in Minneapolis. We marched and sang and chanted.

“Hell no, we won’t go!

“Give peace a chance!”

“Hey, hey, LBJ, put those fucking guns away!

Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter wrote, in 1969, a song that became very popular to the protestors and it often comes back to my mind when I think of those days. One Tin Soldier – how I remember the chorus and the way it gave me chills when we sang it. Today, the meaning doesn’t seem as clear as it was back then, when we thought of ourselves and as an idealistic army for peace and justice.

Listen children, to a story, that was written long ago.
About a kingdom, on a mountain, and the valley folk below.
On a mountain, was a treasure, buried deep beneath a stone
and the valley people swore they’d have it for their very own.


Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day.
On the bloody morning after, One Tin Soldier rides away.

So the people of the valley, sent a message up the hill,
asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they’d kill.
Came an answer, from the kingdom, with our brothers we will share
all the secrets of the our mountain, all the riches buried there.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day.
On the bloody morning after, One Tin Soldier rides away.

Now the valley cried with anger, mount your horses, draw your swords
And they killed the mountain people. So they won their just rewards.
Now they stand beside the treasure, on the mountain dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it, Peace on Earth was all it said.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day.
On the bloody morning after, One Tin Soldier rides away.
We sang Bob Dylan’s, Blowin’ in the Wind.

We shouted with joy when we sang Woody Guthrie’s, This Land is Your land, This Land is My Land.

As I was walking
a ribbon of highway
I saw above me
an endless skyway
I saw below me
a golden valley,
This land was made for you and me
It didn’t matter if some of us couldn’t sing. We could shout! They were glorious songs and I’ll never forget them. Gather ‘round when I die and sing them for me. You don’t need to sing them well. Shout them out for all to hear. Proclaim the glory of peace and international friendship and let the world know “we don’t want war no more, no more!”
People Got to Be Free
The Times They are a Changin’
Where Have all the Flowers Gone
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
If I Had a Hammer
Tie a Yellow Ribbon
I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing
Welcome home, Sara Jane.
You were one of us. You went too far, and you know it. You’ve paid a steep price. Now pompous sons-of-bitches want to keep you out of Minnesota. [Read the Kevin Winge story in the StarTribune if this is news to you!]

“Serve your parole period in California,” they shout.

They call you a domestic terrorist!

They don’t understand, dear woman. However, there are many of us who do. We know you’d do anything to change that one awful moment in time. We know what drew you into it and “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Minnesota is a state big with love, forgiveness and understanding, Sara. You are only hearing from the little people, with poor memories, a lack of historical grounding and hard hearts. You deserve to be surrounded now, more than ever, by your friends and family – and in your home.

As Ruben Rosario said in his column this morning in one of our local papers, “Lightweight politicians don’t let the facts get in the way of scoring easy, knee-jerk political points.”

Sara Jane Olson is not the woman of the 60s anymore. They were awful, awful times and those years pushed some way too far while others of us managed to hold on to our core goodness while fighting the immorality of our government. Sara went too far. How many times need we say it?

Let her live out her life now in peace. According to law, she’s paid for what she did – or, at least, she will have paid when she successfully completes this parole period. Let her get it over with.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A.I.G. = Avarice, Indulgence and Greed

How angry was I?
by Charlie Leck

How angry was I when I heard that A.I.G. intended to give out millions of dollars in bonuses to their executives after the government handed them billions of dollars in bailout money? I told you, didn’t I, how I ruined two perfectly good keyboards when I tried to pound out my blog about the bastards? My blood pressure soared and I was shouting obscenities at the computer and, through it, at the entire world of rotten, corrupt business practitioners – the thieving, vile, corrupt, low-down, miserable horde of no-goods and nary-do-wells.

Now I have my new, indestructible Ironsides Keyboard in place and I can pound on it as hard as I please and the keys just happily click and spring back at me, asking for more.

“Top of the world to you,” I say. “’Tis Saint Patty’s Day and I shall not let a little Avarice, Indulgence and Greed spoil ‘me day, my boy! Top of the mornin’ to you.”

I’ve made up m'mind, however – t’ hell with the bailouts. Let ‘em die. Let ‘em go under. Let em fail. These rapscallions who ruined their businesses deserve to be out on the street. They deserve to be goin’ to food shelters, beggin’ for food. They should be goin’ to soup kitchens lookin’ for somethin’ t'eat. They should be sleepin’ nights out on the street or, best, in charity shelters.

