Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Burgermeister of my town is an extraordinary guy who has given, given, given, without reservation, to his community; and he can’t be thanked enough!
by Charlie Leck

If you’ve read here something to the contrary, disregard it. Thomas Hardy is my favorite novelist of all. I have never enjoyed reading novels any more than when I have one of his works in my hands -- from Tess of the D’Urbervilles… and Jude the Obscure… and Far from the Madding Crowd… to The Mayor of Casterbridge! Wow!

These are the thrillers from the old days – books that keep you turning pages and wondering what’s going to come next.

I live in the town of Independence, Minnesota. My town is about 25 miles straight west of Minneapolis.

The Mayor of my town lives up the road a piece from me. I’m always drawn to looking out over his farmland and I’ve taken some photos of the place and his big old dairy barn. I always label these photos as “the farm of the Mayor of Casterbridge.” It’s an allusion to the Thomas Hardy novel that I so thoroughly enjoyed. When I refer to our Mayor, I call him the Mayor of Casterbridge.

Our mayor is a dandy guy! There are a number of people around town who insinuate that he is selfish and dishonest. Those people are crazy! They don’t begin to understand. I’m going to tell you the real and honest story about him.

First, however, in the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that I am on the other side of the political spectrum from him. He’s a danged conservative Republican. He adamantly supported people like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and John McCain. Now, you might think this automatically disqualifies him from my list of admired people. It’s difficult to overlook the stupidity of supporting a second term of office for George W. Bush, but I pinch my nose and get quickly by it.

Over the years, I’ve attended, maybe, 50 or 60 City Council meetings that the Mayor has presided over. As a matter of fact, I attended another of them a few nights ago.

If our Mayor has a weakness, it’s that he’s too nice. I wonder occasionally if he shouldn’t’ be more tenacious – you know, show some teeth or a fang! Other councilpersons say the dumbest, dangedest things and the Mayor just smiles at them with patience and understanding.

Last night, the Mayor gave a report on his activities on behalf of the citizens of my town, our wider community and the state. Now, keep in mind that he’s a bachelor and he has more time on his hands than many of us, but also realize that he’s a farmer with cows, barns to clean, fields to tend and machinery to keep up.

In the two weeks since the last meeting, the Mayor explained what he’s been up to – I wrote as fast as I could and just didn’t keep up with him and missed a few things.

  • He attended a Land Use Advisory Committee meeting

  • He was at the Police Academy Graduation Ceremony

  • He went out to Oregon and represented our state at a meeting there

  • He went to an Active Living Grant Committee meeting

  • He was at the State of the County ceremony and speech.

  • He attended the Hennepin County Environmental Services Commission meeting

  • He represented our community at the Community Action League conference

Mind you, I really did miss a few of the meetings he went to. Around me the audience was chuckling lightly as he went through the list. A couple of his adversaries on the Council were burying their faces so that they didn’t show any expression while the Mayor listed his most recent busy-ness.

On the little note pad I had with me at the meeting, I merely scribbled out “WOW!”

Three very important reports were made to the City Council last night – a financial audit report, a report on the serious drop in home evaluations in the community (that naturally impacts the amount of property tax income the city can expect), and the police and safety report. I watched the Mayor of my town as the reports were presented. He never missed a word. He was totally attentive each and every second of each report. He asked important and relevant questions. He tried to clear up matters that the audience or councilpersons might not have understood.

Now get this! He’s served as our Mayor for nearly three decades. In that time, the people who want to get him out have called him a cheat, a liar, a crook, a common eccentric and an uncommon, egocentric nut-case. My, oh my! I guess that’s one of the costs of being in politics.

I call him honorable. Simply that!

I have a feeling that this is his last couple of years in service to our community in this office. It’s just a feeling, mind you. For all I really know, he may go after another four year term.

When he does hang it up and hands the reins of the community over to another, we ought to have the biggest darn fete any small community could possibly put together. I have never seen a public servant like him and the whole community needs to rise up in gratitude and toast and honor him. I’ll tell you this: If we do stage such a celebration, there will be Governors, Senators, Congresspersons, Mayors, Commissioners, Secretaries of departments of government, and maybe even a President here to extend their hands in appreciation and commendation to him. And they won’t all be Republicans – not by a long shot.

I am enormously proud to be a resident and citizen of his community. He’s one of the few Republicans I ever vote for, but I always do so proudly. He is a kind gentleman and a terribly good neighbor.

I just don’t know a public servant like him and I’m glad he presides over my town. I can’t thank him enough for his years of service.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Welcome Senator Spector

I had a feeling Specter might make this move!
by Charlie Leck

"Since my election in 1980, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans." [Pennsylvania Senator Arlan Specter]
A couple of days ago, on National Public Radio, I listened to Pennsylvania Senator Arlan Specter answer questions from listeners out there in radio land. He did not sound like a happy fella -- his political party (of that day and time, anyway) was censuring him for one of his votes and listeners were blasting hell out of him for being either too liberal or too conservative.

The moderator mentioned that his chances of reelection in 2010 were looking dim.

"I'm working on a game plan," Specter promised somewhat pointedly.

"He's coming over," I said to myself aloud, right at that moment, as I sped down a freeway entrance. My dog looked over at me and gave me one of those long blinks of the eyes, as if he understood and agreed with me. We knew it would be that, or that he would declare himself an independent. However, there's too little power in being independent for Specter.

Welcome Senator Specter!

We're glad to have you with us. Let's party!

I agree with so much of what you said, sir, in your statement yesterday. There has been virtually no bipartisan spirit in the GOP. They have moved far, far to the right and seem intent on being the party of the wealthy. If politics as I learned it is true -- that is, that the center is winner -- it will be a long time before Republicans win big again -- until at least that time when they decide to move back toward the mainstream thinking of the American public.

It's been over three decades since the lunatic fringe of American religion began stalking the Republican Party and then finally kidnapped it. It has been holding the party hostage for nearly 20 years now.

This makes it difficult for people of moderation, and for real American conservatives, to associate with what was once called THE GRAND OLD PARTY.

Labor is not going to embrace Specter easily. He has opposed labor's baby, the Employee Free Choice Act (card check), and the unions have been urging a strategy built to defeat Specter in 2010. Specter's position has been that the law would be bad for Pennsylvania. Let's see if he softens on this a bit now.

Women are also going to remind us about Specter's support for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. Remember, President Obama has said that Thomas is "the one Supreme Court Justice" he would not have nominated. Progressive thinkers have found Justice Thomas to be an immense thorn in their sides.

Specter has lately acted like a spooked horse, unsure of himself and unable to move gracefully either to the right or left. He's been mighty uncomfortable within a Party represented by the likes of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. Karl Rove is not his kind of guy and neither is Dick Chaney. Republicans from Texas make him blush with shame. He is a classic guy in the middle and it will be difficult to predict which way he'll vote on any issue that strays very far from the center.

It's been very clear to see that President Obama is intent on not letting his political party be seized by fringe movements on the left and right edges of politics. Strength is in the center as well as victory. Specter (the Lord bless him) is of the same school and is concerned about what is good for the nation and not what is good for any political element.

I think it is good to have him come in out of the cold. Warm your hands and feet, Senator, and then get back to work.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bachman Watch

Michelle Bachman versus the Truth!
recommended by Charlie Leck

For Minnesotans concerned about the lack of integrity one of our congresspersons is showing, here’s a web site you need to check in on every once in a while.

Bachman Watch
Our Congresswoman from the 6th congressional district has been less than accurate in a lot of our statements in the last few years. We need to keep tabs on her and let people know when she’s either fibbing or exaggerating. This is a great way to do it.

Political junkies all over the country are watching Bachman because she makes a great story – and, she also makes up great, tall stories.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The First 100 Days

No President in the last 75 years has come into office facing the kind of problems President Obama has faced. How’d he do?
by Charlie Leck

The Obama health care plan has been the victim of these bad times. As a candidate, Obama had promised that a strong health care plan would be one of his first legislative initiatives. It hasn’t been. Nevertheless, the President gets a strong grade for his first 100 days in the White House.

One achievement stands at the top of the list in spite of a near total lack of cooperation from the opposition party. President Obama has held the nation together.

George W. Bush, his administration and the Republican Party gave the new President a nation in chaos.

We’re still reeling, but we’re also still standing – and, we appear to be getting stronger.

We’ve piled on the debt, but it was a necessity. Now Obama wants to build a plan to take the debt down. Everyone, in this process, is going to need to make sacrifices. And here’s the straight news, Republicans: This includes the wealthy of the nation. To rebuild America we must all make sacrifices that 10 years ago we never dreamed would be asked of us.

We’ve got some tough days ahead, but it appears the nation has confidence in this new leadership and nothing is more important than that.

When this nation believes in itself, it can honestly achieve almost anything.

What I’m most proud of!
The other great nations of the world are coming back to us. Obama’s trip through Europe was an extraordinary event. Both the President and the First Lady wowed the leadership and the people of Europe. This was more important than we’ll realize until history looks back on the event. We have friends and allies again and an opportunity to regain their respect. It ranks as Obama’s most extraordinary achievement.

A stuttering start to the first 100 days!
The Obama team stuttered getting started and stumbled coming out of the starting gate. Some of their failures in vetting their top appointments were tragic. A less stable leader might have lost it right then. This President held himself and his team together and they moved through that period and began to build strength. It gives me confidence that Obama will be able to weather the tough times that are ahead.

Boys, we’ve got ourselves a Captain and he’s worth following. Too bad the Republicans won’t help.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Laughing Out Loud at Tolstoy

My wife is listening gaily to War and Peace and I am trying to read Anna Karenina!
by Charlie Leck

I’m hearing almost every night these days about the wonders of Tolstoy and War and Peace. My wife is listening to it on her iPod. She spends a couple of hours in the car every day and, even when working around the farm, she has that little bud neatly planted in her cute little ear. It’s there when she’s doing the laundry, vacuuming the carpets or polishing the hardwood floors.

Try to talk to her when she’s folding my underwear or attempting to untangle her bras. Impossible! If she gets a phone call I have to wave frantically at her and make the phone signal with my hand – you know, the 3 middle fingers folded down and the pinky and thumb protruding while you hold them to mouth and ear.

She’s claiming Tolstoy has a wonderful sense of humor – that he’s very witty and clever. “War and Peace,” she says “is wasted on the young. You need some years on you to appreciate it.”

