Sunday, May 31, 2009

Helen Makes a Point

Marriage in the eyes of the Catholic Church really isn't that much at all!
by Charlie Leck

I'm working like mad on a book, so you may just get me referring you to some other sites for the next week or two.

In reading Margaret and Helen this week -- one of my favorite of all-time blogs -- good, old Helen Philpot made a remarkable point in her ranting about the California reversal of gay marriage rights.

"Honestly folks. If we paid as much attention to the sexual activities of Catholic priests as we do to homosexuals wanting to marry, we probably could have saved a lot of children from years of guilt, shame, anger and pain."
Helen, I still argue that you're a sweet young coed from Amherst College, but I like what you write anyway. Good going!

This really strikes home with me and I've been arguing for years. The Catholic Church's position on marriage sucks because it is so inconsistent -- annul one here because it means a rather large donation and don't annual one there because the poor slobs can't give the church more than a buck or two. I've seen it in action -- up close and live folks -- and I don't like it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Trying to find out more about Judge Sotomayor? Check in here!
by Charlie Leck

Judith Warner, a wonderful writer to whom I have pointed you before, writes Domestic Disturbances every Friday in the NY Times, and this one (29 May) is really terrific. I'm doing you a real favor here, by sending you to Warner's blog. You might want to bookmark her and make a point of reading her each week. She's really a splendid writer. I have not read her book, Perfect Madness, but the reviews of it were sensational and it has sold extremely well.

Friday, May 29, 2009

No More Mountains!

Behold! It's a bird... it's a plane... no, it's Delta Dog!
by Charlie Leck

What does a dog do when there are no more mountains to climb? That's what I asked my wife last night when she came home with our dog, Jasper, from his final examination by the Delta Society that would allow or disallow him to be a Therapy Dog.

"How did he do?" I asked the moment they were inside the door.

"He passed," my wife proudly said.

"So, he's a Delta Dog?"

"He is, indeed!"

"Magnu cum Laude?" I quizzed her.

"Not quite," she said, winking at the black dog.

I looked at the proud fellow, sitting so gallantly there on the hardwood floor, looking up at me, and waiting for all the appropriate praise and the thorough petting that comes with it.

"The world may be troubled," I shouted with some drama in my voice, "and there is evil lurking at every corner, and the ordinary people are frightened and cowering; but have no fear, for Delta Dog is here!"

My loud voice bothered him. He barked up at me, as if to say: "Pet! Pet!"

"And where's his cape?" I asked my wife. "And his skin tight muscle shirt with the big D planted on his chest?"

The black lab barked up at me again. This time he was telling me to stop being stupid and pet! Pet!

Instead, I threw a question in his direction.

"And now, with no more mountains to conquer, what will you do? What could possibly follow this night?"

He had begun in lowly level one classes at the Hennepin County Animal Humane Society -- in their instruction school -- and he had worked his way through four levels and then easily passed the Canine Good Citizenship Test. This got him a degree -- a virtual PhD in the dog world (now framed and posted near his food dish) from the American Kennel Club.

But now, this! This is like post doctoral work. There simply isn't any more. What shall he do?

I guess he should do what all great academics do. Sit back in his stuffed chair with a pipe that is perfectly tampered with fine tobacco, light up and enjoy a smoke while admirers sit as his feet and ask him both good and silly questions. That is, if he isn't too busy saving kitties who've gotten themselves caught up in the branches of tall trees, or rabbits being chased by nasty hunting dogs, or sheep tangled in wire fencing.

I will be awaiting anxiously, and checking each arriving mail delivery, for his Delta Dog cape and his tight, bright superhero suit.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Supreme Court Appointee Poses Dangers for Republican Senators

Come on boys! Attack the girl and get yourself in trouble for the next election.
by Charlie Leck

Here’s the long and the short of it for the following Republican United States Senators:

1. Jim Bunning, Kentucky
2. Richard Burr, North Carolina
3. Bob Portman, Ohio
4. John McCain, Arizona

These particular Senators will need to be careful about the way they conduct themselves in the when it comes to voting for Sonia Sotamayor or, for that matter, just commenting on her. These four Senators have plenty of Latino voters in their districts. If they go hard after Sotamayor they could damage their standing with those voters. If they vote against her, they will lose virtually every Latino vote in their states.

Bunning in Kentucky is already on shaky ground. He’s up there in years and does not have a very distinguished career to point to. Who knows if McCain is going to run again, but he probably will. Arizona is now loaded with registered Latino voters who can make a difference.

More Crap from Limbaugh
How about boycotting his sponsors? How about Rush Limbaugh recently calling both the President and Sotomayor “reverse racists” – whatever the hell that means! We’ve got to get a list of all this guy's sponsors and begin boycotting those products. Limbaugh has gone kind of nuts since people ordained him the head of the Republican Party.