Laddies and Lasses, enough help for the sons-of-bitches, I say. Enough!

The pigs at Avarice, Indulgence and Greed have brought me over to Rush Limbaugh’s side. No more welfare for ‘em or any of the other financial institutions and automobile makers in the country. No more of m’money to lyin’ and thieven’ creeps who think they’ve got special treatment comin’ to em – not a penny more!

Let’s take the dive and then let’s rebuild the country and put iron-clad regulations on these crooked businessmen.

Bonus, my ass! That’s what I’d tell ‘em. There ain’t no bonuses for rotten pigs what done wrecked their companies. Out on the street with ‘em, I say. Out on the street!

They’ve robbed us blind. They’ve ruined good businesses. They deserve no rewards or supports.

The slobs – the utter, gluttonous pigs at A.I.G. have pulled away the veil that covered m’eyes and now I am no longer blind. Put ‘em in jail. Leave ‘em at sea in a sinkin’ ship. Bind ‘em all t’gether and feed ‘em to hungry lions in darkest Africa. Whatever! Just don’t give ‘em any more of m’ hard earned money.

A.I.G. = Avarice, Indulgence and Greed
Do you hear? We’ll take a dark, horrible economic depression before we’ll feed money to Avarice, Indulgence and Greed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In the Interest of Preserving Keyboards

I was raging pretty good over the weekend and had to get control of myself!
by Charlie Leck

One regular reader wrote, expressing surprise that I didn’t write about A.I.G. and its intention to pay out millions and millions in bonuses.

Another reader wrote expressing shock that I didn’t write about it.

Let me explain the deal here, okay? I began to write about the subject and destroyed my wireless keyboard because I was typing so hard. I had another keyboard in reserve – the one that came with the computer – a wired up model that I need to plug into the computer. Again, my fingers came down so hard on the keys that I destroyed this reserve keyboard in no time.

Angry? Would you really call it anger? No, no! It was more like unleashed rage and furor. I used so many F-words in the first paragraph that the F-key was the first on the keyboard to splinter. When I brought the second keyboard out, I vowed to stay away from that obscene word. Within a paragraph I had destroyed the G-Key on that keyboard.

I had to pull out my precious lap-top in order to continue working. I decided to move away from the A.I.G. topic and to write, instead, about good, old Bill Gates Senior [read it if you haven’t yet].

Now these two readers have got me thinking about A.I.G. again. I went to Best Buy yesterday afternoon and enquired about the toughest, strongest g-damned, f-ing computer keyboard they had. The young man could see the rage in my eyes and the froth bubbling out of my mouth and understood what I was talking about. He admitted they had no keyboard that would meet my requirements, but he gave me the name of an on-line dealer that made keyboards especially for angry bloggers. I placed an order and asked that it be shipped overnight. It should arrive tomorrow. Until then, I’m staying away from the A.I.G. topic; but when I get my hands on that new keyboard the first thing I’m going to tell you is what A.I.G. really stands for.

In the meantime, read about the wonderful new Google Voice that we’ll soon be able to buy. I'm boggled by it and can’t wait. It will indeed take the telephone to the next level. Wow!

I’ve had so many people tell me that I just had to try Facebook, that I went ahead and signed up and started accumulating friends and trying to keep up communications with them. It can get exhausting, but I’m not going to knock this dazzling social networking service, because I’ve found two old friends through it that I have been trying and trying to track down for a long, long time. Oh yes, here’s my point. There’s a wonderful article by Peggy Orenstein in this week New York Times Magazine: Growing up on Facebook [give it a read].

A dog-gone good friend is under the knife today – very extensive open heart surgery – and I’m hanging near the phone, waiting for word on his condition. It’s got my mind pretty screwed up, so I likely won’t write tomorrow (Tuesday). See you on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Camel through the Eye of a Needle

Some of the rich are even better than we could imagine or hope. Thank goodness!
by Charlie Leck

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a need, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

“A wealthy person who uses his wealth generously is also likened to a fertile field in which rice grows abundantly for the benefit of all.” (Most Venerable Dr. M. Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera Sanha Nayaka, a Buddhist)
Bernie Madoff stands as a symbol of the greedy rich – people who just can’t seem to get enough and who want more and more and more. It is sad!