Well, she couldn’t tempt me back into that immense novel that carries bad memories with it from my youth. So, instead, I pulled down Anna Karenina and gave that a go.

“Download,” she insisted, “and listen to it! It’s so much easier and better that way. The readers capture the humor and wit better.”

I have my iPod for something, I thought, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m stuck with that need to have the bound version in front of me. I get a thrill out of turning the pages. I like to browse back through the pages looking for a paragraph that will make more sense now that I’ve read further.

How could one possibly keep up with all the Tolstoyian characters without having the book and even a pad and pencil at hand?

Matrëna Filimόnovna, Princess Shcherbátskya and Nicholas Ivánich Sviyázhsky are already bouncing around in my head like ping-pong balls and I have to get them down on a pad with a little note about just who they are and to whom they are related. Reading Tolstoy is not exactly like reading Tom Robbins. It will take days and perhaps weeks to work my way through Karenina. My wife will finish War and Peace in 4 or 5 days.

She chuckles as she works. There she is, carrying a big load of towels back to the bathroom linen closet, laughing aloud as she goes. If one didn’t know she had that little thing stuck in her ear, one would think she’d gone a little bit flippy. The dog looks at her and cocks his head to the side, wondering what she’s laughing at. I try to explain that it’s War and Peace and I tell him that I didn’t think it was funny when I read it. She’s making it out to be a roaring comedy.

Something’s wrong here. I’m struggling in agony to make it to page 100 of Karenina and she’s breezing through the French invasion of Russia and the lives of five aristocratic families who were influenced by it – the good old Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins and the Drubetskoys. They never seemed to be very funny folks when I was forced to read this, one of the longest novels in history, at a period in my life when I could not have cared any less.

I’m a little annoyed that she’s enjoying it so and finding it actually fun to read.

There are 582 characters in the book says Richard Pevear, who did the most recent English translation of the book with his wife Larissa Volokhonsky.

“I began to see the constant humor of Tolstoy’s style,” Pevear says. “It is not a joyful humor. It’s a sarcastic humor, but there is a great deal of social ironies, social sarcasm.”

Well, my wife laughs at sarcastic humor, I guess. While she went on with her vacuuming I stole up to my treetop library and cracked Anna Karenina and looked for some humor. I was rumbling along at about page 100.

When he got out of the train at Petersburg he felt, despite his sleepless night, as fresh and animated as after a cold bath. He stepped outside the carriage, waiting till she appeared. ‘I shall see her again,’ he thought and smiled involuntarily. ‘I shall see her walk, her face… she will say something, turn her head, look at me, perhaps evens smile.’ But before seeing her he saw her husband, whom the station-master was respectfully conducting through the crowd. ‘Dear me! The husband!’
That elicited a mild smile from me anyway and spurred me on.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Allow Me to Just Point

This picture was taken on Royal Street in New Orleans by Sean McClelland.

Stand By Me played by musicians around the world!
recommended by Charlie Leck

Sometimes it’s better if I don’t say a lot, but just point you to wonderful stuff. This was sent along to me this week and I’ve played it a dozen times. Take a look at it and listen to Stand by Me, played by musicians around the world. It's played on an interesting web site called Playing for Change.

How delightful!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Photo from the official web site of the author (cited below).

If you know me – even moderately well – you know I love to write…

by Charlie Leck

Oh, how I love to write and how fortunate I am to be in a situation where I can spend all the rest of my days writing and that’s what I fully intend to do. Readership? Forget the question. It honestly doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that I put words down on paper as well as I possibly can.

I read a wonderful account this week of writers who are productive in their elderly years. One of my favorites, Gabriel García Márquez, introduced to me by one of our children, continues to write for hours each day even at the age of 82. Why he was asked? Essentially, his answer was that he wants to.

I’ve found I can’t really write each day, however, unless I read each day. Reading is nutritional. It provides the energy and fuel that allows me to write.

I am very drawn to satire – not comedic satire, mind you, but real, honest, biting and witty satire. I'd like to write good satire. A friend of mine told me to forget it.

“Satire,” he told me, “requires subtly. You are about as subtle as an anvil dropped on a blacksmith’s foot.”

I guess he’s correct.

I read a wonderfully satirical piece this week in the New York Times – in the Education Life section – by Walter Kirn. I’m sure it was satirical. Gosh, I hope it was.

“I could never go back there (Minnesota) now. It bothered me that I’d ever even lived there, knowing that people here on the great coast (people like me – the new emerging me) had been laughing at us all along. But what troubled me more was the dawning realization that had I not reached Princeton, I might never have discovered this; I might have stayed a rube forever.”
That’s I. I’m a Minnesota rube. I’m the guy the little bastards back at Princeton laugh at. Oops! Sorry! Let’s rewrite that… “I’m the guy at whom the little bastards back at Princeton laugh.” Yet, even I know that this Princeton graduate should have used the pronoun "I" in the above paragraph and not "me." It's "(people like I (am) -- the new emerging I)..."

“Have you thoroughly analyzed the poetry of Wallace Stevens?”

“I’ve thoroughly read Robert Bly.”

The little bastards titter quite loudly and look at each other with flushed cheeks.

“How about Proust?”

Well, I admit to them I’ve not read Proust, but I boldly boast that I’ve read all of Gabriel García Márquez. Isn’t that good enough?

Titter! Titter!

Princeton is such a long way from Minnesota. During my senior year in high school I went to Princeton for the high school debate championships. I and my partner got soundly beat – drummed really – and finished in an embarrassing sixth place position. Never mind that it was out of over 100 high schools. It was humiliating.

I was never cut out of Princeton cloth. I’m a country boy. Now, a Minnesota boy

Kirn writes:

“And, for me, profoundly enlightening. Who knew that serious art could be like this? Who would have guessed that the essence of high culture would turn out to be teasing the poor saps who still believed in it? Certainly no one back in my home state, Minnesota.

“I decided that it was time to leave behind the sort of folks I’d been raised around and to stand with the characters who’d clued me in.”
Thanks, Mr. Kirn, for the good writing – as long as you’re being satirical.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word satire derives from the “Latin satura, sitira, perhaps from (lanx) satura of mixed ingredients,….” I like that well enough. The big, credible book lists “wit” as a synonym. It defines satire as “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn” or “tenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.”

Britannica refers to a Samuel Johnson definition that calls it a “censure of wickedness or folly.” It further says that “wherever wit is employed to expose something foolish or vicious to criticism, there satire exists…”

Yeh, Kirn’s LOST IN MEDIOCRACY – THE EDUCATION OF AN OVER ACHIEVER was satire – and it wasn’t a censure or ridicule of me or Minnesota. Good stuff!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dorothea Lange & the Tough Times

Breadline, photograph by Dorothea Lange (1932, San Francisco)

When we think we’ve got it bad, just remember the bad times of former generations were much worse that this!
by Charlie Leck

We’ve been hit with some hard times. There’s no doubt about it. I listened in on some Public Radio conversations yesterday with a number of couples who have had their retirement plans destroyed. A cabin in Vermont that won’t be built and retirement right there in Hartford instead. A couple who needs to postpone their retirement for several years. Another who thinks that retirement will never come. I was doing yard work while I listened and it was sad to overhear such personal conversations.

Our portfolio was hit hard. We’ve had to adjust, but we can do that.

Unemployment is as high as it’s been for the last 50 years. Food shelves are extraordinarily busy and their inventories are very low. I hope you’re helping out and contributing to those needs. We’ve decided to be much more careful with our grocery shopping, but also to give as much to the food shelf in our region as we spend on our own groceries.

Don’t hear that as boasting or self-promotion, please! Receive it as an idea. We can all give some thought to how we can help out in these times. We can try to share what we have and we can try to find some time to volunteer where we’re needed. It’s tough to worry about when you’re going to get a round of golf in or what you’ll wear to the theatre this weekend when there is so much need surrounding us.

I had some conversations with my parents about the Great Depression – the real depression in America – but I wish I’d had more serious talks with them about it. They were just married and living in New York City when the big one hit. My dad managed to hold on to his job, but his wages were seriously reduced. My mom realized she was pregnant shortly after the depression hit and that news was shocking. Fortunately they both had parents nearby who helped out all they could. My mom’s father held on to his job with the city and he worked straight through the bad times. My father’s old man had his business rocked and seriously weakened, but he also kept his head above water by cutting way back everywhere he could. There were cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles who were all seriously impacted by the crushed economy and the stories of the family pulling together and helping each other were poignant and touching.

Stranded, a photograph by Dorothea Lange (1935, California)

A couple of decades ago, I became familiar with the photographic work that Dorothea Lange did during those difficult times in the ‘30s. To feel something of the reality, the pain and the challenge of the Great Depression, one needs only to go through her spectacular photographs. I’ve used a number of them to illustrate my blog from time to time. I’m posting a handful here for you now, so you can see what a story-teller she was.

[To see more Lange photographs go to this U.S. Gov't web site.]

Street Demonstration (photograph by Dorothea Lange, San Francisco, 1932)

Auto Camp for Citrus Workers (photograph by Dorothea Lange, 1935, Tulare County, CA)

Migrant Mother (This photograph by Dorothea Lange is her most famous. Note that the mother has a baby in her arms. There have been a number of recent stories about the little girl on the right. At the time of the photograph this woman was caring for 7 children.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


If I had my druthers, I’d let them go!
by Charlie Leck

So, Governor Rick Perry of Texas was making not-so-subtle little threats about seceding from the Union! I think he expected most of us to get upset as hell. Governor Perry, the concept didn’t threaten me at all. As a matter of fact, sir, I’d volunteer to be the one to cut the umbilical cord and let you go or I'll cut the ribbon at your grand opening as a totally independent nation with no ties to the United States of America. Bad knees and all, sir, I’d do the jig the day you were independent. Hooray!

Then I’d urge we build an immense fence (electrified with ultra high power, of course) all along the border with Texas and that we patrol said borders with armed soldiers and vicious dogs in order to keep out illegal aliens from Governor Perry’s new nation.

As a nation, we’d save a fortune without Texas as a part of the union. That state gets back far more in federal benefits than the total amount of taxes it pays in.