Here’s the problem. Most of his sponsors are freakish. The Mad Lens Blog put it this way:

“Do you suffer from depression? Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you suffer from chronic pain? Are you addicted to prescription sleep-aids or pain-killers? Do you have trouble achieving and maintaining sexual performance? Are you losing your hair? Do you want to lose 20 pounds fast with no diets and no gimmicks?”
As the Mad Lens says, if we don’t have these problems we’re already boycotting Rush. I’ll search for more information on those companies that sponsor his local show.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Sotomayor looks like the kind of judge the Supreme Court needs!
by Charlie Leck

The following came in from and Nita Chaudhary. I thought it was worth passing on. Those of you, like I, who live in a Congressional District with a Republican Representative should urge that Congressperson to work for Sotomayor’s confirmation. Granted, the Congressman can’t do all that much about the Senate’s Confirmation hearing but the indication of support is still mighty important. Of course, if you live where there is a Republican Senator, let that Senator know you want Sotomayor confirmed. The list below is reason enough. She’s highly qualified.

Ten Things To Know About Judge Sonia Sotomayor

1. Judge Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the bench than any Supreme Court justice in 100 years. Over her three-decade career, she has served in a wide variety of legal roles, including as a prosecutor,
litigator, and judge.

2. Judge Sotomayor is a trailblazer. She was the first Latina to serve on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was the youngest member of the court when appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York. If confirmed, she will be the first Hispanic to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

3. While on the bench, Judge Sotomayor has consistently protected the rights of working Americans, ruling in favor of health benefits and fair wages for workers in several cases.

4. Judge Sotomayor has shown strong support for First Amendment rights, including in cases of religious expression and the rights to assembly and free speech.

5. Judge Sotomayor has a strong record on civil rights cases, ruling for plaintiffs who had been discriminated against based on disability, sex and race.

6. Judge Sotomayor embodies the American dream. Born to Puerto Rican parents, she grew up in a South Bronx housing project and was raised from age nine by a single mother, excelling in school and working her way to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and to become an editor of the Law Journal at Yale Law School.

7. In 1995, Judge Sotomayor "saved baseball" when she stopped the owners from illegally changing their bargaining agreement with the players, thereby ending the longest professional sports walk-out in history.

8. Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of the environment in a case of protecting aquatic life in the vicinity of power plants in 2007, a decision that was overturned by the Roberts Supreme Court.

9. In 1992, Judge Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate without opposition after being appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush.

10. Judge Sotomayor is a widely respected legal figure, having been described as " outstanding colleague with a keen legal mind," "highly qualified for any position in which wisdom, intelligence, collegiality and good character would be assets," and "a role model of aspiration, discipline, commitment, intellectual prowess and integrity."

Judge Sotomayor is an historic, uniquely qualified nominee to the Supreme Court. Let's get the word out and make sure we get a prompt, fair confirmation on her nomination.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Rush to make Limbaugh the Toast of the Party

Rush Limbaugh is a big fat liar! Franken got it right!
by Charlie Leck

I’m not kidding you, here’s what Rush actually said about the President of the United States:

“The objective is unemployment. The objective is more food stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. And the objective is to take the nation's wealth and return to it to the nation's quote, 'rightful owners.' Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on.”
And people actually want this boob-head to be the leader of the Republican Party.

I have two brothers who are avid listeners and followers of Rush Limbaugh. Come on guys! We were raised better than that.

Rush is an entertainer. As such he leans toward divisiveness and hate mongering.

He should not be regarded as a political leader. He clearly is no diplomat. It was Rush who ordained Governor Palin as the “right choice” for Vice President. Doesn’t that tell you everything?

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Chapter Nine of A Time for All Things
by Charlie Leck

I began writing a novel in 1977 and completed it to my satisfaction in 1979. Through the help of friends, I met an extraordinary literary agent in 1980 who read it and liked it very much. He told a major publishing house about it and talked an editor into reading it. He was certain it would be published. It was a shock when the agent died very suddenly and so did negotiations with the publisher. I tucked the novel in a drawer -- a very big drawer -- and it has sat there for a few decades. My wife keeps urging me get it out and dust it off and find another agent. Literary agents, I am afraid are not approachable. Friends have asked -- some have begged -- over the years, to read it. Some fear that the work is actually horrible has prevented me from allowing it. One friend recently suggested this manner of "bringing it out of the closet."

"Let us read a chapter," he suggested.

Here is chapter nine of the manuscript. The references to Cushman, Iowa, won't be very understandable out of context, but they are brief and meaningles in this chapter. I am very nervous as I place this chapter here for your reading.

Warning! This is a very lengthy post.


June, 1964

Dampness crawls all over your body on a hot summer day in Mississippi. It isn't any fun. The summer of 1964 was hot, hot, hot. The nights did not cool things down. It's hard to control one's temper when that dampness and heat begin to crawl. Maybe that has something to do with what happened to Mississippi that summer. It was just too hot and too crawly and it was too bad for Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.