Here in Minnesota, there is a similar story right now. A young man, who seemed to have the world in his hands and was handsome, popular, articulate and bright, and made many, many millions of dollars, wasn’t satisfied and had to push it to billions. Tom Petters crossed way beyond the line between ethical and unethical and then went way over to totally dishonest, immoral and illegal. Like Madoff, he created a wild Ponzi scheme that bilked huge amounts of money out of innocent investors. Like Madoff, he now sits in prison awaiting his punishment. Too bad!

Another local fellow, who didn’t cross the line as far as Petters and Madoff, went too far nonetheless, when he post-dated stock options he signed and drew off nearly 200 million dollars in bonuses from a HEALTH CARE DELIVERY COMPANY… Let’s talk about why health care is too expensive.

Anyone remember Ken Lay – yes, that Ken Lay – of Enron fame?

We’ve gone far enough down that corrupt and ugly trail. What we need to be thankful about is that not all the rich are corrupt and that some of them are downright creative about the way they use their wealth to benefit society and people in need. There are so many good examples and thank goodness there are.

Locally, I am so proud of so many of our rock solid, wealthy families. John Andrus and his family put together the Surdna Foundation (Andrus, spelled backwards) and I have been intimately enough involved with the Andrus family to know how deeply important that work is to them. The MacMillan family, founders and heirs to the Cargill fortune, have been equally involved in the community and shared their wealth generously both here in our state and around the world (see the Cargill Foundation). The Crosby family (General Mills) and the Pillsbury family (Pillsbury) have also been incredible examples of giving and sharing with the community. There are dozens of local families who could be mentioned.

Nationally, Bill Gates, who recently returned to the top of the list of the wealthiest people in the world, is a prime example of sharing one’s abundance. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is active all over the world and donates fantastic amounts of money to vital causes. It’s a treat to spend time browsing through this foundation’s web site.

Timothy Egan recently wrote an interesting blog about the father of Bill Gates and his daily efforts to distribute the fortunate accumulated by his son [read Greed and Need by Timothy Egan]. The senior Gates is a child of the depression. He doesn’t look at all like his son. I was amazed when I saw him once on a golf course in Palm Springs. He towered over me in height. I’ve been in the company of his son a number of times and he’s far shorter than I. However, the senior Gates is big in other ways also. He regularly lobbies for fair tax laws that won’t so favor the rich and will relieve the burden on people of little income. He favors the retention of estate taxes and thinks family accumulation of wealth (“economic aristocracy”) is unfair.

Warren Buffet, who until very recently was considered the world’s wealthiest human being, is of like mind with the Gates approach. He wants fairer income taxes that don’t so favor the rich and will unburden the middle classes. He also opposes the elimination of estate taxes. He’s committed the bulk of his wealth to the Gates foundation mentioned above.

Egan quotes Andrew Carnegie, an American philanthropist of another era: “No idol is more debasing than the worship of money!”

I think there are likely as many good examples of the wealthy using their fortunes in generous ways as there are of the Bernie Madoff type. I hope so.

This 2007 San Francisco Chronicle story about the founder of Gap is a good one. A billionaire, this 80 old gentlemen uses both his wealth and his clout to improve education, health services and the status of the not-so-well-off.

There are many, many dozens of stories like this to be found all around the nation.

One scholar has written that Jesus was trying to be funny when he made the comment about a rich man trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle in order to get into heaven. Perhaps so, but the comment emphasizes the struggle that the wealthy have to turn away from greed and the temptation to accumulate just for the purpose of accumulating.

There are ways to use wealth to produce a better world and I am anxious for the day when more of the wealthy will step up and lay out plans to make life better for all people, whoever and wherever they are on Mother Earth.
“The purpose of wealth is to facilitate the development of the highest human potential. Wealth is only a means to an end, not an end itself; it creates the conditions under which spiritual progress may flourish. If the creation of wealth is regarded purely as a selfish occupation, then the results will often lead to unhappiness because this activity is self-centred, based only on ideas of "me" and "mine". We should, however, regard wealth as something to be shared with other people. If human beings could expand their love to all other people, irrespective of their class, colour or creed, rather than confining it to their own people, then they might be able to part with things without expecting anything in return, and experience more satisfaction in doing so. This satisfaction comes not from tanha, a desire to obtain things to make ourselves happy, but from chanda, a desire for the well-being of others. In decisions dealing with every sphere of economic activity, whether it is production, consumption, or the use of technology, we must learn how to distinguish between the two kinds of desire and make our choices wisely.” (Most Venerable Dr. M. Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera Sanha Nayaka, a Buddhist) [click here to read entire address]