Shoot, there are all kinds of problems we’d be rid of without Texas as a part of the union. First-off, we’d be able to become a nation of one language again. I never could master that garbled mess they talk down there in the lone-star state.

Then, you realize, we'd be free of at least 80 percent of the political slight-of-hand and corruption that we see in Washington all the time. Goodbye Karl Rove. Whoopee! And with him go dozens of other scoundrels.

I think we’d then also be rid of about 75 percent of the religious nutcases in the nation. In religion, as in most everything, Texas takes things to the extreme and, often, way beyond.

Then, we’d be done with the biggest damned bunch of complainers in the nation, too. Complain, complain, complain! They bitch about everything and anything. Okay, I say, let ‘em go off on their own and we’ll see how they do. Just make sure they’ve got to purchase expensive visas if they want to visit and don’t grant them any student visas or temporary work visas.

Texas will be left with the University of Texas while we’ll still have Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Stanford, Northwestern and about a hundred other of the best Universities in the world. If any Texas students want to come to America to study, double their tuition and hit ‘em with heavy federal taxes.

I can’t think of any reason why I’d ever want to go to Texas to visit. It’s not safe to drive there. They basically don’t know how to eat. There isn’t a city worth a lick. Most Americans feel the same way and we really could prohibit travel to Texas and no one would give a damn.

And, oh, yes, Texas, you don’t get fly-over privileges either. Want to get to Toronto or Montreal? Sorry, you’ll need to go around the long way. There will also be exorbitant landing fees if you want to fly into any American -- get that? AMERICAN -- city.
And don't forget this? George W goes, too. We insist! How do we resist a deal like this?

Within five years, Texas would be back, on hands and knees, begging for readmittance to the union. Screw ‘em, I say.

Yup, the more I think about it, this might be the best thing that ever happened to the nation.

Kiss off, Texas! We're tired of your whining and bitching!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oh, how I've wished for it!

The plan that President Obama presented for high speed rail in America.

It’s a wonderful first step to connect the great cities of the nation with high speed rail!
by Charlie Leck

One of the glorious things about Europe is its rail system. It made living there an absolute delight. I’ve written about this before, but our President’s recent announcement of his plan for high speed rail in the United States sends me back to those days when I lived in Paris.

Once when I was living in that glorious city, I was invited to attend a theatre event in Antwerp, about 230 miles (347 kilometers) from Paris. I accepted. On the big day, I took a 15 minute metro ride to the proper rail station in Paris and there boarded a sleek, comfortable train (TGV) that delivered me to downtown Antwerp less than an hour and a half later. Voila! The little theatre where the mimes were going to perform was less than a 10 minute walk through a picturesque section of the city. I had time to stop for a late afternoon dinner with a glass of wine. The performance was delightful. I stayed in a cute little hotel less than a block from the theatre and had breakfast the next morning with one of the two mimes who had delighted me so the evening before. He walked me to the station for a train due to leave at 10:00 hours and I was back in Paris in time for lunch. Encore voila!

The TGV preparing to depart the Montparnasse station.

Critics of the idea of a high speed rail system for America have always argued that we are too vast a nation. The Obama plan really strikes at the heart of that criticism. Notice that it divides the nation into corridors – like the east coast region and the northwest corridor. My only criticism of it is that it should include a New York to Chicago connection.

In any case, it is a wonderful starting point. It will serve Californians well, bringing together the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the great northwest, Portland and Seattle will have very rapid downtown to downtown connections. Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City will be connected. Minneapolis, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Chicago will have a line that will make travel from here in Minnesota to Chicago a pleasant, time saving trip. There will be connections on to Saint Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis or Cleveland.

It will take awhile to get the system up and running, and I may not get to take advantage of it; nevertheless, it makes me very happy to know it is in the nation’s future.

If you don’t think it makes a difference having one person in the nation’s highest office over another, you haven’t been paying attention lately. Whether you agree with the current occupant of the White House or not, you have to admit the difference is vast.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mississippi Redux

Something draws me back to that place I said I needed nothing more of!
by Charlie Leck

Come back! It is almost like the mysterious sirens of the sea calling me back to the places I fear the most -- toward the dangerous rocks and ledges that protrude from the rolling water. Their call is that of alluring temptresses. A note from Kentucky arrives and tells me there is still work to do.

There are many reasons to dislike Mississippi. It remains a place brimming with hideous hatred. The summers are so hot that your biosystem loathes you for bringing it there. It’s not a pretty state either and it ranks lowly in so many categories of comparison with other states – in education, general health, infant mortality, employment, standard of living, and average annual income. Mississippi is still a redneck state and the pickup truck, the rifle and the shotgun still rule.

Yet, my few days there last summer go with me wherever I am. The faces of the kind black Mississippians with whom I visited are implanted solidly in my memory. We gathered to remember bleak and awful times, but we celebrated our time together with victorious song and precious words.

It is as simple as this: I want more of it! I want to pay my respects again to Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman – the great, fearless heroes of my youth. I want to walk up dusty Rock Cut Road with a rock from Minnesota in my hand. I’ll place it there, at the spot where they were slaughtered, and allow a tear to drop to the ground with it. We’ll sing again, “We shall overcome, some day!” I can’t purge them from my memory. I may as well celebrate their unforgettable lives and deaths.

A large group of men co-conspired to murder them. Most of those killers who are still alive continue to walk free. Soon there will be none of us who were there left to mourn the dead and protest the great injustices that live on. I swore in the summer of ’64 that I would never forget them and never stop lamenting over them. I have kept that vow.

I thought I would hate my journey to Mississippi last summer, but I returned to Minnesota stronger and more inspired than ever. Huddled together, we were cautiously hopeful about Barack Obama then. We’d wink and smile at each other, but we didn’t dare imagine it could ever really be. This summer we can celebrate, dance and howl about an African American living in the White House. Can it be? Is it only that far from the summer of ’64.

My wife and one of my kids accompanied me last summer. They saw I would need their support – that they could prop me up if I was overcome; however, we found out there were other veterans of the civil rights movement who were there and they leaned lovingly on one another. This year I can go alone and know I’ll be just fine.

On Rock Cut Road, where they died, I’ll bend low and whisper to them triumphantly.

“Can you believe?” I’ll ask them. “Is that Michelle Obama not beautiful? Isn’t she the finest first lady of our lives? And doesn’t that man know how to be a President of all the people? Out there among the stars, are you whoopin’ it up? Are you singin’ the old songs of those days in Mississippi? Can you believe we’ve come this far, yet we can’t get justice for you guys? We tryin’ man! We tryin’ hard. I’ve never forgotten you and I won’t ever – never!”

Yeh, I’m goin’ back to Mississippi. I want to ask all those folks about our President. I want to whoop it up a bit.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Of course, that’s figuratively speaking!
by Charlie Leck

Our crazy Minnesota Congresswoman in the House of Representatives, Michelle Bachman, claimed a couple of weeks ago that Minnesotans had to be “armed and dangerous” when it came to resisting President Obama’s plan to control gas emissions into the atmosphere. Her office quickly explained that the Congresswoman was speaking figuratively, of course.

The fact is, Representative Bachman’s office staffers have got to be nimble on their feet in order to explain and rearrange their boss’s constantly incredible comments.

Let me speak figuratively here. Next year, when the Congresswoman runs for reelection, we’ve got to blow her out of the water. We must!

Michelle Bachman’s latest gaff was to claim that a group of Islamic imam, who were incorrectly and unjustly detained at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in 2006, had come to the Twin Cities to attend a victory celebration for our Congressman, who happens to be a Muslim, Keith Ellison.

Is anyone surprised that Ms. Bachman got it wrong again? They were actually here to attend a national conference of imams?

The facts don’t seem to make any difference to the Congresswoman.

A spokesperson from her office made an interesting comment, which is the reason for this blog, when he said: “Whether the six imams were here for a victory party or a conference where he was a featured speaker, it doesn’t change the premise of her comments.”

PREMISE! Wow! What a big, rich, meaningful word. In a surprise, pop quiz, I’d like to ask Michelle Bachman to define the word.

Congresswoman, it is either the major or the minor proposition of a syllogism upon which one draws the conclusion—one of the given propositions in a deductive discussion.

Now then, given that, I’d ask the Congresswoman to explain to me what the specific premise was of her comments here about the imams and Congressman Ellison.

“Please be very specific, Congresswoman – about the premise or premises of your comments, I mean!”

Man, oh man, are you kidding me or something. There was no premise – there were no premises! The woman is a complete nut-case. Let’s blow her out of the water, figuratively, of course.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who the hell is Susan Boyle?

Yes? Hell yes, I vote YES!
by Charlie Leck

A friend here in the Twin Cities sent me an email at the end of this week that I immediately dumped into the trash file. It was something about something being “unbelievable, amazing and heartwarming.” Since he’s a guy who is always and only jabbing me with political snappers, I figured he was going overboard about something stupid again. As I clicked the trash button, however, a name in his attachment caught my eye – Susan Boyle.

That was odd, because I’d been catching glimpses of her name for a few days now. There was some babble on Facebook about her, too.

“Who the hell,” I wondered, “is Susan Boyle.”

Then, later in the same day that I so foolishly dumped Jon’s email, I saw a piece in the local paper about this English woman, Susan Boyle. There was her frumpy, chubby face starring out at me from the front page, leading me to a column by Andrew Eklund, a local advertising consultant with an outstanding reputation.

Eklund began by referring to a video he had watched “a dozen or so times.”

“What,” I said aloud! “What?”

Who watches a video “a dozen times or so.”

He provided a link (a clicker) and invited me to tap it and go watch the video myself. Have some tissues he cautioned. Watch it all he begged – don’t leave it until it’s over.

Well, it was a moment of truth for me. I was very much in the mood to forget it. There were editorials to read in the NY Times and a stunning headline on Alternet about the rising sea levels threatening coastal cities in America much sooner than we ever suspected.

I don’t like these American talent wonder shows (I can’t even think of their names) and now here was one that sounded like it was from the UK – Britain’s Got Talent.

I started to move on to another story, but Eklund sounded so damned adamant about watching Susan Boyle. What the hell? I did.

“Unbelievable, amazing and heartwarming.”

I guess I’d add stunning. I was stunned. I sat in my chair like a piece of concrete and hit the replay button time and time again. I did need a tissue. What had happened? How could so many smirks and titters be turned to gasps and standing ovations?

Susan Boyle is a wonder. I can’t get her off my mind. I hope she conquers the world. Go see for yourself. [Watch the video – all of it!]

A Last Dream

I thought that I had dreamed for my last time and that I was slipping away into a peaceful, blissful place.
by Charlie Leck

The other night I had a dream in which I was dreaming that I was dreaming. Confusing? You should have had the dream! You bet it was confusing. Yet, something wonderful happened in all the bewilderment and I am happy that I have lived to tell you about it.

It was a confusing dream and I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around it and I realized I was thrashing around in my bed. Of course, I wasn’t doing that at all. That was happening in the second layer of the dream in which I was dreaming that I was dreaming. In addition to tossing and turning, in this second layer of the dream, I was also having some interesting chest pains in the first level. In one of these levels of dreaming, I remember thinking that the pains were interesting.

“So, this is what the chest pains, right before you have a heart attack, feel like,” I remember – or I remembered in the dream about dreaming –saying to myself. I was thinking that these pains were like little electrical charges that jolted me and caused me little nudges of discomfort.

At the shallowest level of this several layers of dreaming, I admitted to myself that I was about to die from a heart attack that was being forewarned by the middle level of the dream.

At that point, all the levels of the dream seemed to meld together and I was somewhat awake and somewhat asleep and I remember feeling extraordinarily peaceful. No, peacefulness is not what I felt. It was more a peaceful blissfulness. It was an ultimately perfect moment of absolute acceptance.

I never really expected to wake again and thought there would be no more mornings at the keyboard, no more walks through the countryside with my dog and indeed no more fantastic cuddling with my wife; yet I was fully accepting and satisfied with whom I was and with what I had accomplished. I was prepared and eager. It was nothing short of an incomparable, enigmatic moment.

Just then – in that extraordinarily peaceful instant – my wife’s alarm clock made a piercing, whining noise. As usual, she made no move to reach over to turn it off. She buried her face deeply into her pillow and groaned. I rose up on one elbow and noticed the creamy-soft back of her shoulders and felt somewhat surprised.

“I’m alive,” I said to her, nearly singing it!

“I’m dead,” she said and pulled the covers up over her head while the alarm clock continued to shrill.

I thought that I would try to explain the dream within a dream about a dream, but I knew that neither she nor anyone else would get it.

I bolted from the bed and happily turned off my wife's alarm clock, pulled on my robe and strode toward the kitchen singing a delightful song from “Oklahoma!”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nation at War

This photograph of the painting, Shores of Tripoli, is from the Grace Galleries.

Which, among the nations on Earth, has most frequently gone to war?
by Charlie Leck

Perhaps it’s because we were born in war! We had to fight for our independence as a nation and we defeated a mighty empire to get that freedom. Perhaps it gave us a big head and the wrong idea – that we could use might to make right.

Even before we became an independent nation we were accustomed to war. We sent men to fight against the Native Americans many times and in many places. Among those recorded in common histories are the Pequot Wars (1637), King Philip’s War (1675), the Susquehannock War (1675) and the Yamasee War (1715). Those early colonists were also often involved in a number of wars between France and Great Britain – wars that were fought for control of North America. The most notable was the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763.

Quiz enlightened people in any of the most educated nations in the world and ask them about the most war-prone nation. They will likely guess that it is the United States of America. For most of our 233 years, we have been at war.
  • Our revolutionary war lasted until 1783 (the first 7 years of our life as a nation.

  • We were involved in constant wars with Native Americans during the period from 1783 to 1815, including the Northwest Indian War, Tecumseh’s War and the Creek War.

  • The little known Quasi War was undeclared but was fought on the seas against France from 1798 to 1800.

  • Thomas Jefferson sent us to fight in Tripoli in 1801 against the Barbary Pirates. We remained in on-again and off-again battles there until 1815.

  • The war of 1812 with England went on until 1815.

  • Texas was at war against Mexico from 1835 through 1836.

  • We fought against the Native Americans in a host of wars until 1860, including the Seminole Wars, the Black Hawk War, Mexican-American War and Utah War.

  • Our own internal Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865.

  • We sent soldiers against the Great Sioux Uprising in 1862 and 1863.

  • In 1893 we put a small group of sailors on shore in Hawaii to dethrone its Queen and to annex the islands to the United States.

  • We declared war in 1898 against Spain (the Spanish American War) in order to set Cuba free (which, of course, we did not do).

  • Our wars of intervention (the Banana Wars) in Latin America, involving Cuba, Mexico, Panama (and the Canal Zone) Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

  • During the Boxer Rebellion we sent troops to fight in China in the late 1800s.

  • The war in the Phillipines lasted through 1900 to 1913.

  • The Great War to End All Wars dragged from 1917 to 1919.

  • We sent troops to Russia to fight against the Bolsheviks in 1918 and 1919.

  • World War II against Germany and Japan began in 1941 and ended in 1945.

  • The Korean War against China and North Korea consumed the years 1951-1956.

  • We deployed troops to Lebanon in 1958 where they remained for 3 months.

  • The Bay of Pigs Invasion (Cuba) was a disaster for the Kennedy administration in 1961.

  • We sent over 23,000 troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965.

  • Vietnam tore at the heart of our nation from 1961 to 1975 and cost us over 60,000 American lives (likely more than 2 million Vietnamese died).

  • Our Marines invaded Grenada in 1983.

  • U.S. forces invaded Panama, to over-throw dictator Manuel Noriega, in 1989.

  • The first Gulf War was swift, beginning in 1990 and ending in 1992.

  • The Iraq war began in 2003 and goes on and on.

  • We are currently absorbed in a war in Afghanistan that began in 2001.
You take the time to figure out how many of our years of existence included time at war or in the invasion of other nations. Since many of these wars were not wars of defense, but often clear imperialistic actions, it is not a proud history.

Think our children are being taught about all these military actions in the classroom? Think again!

History is a great benefactor of the people. It teaches us lessons that should influence our future behavior. Such a history is valuable only if it is accurate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Norm Coleman received a blunt rejection from the judicial panel set up to here his contest of the election recount. Where to now?
by Charlie Leck

Following the recount, following the election, Norman Coleman, as is his legal right, contested the recount results. A special judicial panel was set up by the State Supreme Court to hear Coleman’s objections.

Following the recount, Coleman trailed by about 125 votes. Follow the special panel’s look at the votes Coleman wanted added to the tally, the former Senator trailed by more than 300 votes. Now he will take his case to the State Supreme Court and argue that even more votes should have been counted.

And, Minnesota goes on and on without one of its Senate seats filled.

I am going to opine here that Norm Coleman has seriously – and perhaps fatally – hurt his chances for ever again running for political office here in Minnesota; however, I first want to tell you that the best place to follow this saga about the MINNESOTA RECOUNT is in our alternative, on-line news source, MinnPost. There, Eric Black (EricBlackInk) and other reporters have done a much better job than our local newspaper in presenting the facts, keeping them up-to-date and in analyzing what’s going on with this entire debacle. If you follow Minnesota news, you should know about MinnPost.

Here’s a summary of the decision presented by Jay Weiner, one of the MinnPost reporters.

“The judges, with definitive and deliberate language, said Coleman, who has been a U.S. senator for six years, didn’t come close to proving that, among other things: thousands of Minnesotans who cast absentee ballots were disenfranchised, that some ballots were counted twice or that the “equal protection” rights of Minnesota voters were violated.

Unanimous rulings all go against Coleman
Indeed, the judges listed 157 different “findings of fact,” and nary a one seemed to be
in Coleman’s favor.”
Talk About a Close Race – A Photo Finish at the Wire
According to the judicial panel, Franken won by 329 votes out of 2.5 million votes cast. Wow!
1,212,629 for Franken
1,212,317 for Coleman

I don’t think Norm Coleman could get elected dog-catcher after this awful performance. He’s dragged this recount out way beyond the necessary point. Minnesotans will remember this if they are ever called on to vote for Coleman again. Only the die-hard right wingers will rally behind him. With rational, thinking folks, he’s done!

Norm has expressed strong interest in running for Governor. I think he can now forget that idea. Norm, take a job in a consulting firm and get on with your life. You have plenty of political cronies who are willing to set you up.

Norm will again find happiness in hanging out at Galivan’s Bar and toying with all the ladies who stop in there, looking to be toyed with.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Bank Scandals

Photo is property of Staxonsteel

I am more than troubled by bank failures of 2008; and my discomfort isn’t about the money lost, but about the reasons for these failures. Were they criminal?
by Charlie Leck

And what are those causes?
Well, frankly, we don’t fully know. In his NY Times column on Sunday, Frank Rich asks, “What have we learned, if anything, from this decade’s man-made economic disaster?”

To fully understand this disaster and to, perhaps, actually benefit from it by protecting against future incidents like this, we must completely and precisely understand its causes.

That was the point William K. Black was making on the Bill Moyer’s Journal to which I urged you to go in my last blog. Something Black said on that video struck me really hard. He painted this picture. What would we be doing if it was a major airline crash? We would investigate and come to understand every available detail to explain why that plane came down. We would understand it as if we had been witness to every moment of the disaster. That, he said, is why the airline industry in America can boast a safety record second to none.

Wouldn’t you just think, is the point Black was making, that we would do the very same thing with this economic disaster that struck us? We need investigators pouring over every single, solitary transaction that each one of these institutions made so we can follow the trail to a clear explanation of what happened.

Black was clearly implying – no, stating – that we would find a pattern of greed, deceit and criminal activity that would blow away the American public.

Here's the facts, Jack!
Heads must roll! We are leaving these failed institutions under the control of the very executives who caused these problems. Think about this. At this very moment evidence is likely being destroyed. Facts are being obscured by high-priced accountants. Figures are being altered by mathematical wizards. With each passing day, the complexity of figuring all this out is increasing.
President Obama has failed us in this regard. He is letting these no-good, greedy bastards off the hook.

Only the American public, by rising up with loud and angry voices, can get the investigation going. We must demand that we want to know the reasons – the causes – the ugly, ugly truth about the corruption that took place in America’s banking industry. Black claims these banks were making loans that totaled into the billions of dollars with the full knowledge that they would not be repaid; however, they were skimming off personal profits and bonuses of hundreds of millions of dollars in the meantime. These were dollars that got fully protected by these criminal and greedy bankers who were only interested in the own future, staggering wealth.

Are there voices demanding such an investigation? If so, bring them to my attention and I’ll sign whatever petitions it takes to get to the bottom of this scandal.

In the meantime, I can only write to my Senator (a single one, unfortunately) and my Congressman, appealing to them to propose the most sweeping investigation of any incident in the nation’s history. Now.

This nation needs to know even if the truth is ugly and dark. How did it all happen?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Watch this Bill Moyer’s Journal Show

Think Madoff scammed us? Take a look at what the bankers have been doing to us for years!
recommended by Charlie Leck

No television is more compelling and engrossing than Bill Moyer’s Journal. I seen plenty of unforgettable presentations there. However, none may be more gripping and interesting -- and frightening -- than his show last week when William K. Black was his guest. Black is the author of the book, THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE. He also teaches at the University of Missouri (Kansas City).

You'll be amazed at what Black has to tell us about America’s banks.
[click here to watch the video]

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Spring is bursting out with all its promises of hope, and Easter comes with promises of forgiveness, while the Holy Day clashes with the Masters and my memories of Marilyn Monroe!
by Charlie Leck

What a complicated Christian Holy Day is Easter? John Updike tries to tell us that all our efforts at faithfulness are wasted if the stone before the tomb was not literally moved aside through the power of God alone. My goodness! That is the height of literalism and I'm disappointed that such a beautiful poem could so miss the point of Easter. But that's okay, because the entire fundamentalist Christian movement around the world misses the point, too. These devout people are so busy clammering about the miracle that they miss the miracle.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality
that in the slowgrinding of time
will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linens
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
—John Updike, “Seven Stanzas At Easter,” 1964

Isn't this a gloriously beautiful day -- this Easter Sunday -- to those of us who call ourselves Christians? This is our special day -- our special weekend. And on this particular morning it is as lovely right now as is possible. The sun is shining, it is warm and there are only gentle breezes blowing.

"I thank THEE most for this amazing day!" [e.e. cummings]

So what about this Easter Story
The story of the cross is central to everything we believe -- that the love of God is so beautiful and spectacular that it forgives us the immensity of our failures to be obedient. The message of this weekend is that nothing in all creation -- not even death -- can conquer the love God has for us.

Love is more powerful than evil! Love is more powerful than hate! As Saint Paul wrote: "...nothing in all creation..." can defeat the Love of God for us.

When I am desperately in need of forgiveness, I turn to the cross. I am not a literalist; yet, I believe I can find forgiveness at the cross when I can find it nowhere else.

I learned only this week of something utterly stupid I did in my senior year of high school. For some reason, on his graduation photograph in our school yearbook, I wrote something about a good friend being a "drunk." Why? Fifty years is too long ago. I don't know. One would think there was some relevant event that caused me to write that. And one would hope that I was being, or trying to be, humorous. Did it have to do with a school play? A joke in some class? Some humorous incident between us? I don't know. I just wrote it and this "friend" has carried around a resentment of me because of it for fifty years. Did you get that? For fifty years! And I just now find out about it. I have tried to approach him for forgiveness and apologized with all my heart. So far, nothing! What else can I do? I can think of nothing else than turning to the cross and laying before Christ my earnest confession and plea for mercy. I want to sleep again. I want to be relieved of the weight of embarrassment. I want to restore the friendship. This is what Christians do at such a moment.

The act of the cross is so incredible and so beautiful that it will always stand at the heart of Christianity. Some fundamentalists say that the cross only finds its meaning in the resurrection. I don't think so.

I think the events surrounding the cross may have been historical. They became sacred events, but they began as fundamentally real and historical ones.

The events surrounding the empty tomb and the rolled back stone have less basis in history. They became part of the early church's liturgical creations.

As a young man, I became acquainted with the writings of Albert Schweitzer. I remember reading the entirety of his book, REVERENCE FOR LIFE, to my mother as she lay ill. In graduate school I was introduced to his book, THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS, and I was amazed by it. Schweitzer took the entirety of the gospels and tried to separate what was clearly historical, what may have been historical and what were creations of the early Church as a part of its writing of liturgy for worship. There is no evidence available that could lead us to believe that the resurrection was a historical event -- or even that it might have been one. There is plenty of evidence to indicate it was a remarkable creation of the early Christian community as a means of exclaiming its faith.

Does it make the faith less, as Updike says? To me, no! The man, Jesus, is even more powerful for me when I think of his suffering and his sacrifice without any assumption of a release from it a few days later.

The cross is a story of suffering and forgiveness. Period.

For me, it doesn't make Easter any less powerful. The power that was Christ lives on forever, because nothing, not even death, can still the love he had for us. Nothing in all creation can do that.

Today I looked at a delicious on-line collection of wonderful photographs of Marilyn Monroe (Life/Getty Images). Wow! What a chick! I almost forgot. Later I'll join my family over on the shores of beautiful Lake Minnetonka and we'll dine together. I'll sneak away for long minutes to see how the Masters golf tournament is going. What a day it's going to be.

And tonight, I think I'll finally sleep well again because I have turned this stupid high school mistake of mine over to the only person who can lighten my guilt -- to Christ himself.

Easter is a powerful time for Christians. What a day!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Minnesota Without

My drawing is done from a Mordecai Specktor photograph in the American Jewish World magazine.

We have only one U.S. Senator representing us in Minnesota and the 6th Congressional District also has a vacancy and is without representation.
by Charlie Leck

At a snail’s pace, Minnesota is moving toward sending a second U.S. Senator to Washington. We’ve been under-represented in the Senate for three months now. Hopefully something good will come out of this debacle – like a modernized, infallible voting system that will be devised and put in place here before the 2010 national elections.

Though it’s a serious problem having only one Senator in Washington, causing our other Senator to bulk up her staff in order to respond to all the requests for help coming from all of us here in the state, it is nothing compared to the poor 6th Congressional District that is completely unrepresented in Washington.

You see, Michelle Bachman is the elected Representative in the House in that district – that’s Double-Zero Bachman (no brains, no heart). How could you folks up there in that part of the state ever elect such an idiot? Not only is she short on brain-matter, she’s keeps going on national TV and embarrassing all the rest of us here in the old home state.

Kevin Diaz, writing in our local StarTribune, calls her gaffs on these TV appearances “rhetorical grenades.”

Recently she complained that Obama was taking us “down the lane of economic Marxism.” Come on, Ms. Representative Bachman, it was your guy – the one you groped so publically in the aisle of the House – who started all this “bail-out” baloney. It was your guy who practically handed control of the nation over to corporate executives.

Most recently, Representative Bachman totally misunderstood the Chinese suggestion about replacing the dollar as the International Monetary Fund’s reserve currency for international investment. Poor Representative Bachman thought our Treasury Secretary was considering replacing the home currency – the good old dollar – and she introduced a resolution to prohibit removing the dollar as the legal U.S. tender. Oops!

We haven’t seen anything like Michelle Bachman in Congress since….. Well, since…. Well, in fact, we’ve never seen anything like Michelle Bachman in or out of the Congress.

Remember back in October when she ruminated aloud about Obama being anti-American!

Though there are videos everywhere that give witness to Bachman actually saying just that, she later suggested the claim was just “urban legend.”

She’s also suggested that earmarks are corrupt. Oops! Congressman Bachman was reminded that she had taken nearly four million dollars in earmarks. Now she’s pledged never to do it again. Oh boy! Her district is staggering over that blow to the jaw.

Recently, something she said sent most of us into hiding because we were too embarrassed to show our faces.

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on the issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.”
Congresswoman Bachman, you are armed and dangerous – that mouth of yours in more dangerous than anything in the state except you brain.

Congress recently raised funds for the popular Americorp Program. That move won great praise from many people. From Bachman it received a stinging, solely partisan criticism. She claimed Americorp camps would be set up to indoctrinate young people to be liberals.

Come on, you folks there in the 6th District, enough is enough. Your joke is getting pretty stale. Elect a Republican if you want to; but, please, give us one with a brain.

Tom Horner, owner of a local public relations firm and highly regarded as a Republican political analyst, even disowned the Congressional Representative this week, saying he disapproved of her approach to politics. You can click below to listen to the broadcast.

Don't want to listen to the entire broadcast? Here’s what the Republican, Horner, said about Bachman:
“She is an embarrassment to some Republicans, (uhm) myself included. I think that what she does moves away from being an opposition member who is going to elevate principles and issues to a person has who has decided that as a second term member of Congress from a rural district in Minnesota her chance for the limelight is to be intentionally provocative and I think she does it in a way that is designed to exploit fears, to exploit mistrust in government, to do all of the kinds of things that America does not need right now if it ever needs. And, unfortunately, she taps into a sentiment of mistrust and cynicism that is very, very strong and runs deep. I don’t think that’s what the Republicans ought to be doing and I don’t think it’s how we ought to be defined and I think we need some leadership in this party who is going to stand up and say, ‘Michelle Bachman is not my kind of Republican.’"
As strong as Horner's statement is, in my mind that’s an understatement.

But all of this makes the other party look pretty bad also. That a candidate as weak as Bachman can be elected and then reelected up there in that district is an indication that the Democratic Party (the DFL) is mighty weak up there and some reorganization is called for.

Friday, April 10, 2009

So Little Time

As my grandchildren grow and mature, I hope they’ll read the real histories of America – the people’s histories – and understand that global peace is possible if we’re humble enough to work for it.
by Charlie Leck

Yesterday, I sat for a few moments with a woman a bit more elderly than even I. I had delivered to her some lamb from our farm. We chatted. The subject turned sharply and became volatile.

She’s a wealthy woman. She lives on a big piece of land that was settled in 1857 by my wife’s great-great-grandfather. There’s a pretty pasture south of the house and some handsome horses grazing in it. You’d think she’d be a soft, conservative lady who would acquiesce to her husband’s politics.

I know her husband real well. I’ve played plenty of golf with him. We went out to Pebble Beach together and down to Palm Springs for golf outings.

America, she thinks, ought to stop being so hypocritical in its criticism of other nations of the world. She’s angry about the way we treated those detainees we held for the last eight years.

“We’ve got no right to complain about the way other nations treat people,” she went on. “Just look at the way we fire bombed Dresden and Tokyo during the war – even before that ghastly atomic bombing. I’m tired of this country being so self-righteous about everything. Look what we did in that prison in Iraq. Look what we did to them in Guantanamo.”

She pointed me toward the books of Howard Zinn.

“He wrote what’s called ‘a people’s history of the United States.’ None of this balderdash they teach in school. Zinn tells the truth. You didn’t go hear him on Monday night?”

I meekly shook my head.

“I told you about it!” She looked both displeased and disappointed. I looked out the window at the grazing horses. That pasture is land that old grandpappy Bradford Wakefield would have cleared.

She handed me a book by Stephen Kinzer.

“Be sure to read this. You’ll find out who really runs this nation. It certainly isn’t the people!”

Oh how I wished there had been time to sit with her and chat. She was frantic, however. I could see it in her face. She had warned me she was busy and had other plans for the morning. She had fire in her eyes and I wanted to hear everything she had to say.

There was so much truth that needed to be gotten out, and so little time!

Instead, I took the book and made my way to the car. Jasper and I pulled over into the parking lot of one of the town’s fancy country clubs and we took a moment to look at the book. I started by reading down the back cover. There is high praise from the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. The publisher’s blurb was interesting.

“Regime change did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells us the stories of the audacious American politicians, spies, military commanders, and businessmen who took it upon themselves to depose foreign regimes, starting with the toppling of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. He details the three eras of America’s regime-change century: the imperial era, when Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras were brought into the U.S. orbit; the Cold War era, when the CIA deposed governments in Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam and Chile; and the invasion era, when American troops overthrew governments in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq.“Kinzer explains why the U.S. government carried out these operations and why so many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences. Overthrow is a cautionary tale that serves as an urgent warning as the United States seeks to define its role in the modern world.”
I looked over at Jasper and said, “So much to read and so little time!”

He sighed and seemed to understand.

“Let’s go home and find out about Howard Zinn, big fella. Oops, now, don’t get upset. We’ll go to the dog park first.”

So it wasn’t until this morning that I googled (oh, how I love that verb) Howard Zinn. In a tenth of a second I had 1,340,000 hits. (See why I like that verb!)

I started off at the Howard Zinn website and read the latest Howard Zinn news and some biographical information about him.

The following came from the Harper Collins website.

“Howard Zinn is a historian, playwright, and social activist. He was a shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier before he went to college under the GI Bill and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has taught at Spelman College and Boston University, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna. He has received the Thomas Merton Award, the Eugene V. Debs Award, the Upton Sinclair Award, and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in Auburndale, Massachusetts.”
Well, the credentials ain’t bad, are they?

Wikipedia tells me that Zinn is best known “for A People’s History of the United States, which presents American history through the eyes of those he feels are outside of the political and economic establishment.”

Zinn flew bombing missions in World War II. He stands in total opposition to war these days. He was active in the American civil rights movement in the 60s and served as an advisor to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was a mentor to a young student of some reknown – Alice Walker.

Howard Zinn has authored more than twenty books. And, I’ve never read a one of them.

“So little time.”

Well, I’ll begin with Kinzer’s book, Overthrown, while I wait for A People’s History of the United States to arrive.

Zinn was here in town on Monday. He spoke over at my wife’s alma mater, the College of Saint Catherine. Why the hell weren’t we there? Because I’m not supposed to drive at night and my poor wife has been going so fast and furiously that I just couldn’t ask her to spend another night out. And, I hadn’t yet sat with this kindly, tiger of a woman and heard her lash out at the emptiness of the histories we give to our children to read.

“I’m not saying, you know; I just saying!”

Now, you’ve got to add a couple more books to your reading list. So little time!

"...And if we do act, in however small a way,
we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents,
and to live 'now' as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself
a marvelous victory." [Howard Zinn, 1996]

Thursday, April 9, 2009

To: Anonymous Pig!

The auto-comment machine strikes again!
by Charlie Leck

I received a comment at my blog this morning and I have a feeling dozens or even hundreds of other bloggers received the same long diatribe about everything that is wrong with the cheating, miserable world today. There were actually a few points along the way with which I agreed. Yet, it was a ceaseless rant that was filled with venom and hate and, in the end, was cowardly unsigned.

The writer tagged on a little notice.
“My right to remain anonymous is protected by federal law. If this right is violated, I will sue everyone involved and give 99% of the reward directly to less fortunate fellow citizens. The rest, I will used to print and distribute more copies of this document. DEAL WITH IT.”
Bring it on big guy! Bring it on! Come on into my pigsty here and let’s have it out.

There are a bunch of weirdos out there who try to dump comments on hundreds of blogs all at the same time. Usually they are promoting some kind of commercial interest. Others are just hate filled rants that someone who doesn't have the nerve to start his/her own blog is trying to dump on mine and many others.

They Are Waiting!

This is simply one of the most extraordinary places in golf!

Augusta National Golf Club, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews, the Coaching Club of New York and the Knickerbocker Club are unfairly discriminating against women.
by Charlie Leck

It’s Masters week. That’s probably not a very big deal for most of you, but around here it is very big indeed. Now don’t go running off just because you aren’t a golfer. This blog isn’t really about golf.

I’m writing here today about discrimination, injustice and unfair exclusivity.

Several weeks ago I wrote about my decision to resign from the most prestigious and exclusive club I had ever been asked to join or ever would be invited to join. I recounted that tale in a blog called Why We Can’t Wait.

I do not intend to write here about the August National Golf Club at which the Masters Golf Tournament is played. In passing, however, I will remind you that, although women are allowed to play golf there, it is an all male club, that it does not allow women members and that it doesn’t want to publically discuss the matter. I personally think this is a shame, but I have bigger fish to fry today.

Let’s talk about the very heart and soul of the golf world – its most important and prestigious club within the sport. Let’s talk about the Royal and Ancient Golf Club – the very seat of golf for the entire world.

Do you know about it?

Have you been to Saint Andrews, Scotland?

I hope the answer to both those questions is a hearty yes! Most specifically I hope the answer to the latter is positive. The city of Saint Andrews is a charmer. I found it one of the sweetest, loveliest places on the globe. I could easily imagine myself living there. It would be an easy, gentle place in which to dwell.

Of course, one of the institutions in the city that charms me the most is the Old Course. Oh, I have written about it before. It is a bit like heaven for the avid golfer. It is also a huge slice of the history and lore of golf. For those of you who might want to read it, I have appended to this blog an essay I wrote in 2005 about the Old Course. This was distributed among a number of golfers back then and it was received with great enthusiasm by most of them.

It is time now to zero in on my real subject today; and that is the famous club in Scotland that rules over golf the world over – except in North America. It is the pinnacle of golf clubs in all the world. It was established in 1754. It became the leading authority on the game of golf. Standing membership in it is extraordinarily exclusive.

One dignitary who, by tradition, could always expect membership within the club was the principal officer of the University of Saint Andrews. Recently, the University invited a woman to that position and she has not yet received an invitation to membership in the exclusive golf club. Louise Richardson, the new head of the University, has made it clear she would accept such an invitation.

How does the adage go? “Don’t hold your breath!”

There’s lot of huffing and puffing going on about this. It’s pointed out that there is a perfectly suitable women’s club to which Dr. Richardson could belong if she is longing for a golf club.

The fact is, Richardson probably wouldn’t even play. There is a more important point here and it is the same point I was trying to make when I wrote about my resignation from the old and stuffy Coaching Club of New York (Why We Can’t Wait).

The world is supposed to have changed. Women are clearly now in the international market place and they are competing as actively as men for world leadership in business.

Membership in clubs like Augusta National Golf Club and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews are awesome items to include in one’s curriculum vitae. That a woman cannot hope to attain such membership puts her at a competitive disadvantage. The fellows giggle at that, but it is the down-right truth.

The Knickerbocker Club in New York City claims that it does not allow business to be conducted within its club facility and therefore it – an all male membership – is not participating in the market place of business and politics. Nonsense! Who believes that is bigger than a fool!

The same is true of the British Coaching Club and the Coaching Club of New York. It’s true of Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey and the Bob O’Link Golf Club in Chicago.

The last thing I want is for the courts to step in and force these clubs to open their doors. I want the club memberships to recognize that the times have changed and that all male clubs of such incredible public significance ought to be open to qualified, deserving women.

Obviously, Doctor Louise Richard is such a woman.

Appended Essay

Saint Andrews (Old)
by Charlie Leck
"The lairdship of the bonny Links of Forth,
is better than an Earldom in the North Nimmo’s Stirlingshire"
I first played the Old Course when I was a young man, still in graduate school, and newly acquainted with the game of golf. I was visiting the city for academic and cultural reasons and in the company of a group of non-golfers. I’d only played a few public courses in those days – Francis Gross and Columbia Heights – in addition to a little 9-hole track in South Dakota. Nevertheless, the bug had bitten me and I was entirely infected with the disease. Now I found myself in golf’s great city to tour the grand old University of Saint Andrews, the ruins of the great cathedral and castle, and to study ecclesiastical matters. Pilgrims regularly came from all across Europe to visit Saint Andrews. It is a community rich in Christian history – both Roman and Protestant. “It was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland,” wrote David Joy.[i] Locals claim that the ghost of John Knox, the Protestant reformer, inhabits North Street. In the mid-16th century, Knox was a hell-fire and brimstone preacher and attacked the Papacy with a vengeance. He was tried and acquitted of treason in 1560. The Scots count him as the creator of Protestant Scotland and he is an important figure in their history. He is not the only ghost claimed for Saint Andrews. An unknown monk also roams around and a mysterious, invisible coach is often heard rumbling along in the streets. Though small, the University is the oldest in Scotland and awards a degree that is highly coveted in academic circles. Three of the twelve signers of our own Declaration of Independence were graduates of Saint Andrews.

Charles Blair Macdonald, that giant of a figure in the grand history and tradition of golf, spent some time as a boy in Saint Andrews, living with his grandfather, studying at the University and learning to play golf under Old Tom Morris.

“I found I was living in a city of ancient times, founded some six or seven hundred years before America was discovered, and I was enrolled in a university established before the birth of Columbus. Legendary history conflicts as to the repository of the bones of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, but it is generally conceded that they were brought by Regulus in the eighth century to the town that now bears his name. The fact that one legend of Regulus makes him an Irishman has emboldened my friend, the Honorable Morgan J. O’Brien, to claim that the good saint brought golf from Ireland to Scotland along with the bones.

“For many years St. Andrews was the battle-ground between the Church of Rome, the English Church, and the Presbyterian Church of John Knox. Its history is largely legendary, and its beginnings, like the beginnings of golf, are lost in antiquity.”[ii]
It was a lovely July in Scotland and I could see a little corner of the golfing property from my B&B window. I sat drinking morning tea, wishing there was some way I could get to the Old Course.

“Links land,” I read in my guidebook, “is old, sandy, receded seabed unfit for anything but golf.”

Everywhere we walked in the city there were reminders that this was the “home of golf.” I knew I was going to have to break from my group and wander down to the Links to, at least, find out if it was possible to play the Old Course and how much it might cost.

It was both possible and very reasonable. The course wasn’t as heavily played in those days. Television and Jack Nicklaus had not yet made it famous. Jack would win the 1970 Open in a playoff against Doug Sanders. Most all golf fans long in the tooth remember Nicklaus tossing his putter high into the sky after sinking the winning putt. He’d come back to win the Open at Saint Andrew again in 1978. It was after those wins that it became more complicated to get on the Old Course.

The most difficult matter for me was finding a way to escape from our regular and disciplined group plans. The rain made it possible. We woke on a mid-week morning to dull gray skies and steady precipitation. The early schedule held together, but a walking tour through the city and university was canceled and I was free for an afternoon.

So what that it was raining!

An elderly caddy scrounged me up a set of golf clubs and the starter fitted me in with three other fellows waiting on the first tee. One was a young American soldier on leave. The other two were well-worn and shaggy Scots who didn’t have much time for small talk and congeniality. The soldier, Eddie Conklin, from Kansas City, has remained a friend even to this day and we write faithfully to each other a couple times a year.

The rain fell softly, but steadily. The sky was solid gray and it was evident that our entire game would be played in these conditions. There was little wind, however, and that would turn out to be a blessing. The first teeing ground seemed to shift beneath me as I tried to push my peg into it. I noticed that my hands quivered. I took aim far to the left, way over into he 18th fairway, and launched my ball solidly and with exceptional loft. As expected, its crazy spin kept moving it to the right as it flew out in front of me. It landed safely on the far right edge of the 1st fairway, far enough out that I could walk to it unashamed.

“Yer losin’ great distance with a swing like that, laddie,” my caddy said to me as he matched my stride down Burn – the given name for the first hole. “Yuh must learn to hit the ball from inside and not loop yer club over to the outside like that and come across the ball so.”

My first golf lesson came at Saint Andrews. Never mind that it was from an old caddy who was bearing all the embarrassment about my swing far more heavily than the bag and clubs he carried for me. It was an embarrassment that I had not yet learned to carry. Yet, he was wise enough to know that he was stuck with my swing that day and he pointed out targets far left of the actual places where he knew my ball would land.

The holes going out on the Old Course seemed to favor my ‘over-faded’ shots more than those that followed the turn. The card from that day, still safely and proudly scrap-booked, shows I made the turn in 42. Not bad on a strange course and using rather scroungy rental clubs. That included a birdie on ‘End’ (the 9th hole), where I remember topping my second shot badly. I watched the miss-hit shot roll and bound along the ground and settle finally on the putting surface right next to the hole.

The inward holes ate my lunch. It didn’t matter then. I hadn’t yet learned to get angry about bad shots. Nor was I embarrassed by them then. I was having the time of my life and I judged the ground over which I walked to be both sacred and as beautiful as any piece of land I’d ever seen.

I’ll never forget the sounds of several of my golf balls banging on top of the tin roofs on the sheds that guarded the corner of the ‘Road Hole.’ The two Scots in our foursome shook their heads in disbelief as Eddie and I laughed at the noise the balls made. I have always considered that wonderful corner one of the most enchanting places on any golf course I’ve ever visited. How disappointed I was to find, on a return visit, that a modern hotel had replaced those delightful old sheds.

By the time I’d crossed the Swilken Bridge and worked my way out of the ‘Valley of Sin’ on the 18th putting surface, and got my ball into the hole, I’d failed to break 50. Nevertheless, I humbly asked Eddie and my caddy to sign my rain-soaked card for me.

And now the Open Championship is about to be played at the Old Course again. There’s nothing in golf like an Open Championship at Saint Andrews. When played there it is more than just the championship of British golf. At this venue – at the very place that nurtured the game to such honorable maturity – it is for all the marbles.

Twenty-seven (that’s 27) Open Championships have been played on the Old Course. What winners have strode proudly from the final putting surface! Old Tom Morris himself, of course, but so many other historic golfing names were among the winners on the Old Course. Taylor! Braid! Hutchinson! Jones! Hagen! Snead! Thompson! Locke! Lema! Nicklaus! Faldo! Ballesteros! Daly! Woods!

The father of Jack Nicklaus went over to Saint Andrews in 1959 in order to scout the course while Jack was at Muirfield playing in the Walker Cup. The report came back to Jack that it was the worse course his dad had ever seen. So, the rising star was prepared for a terrible venue when he went over in 1964.

“I just fell in love with it from the first day,” Jack said. Today he calls Saint Andrews and Augusta his “two favorite places in the game of golf.”

I guess David Fay would have shaken his head at Jack’s review, or waggled a finger toward his nose.

‘Anyone who raves about the Old Course after just one or two rounds there is either a liar or a fool,' says David Fay, Executive Director of the USGA. Fay relates that it was not until he served as a referee in the 1990 Open Championship there and spent four days walking the course and watching the game's best tack their way round it that he began to appreciate the most famous course in golf.[iii]
"The course is a surprise each time you look at it," Nicklaus said. "No matter how many times you play it, you'll still find things that you've never seen before. Every time, the conditions change and you have to make adjustments."[iv]

In Jack’s autobiography, My Story, he wrote the following about how the golfer must handle the Old Course:
"First, he must become acclimatized to and comfortable with playing the game on what much of the time ... doesn't look or feel like a golf course at all… Second, he must learn what those ever-changing winds will do to his ball. ... To me, those factors in combination make a British Open at the home of golf the most intriguing and maybe the most demanding challenge in the entire game."[v]
Nicklaus is adored in Saint Andrews and all of Scotland. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has announced that it will issue currency during the Open with a picture of Nicklaus on the bills. Nicklaus will become the only living person to be on a Scottish note beside the current Queen and the late Queen Mother. I suppose it helps that RBS has an advertising endorsement deal with Nicklaus.

Bobby Jones hated the Old Course the first time he ever played there. Like Jack’s father, he thought it the worst golf course he’d ever seen. Of course, we all know how he grew to love it there and came to believe that Saint Andrews was the seed-bed from which all great golf course design would have to grow.

“The more you study it, the more you love it,” said Bobby Jones, “and the more you love it, the more you study it.”

Jones not only won the Open Champion there in 1927, but in his later life, because he was so greatly loved, he was made “a Freeman” – an honorary citizen of the city of Saint Andrews. His closing remark in his acceptance speech brought tears to all in attendance.

“If I could take out of my life everything but my experiences in Saint Andrews I would still have had a rich, full life.”
The audience rose and broke spontaneously into song: “Will Ye No’ Come back Again.”

Jones not only won the Open Championship in 1927, he won the hearts and affection of the people of Saint Andrews. Today he is regarded as highly on the links of Saint Andrews as is Old Tom Morris. He was awarded an honorary membership in the Saint Andrews Golf Club in 1959.

I remember having an after-dinner drink with Phil Reith in the sitting room of the wonderful Gray Walls Hotel just off the 10th tee at Muirfield. It was in 1985. Phil started up a conversation with two elderly ladies and they found our golf professional charming. Phil learned that one of them was an MP – a Member of Parliament. That intrigued us all and Phil dug further and found out that this MP had spent considerable time with Bobby Jones on one of his trips to Scotland. There was an enormous look of affection in the old woman’s eyes and they were filled with moisture as she spoke about Bobby and the love that all of Scotland had for him. She made us feel as if it had been only a moment ago when Bobby won the Open on the Old Course.

Sam Snead’s initial reaction to the Old Course was far different than that of Jack Nicklaus. It was more like Bobby’s first impression.

“It looks like an old, abandoned kind of place,” Sam Snead said of the Old Course when he saw it from his arriving train in 1946. He hated it. He called it “mighty fine pasture land.” Of course, no one ever accused Sam of having delicate taste. I’m sure he also preferred liverwurst to paté de fois gras. Sam went on to win the Open that year, having driven four of the Old Course’s two-shotters during the week. He withstood fierce winds on the final day and kept his ball in play and his putting was sure and steady. Though he shot a final round 75, he won by 3 shots. When the time came to present the Championship Trophy to Sam, officials had to hunt him down in his hotel while impatient fans waited. Sam took home $600 (U.S.) for winning the open. He usually bet far more when playing on Tuesdays with his pals.

John Daly responded to the comments of Snead that he has often read: “It looked like the cow pasture everyone told me it was," Daly said, "but it's awesome. I fell in love with the place."

Ben Crenshaw calls it sacred ground. Crenshaw, along with Bill Coor, has established his credentials as one of the finest designers in the nation. I’ll go with Crenshaw’s comments.

Scot Hoch called it the “worst piece of mess I’ve ever seen,” and he refuses to return to it even when he’s qualified to. Our own fellow Woodhill member, Charlie Crosby, agrees with Hoch. Charlie has raged at me about what an awful and ugly golf course Saint Andrews is. How I wish I could get Charlie to sit with me in the bar at the top of the Old Course Hotel and look out over the links land when the sun is low in the sky. It is one of the most beautiful sights my eyes have ever beheld.

John Hawkins, in Golf World Magazine, wrote that Americans might find it “somewhere between an acquired taste and an amusement park without rides.” Hawkins concedes, however, that it is a “600 year old venue that has barely flinched through the entire chronology of equipment technology.”[vi] This may be the most telling comment of all.

During his practice rounds in 2000, Tiger woods played a gutta-percha off the 9th teeing ground and walloped a powerful drive down the fairway on the 352 yard hole. He still had a 5-iron left to the green. It helps you understand why the winning score in a one-day Championship in 1873 was 91-88. Tom Kidd was the victor by one shot, playing in a steady, day-long, soaking rain.

Fred Couples calls the Old Course his “favorite course of all time.”

In an Associated Press article this week, Lee Westwood compared it to a song you don’t really like, but “you end up humming it all day.”

Doctor Allister MacKenzie believed that no designer would ever build a great golf course without understanding Saint Andrews. In his book, The Spirit of Saint Andrews, MacKenzie explained the influence the Old Course had on him.
“I am by nature a revolutionary, and only too apt to scoff at tradition. Before visiting St. Andrews I had what were considered revolutionary ideas regarding golf courses. To my astonishment, when I inspected the Old Course I found my ideals in actual practice. I have been a staunch supporter of the Old Course ever since, and I have always opposed suggested alterations to it.”[vii]
Donald Ross believed that no man could have possessed enough genius to design and build the Old Course. He claimed it could only have been done by God. My wife would say: “The sheep and God!”
“In a very real sense, Nature created the course. It evolved in its own way. There is no suggestion in the lay-out of the neat-looking, well-groomed, orthodox designs of current architecture. The Old Course was shaped by natural forces… The process began when the sea receded, leaving sand-banks and channels of salt water that slowly dried out. In time these ridges became wind-scarred sand-dunes of marram while the sheltered valleys were carpeted with bent and fescue that in turn attracted colonies of rabbits, the right ingredients to anticipate a links of excellent golfing turf.”[viii]
In 1985, if you had picked up a yardage book for the Old course, you would have been surprised to find a highly literate and absolutely enjoyable “Preface to Course Guide” included in it.

“The Old Course… was modeled by the winds of God that formed the dunes into random and eccentrically complex shapes, indifferent then, as now, to the vanities of men.”[ix]
Sir Guy Campbell put it another way. He is often called the most knowledgeable and eloquent historian of the Old Course. The following is the opening verse of his long poem, The Old Course Speaks.

I have heard the North Sea
Ceaselessly withdrawing,
Foot by foot receding.
Through the Ages as they spent;
Adding to my Loanings,
Gracious ground for Golfers,
Spread far for their content.
Golf was first played at Saint Andrews as early the 15th century. That early play was over 12 holes and that grew to 22 – 11 out and the same number in, sharing putting surfaces all the way. It was in the late 18th century that the number was reduced to 18 and the layout as it is played today was established in approximately 1842.

Ross, the grounds superintendent at Royal Dornach, spent a year as an intern at the Old Course before heading to America. That year, and the other times he played there, left an enduring and indelible mark on him and affected all his design work thereafter. Like all the other great course designers of his time, he constantly drew inspiration from the Old Course.

When one realizes the level to which the Old Course takes the concept of risk and reward and that even the slightest amount of side to side movement on a shot might send a ball careening toward a dangerous bunker, it is nearly unfathomable to recount that Tiger Woods never put a ball into a single bunker during four days of play in 2000. He won the Open Championship by 8 strokes and he was going away.

"It changes and evolves every day without losing any of its fairness,” Woods said of the Old Course.

And, it is important to understand bunkering at Saint Andrews. Perhaps then we would never again complain about how our bunkers are maintained at Woodhill. Bunkers are absolute hazards on the Old Course. You do not want to be in them. They are meant to be avoided and a golfer is punished when his ball finds one. They are not highly groomed. The sand depths are not consistent. There are occasional pebbles, stones and rocks. There are tufts of grass in them. They have been left nearly as the sheep, seeking shelter from the wind, dug them out.

There are 112 bunkers on the Old Course. Tom Moriarity wrote that some “…make absolutely no sense whatsoever until the wind turns around and you find yourself chest-high in one you didn’t even know existed.”[x]
“Most bunkers are in natural hollows where the thin surface of topsoil was broken to reveal the sand beneath. Some have been refined for modern use and in the early 1900s additional bunkers were put in to the right of several outward holes to replace the bushes that had once flourished. A bunker in the wide expanse of the shared first and last fairways was removed in 1914… But man has merely tinkered with a few surface details. The natural challenge of the Old Course remains intact, as daunting and rewarding as it has been throughout the history of the game.”[xi]
Tom Doak, as talented and as genius as any golf course designer who ever lived, believes the Old Course is so masterful because man had no hand in laying it out. The course is as nature gave it to the shepherds who first played the game there. The course itself designed and created the game. Doak would return toward the Old Course in his work. In building Pacific Dunes and Cape Kidnappers, he has returned. He believes that the land is the land and golf should be played over it. Creating artificial hazards and including paraphernalia is not necessary for great golf. All that’s needed is great land.

Each of the bunkers at Saint Andrews carries a personal name – a very relevant and somewhat historical moniker – and many of the regular golfers at the Old Course know each and every one of these given names. Many of us know the more famous – or infamous – of these bunkers. “The Coffins” on the 13th hole will come into play in 2005 because 35 yards was added to the hole. It will take a carry of 285 yards to fly them. On the 14th hole, the championship tee has been moved over to the Eden Course, behind a stone wall, to stretch the hole to 618 yards. Now, both the “Beardies” and “Hell” will come into play on the drive and second shot respectively. David Duval got acquainted with the ‘Road Hole’ bunker in the previous Open Championship played
on the Old Course.

Wind is also an important natural force at Saint Andrews. It is as important as the bunkers. Charles Blair Macdonald, in his classic book, called wind “the finest asset in golf.”

“Wind I consider the finest asset in golf; in itself it is one of the greatest and most delightful accomplishments in the game. Without wind your course is always the same, but as the wind varies in velocity and from the various points of the compass, you not only have one course but you have many courses…. It is here that the true golfer excels. Low says: ‘A good golfer always prays for a windy day, but he must not pray too earnestly.”[xii]
Without wind, Saint Andrews will lay naked and defenseless before today’s professionals. The lack of wind is why Woods went to 19 under in his 2000 victory. If the wind blows forcibly during the 2005 Open it will make for some of the most exciting golf we’ve ever watched.

In 1964, Tony Lema won the Open Championship at Saint Andrews. The wind blew fiercely all week long, destroying many concession tents and most scores as well. Lema played masterfully, keeping the ball extremely low and on-line all three days (it wasn’t until 1966 that the Open was played over four days).
The 2005 Open at Saint Andrews will be very historic. Jack Nicklaus will take a few steps up to the top of the little Swilken Bridge in this year’s Open. Let’s hope it’s on Sunday rather than Friday. Thousands of photographs will be taken of that historic moment when Jack waves goodbye from the bridge.
In a practice round at the Old Course this week, Nick Faldo asked photographers to take photo of him on the bridge with Jack Nicklaus. Such sentiment, you see, is not exclusive to the amateurs and tourists.[xiii]

“I got my picture on the bridge with Jack,” Faldo said, smiling like a kid.

For any golfer, it’s an incredible feeling to walk across that bridge – incredible and indescribable. It’s one of the most extraordinary landmarks in golf. I’ll never forget the first time I strode over it so many years ago as I began my walk up the fairway at Tom Morris (the 18th). The majestic clubhouse was out ahead of me. Even in the rain, it was as wonderful a feeling as I have ever had in golf. One of my favorite photos, from all of my scrapbooks, is of Phil Reith, with a smile as wide as his face, making his way across Swilken Burn via that bridge in 1985. His caddie was looking back at him, wondering what was causing the delay.

I have another great photo of Phil, with an ice-cream eating grin on his face, attempting to retrieve his ball from the burn just in front of the 1st putting surface. It is the single water hazard on the entire course.

In a few days the Open Championship will begin at Saint Andrews. I will video tape every moment of it so that I can sit in the evening and watch the Old Course match wits with the greatest golfers in the world – minus Scot Hoch, of course, who does not know a real beauty when he sees one. They’ll play for the Claret Jug, the famous trophy that has been given to the winner ever since 1873. In the years previous to that, the winner had received the Challenge Belt – a thick, heavy belt made of rich Moroccan leather and adorned with a large silver buckle.

As you watch the Open, don’t think so much of the Old Course at Saint Andrews as a golf course. Think of it as the inspiration from which most of the great course designers have drawn their

Current Update
Dave Shedloski, writing for the PGA Tour web site says that the Old Course “is as firm and unforgiving as Cinderella’s stepmother.”[xiv] Divots are exploding and disappearing as dust. Spin means little. Touch means everything. The general opinion is that this makes it a wide open Open.

Jack Nicklaus said in an interview on Monday, after his practice round, that the Old Course is “hard as brick… and rain isn’t going to make much of difference… These are the kind of conditions where moderate length hitters probably have a better chance to succeed.”[xv]

END (references follow)


[i] Joy, David and Lowe, Iain Macfarlane: Saint Andrews and the Open Championship [Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, Michigan, 1999, p.10].
[ii] Macdonald, Charles Blair: Scotland’s Gift: Golf [Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1928, p. 4].
[iii] Internet site of Golf Club Atlas: (accessed on July 6, 2005)
[iv] Golf Web: “An Ever-Changing Old Course Nothing New” [Golf Web Internet site: (accessed July 12, 2005)].
[v] Nicklaus, Jack: My Story [Simon & Schuster, New York, 1998, p. 167]
[vi] Hawkins, John: “Fairest of Them All” [Golf World Magazine, July 8, 2005, pps. 38-42].
[vii] MacKenzie, Alister: The Spirit of Saint Andrews [Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, Michigan, 1995, pps 6-7]
[viii] Stanley, Louis: Saint Andrews: The Home of Golf [Salem House Publishers, Topsfield, Massachusets, 987, p. 31].
[ix] Saint Andrews Links Management Committee: Preface to Course Guide in the Golf Course Yardage Book [Saint Andrews Links Management Committee, Saint Andrews, 1985].
[x] Moriarity, Jim: “Easy Pickings” [Golf World Magazine, July 8, 2005, pps. 43-45].
[xi] From the official web site of the Open Championship: (accessed July 8, 2005)
[xii] Macdonald, Charles Blair: Scotland’s Gift: Golf [Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1928, pps. 295-296].
[xiii] Ross Helen: “Faldo Plays Practice Round with his ‘Inspiration’” (accessed July 12, 2005)].
[xiv] Shedloski, Dave: “Parched Old Course Means a True Open” [PGA Tour Web Site, (accessed July 12, 2005)].
[xv] Shedloski, Dave: “Parched Old Course Means a True Open” [PGA Tour Web Site, (accessed July 12, 2005)].