Truman Freeman boarded a Mississippi bound train with two friends on a Friday in June of that year. Summer was still officially two days away, but it was hot in Chicago and the air was thick with humidity. Stuart Gergen dropped David off at Central Station to catch the same train.

"If there's nothing worth it in this, Davey, you come right home. But, I've got a feeling there's some good stories down there. See what it smells like. You may meet some of these knee-jerks right here on the train."

There is nothing glamorous about The Spirit of New Orleans moving through Illinois on its way to the Deep South in the heat of early summer. The aisles were crowded. Bodies smelled. Babies cried.

After an hour of trying to read a Faulker novel, David decided it would be better to move around a bit. There was yet a long ride through the night. He started to wander from car to car. He met Truman Freeman in the club car. He was standing at the bar sipping on a beer. With him were two other men. The three were distinguishable from nearly everyone else on the train. They wore sport coats and ties neatly windsored into their white collars. David was attracted to Truman Freeman first -- perhaps because he towered over the other two men. Truman's bright eyes glistened with brilliance. His black, closely cropped, thick beard also shone. His smile was real and constant. Yet, there was a certain shyness about his eyes. The way they darted about -- constantly surveying his surroundings -- caused him to lack an appearance of boldness. His very white face was long and his chin revealed a squareness -- even beneath his beard. There seemed some slight defect that robbed him of handsomeness, but neither David nor others could define it. Those who meet Truman for the first time notice his gentleness immediately. He moves and speaks softly. It stands out as a feminine quality in so big a man. He was wearing a variegated madras sportcoat. His pants and tie were navy and his shoes brown. He stood to the side of the two men with whom he traveled and listened, not contributing to the conversation.

Alone, a clergyman not dressed in a clerical costume is difficult to identify. But there is some manner about them when they are together and something in the way they speak to each other, gesture, laugh, act pedantically, which makes them easy to spot. As David walked toward them he guessed. He joined them at the bar.

"On your way to Mississippi, fellas?" David asked the question as he leaned on the bar with them. "I hear it's even hotter there," David added.

A short, scrubbed looking man, about 45, emerged as the spokesman. He stuck out a hand to David.

"I'm Hamilton Stone. Yes. Yes, we are, but what caused you to ask?" David took the soft, limp hand and tried to pump some strength into it.

"Mr. Stone, good to meet you. I'm David Casterman. I'm with the Chicago Tribune. Going down to look things over -- looking for a story."

"Mr. Casterman, meet Todd Yates and Truman Freeman. We are each ministers and each representing the National Council of Churches to observe the activities in Mississippi." The two men also shook David's hand. Todd Yates was the extrovert of the three. He was about 35, round faced and his body was stout, but not fat.

"To what part of Mississippi are you going?" Yates asked. He wore full, heavy glasses and kept pushing them back up on his nose with one finger as he talked. It bothered David that it was with the fore-finger of the right hand. It was as if he was constantly flipping him the bird. David still took little notice of Truman Freeman.

"Jackson, I suppose. That's what my ticket says, but I'm not sure where I'll end up. You?"
David looked straight into the eyes of Todd Yates and watched him give the finger again.

"We're getting off in Canton," Todd said, "where we'll stay for two weeks. We've been asked to watch the voter registration drive there. The idea is that there is less likelihood of violence with a group of clergymen around to watch everything." Truman turned his body toward the action of the conversation, as if to contribute. He did not speak, however, and sipped again on his beer.

"The National Council of Churches? Are you all staff members?" The air-conditioning in the club-car was not working properly and David could feel the perspiration, the sticky sweat, building up beneath his arms. As he asked the question, he waved to get the attention of the bartender.

"Heavens no," Hamilton said. "I'm a professor at Chicago Divinity School. Todd teaches at the Urban Training Center. Truman is the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Kankakee."

David fixed his eyes on those of Truman Freeman for the first time. Truman looked down into his beer.

"I don't think I know what the Urban Training Center is, Mr. Yates. Do you mind explaining?"

While Todd Yates explained about his institution on Chicago's westside, housed in the gigantic, old First Congregational Church, David ordered a martini -- dry and on the rocks. He didn't quite understand Yates, but he wasn't very interested in what he was saying either. There were all sorts of vague words and phrases, like dynamic, core-city, radicalization, community organization, church-in-community and localization of the ministry. Truman continued to look into his beer as Todd spoke. Hamilton Stone looked proud. David looked into his martini in order not to show his boredom. David was guessing correctly that Yates had been a student of Hamilton Stone.

"I'll have to visit sometime, Mr. Yates. It does sound interesting and dynamic."

"Do, do," Yates said. The possibility excited him. "Our curriculum will amaze you -- very unusual, alive, relevant for a churchman in a modern, urban world." Yates went off on another long monolog and Professor Stone regarded his pupil. David caught Truman Freeman's eyes again. They were still glistening. This time he regarded David more boldly and hoisted his glass to David so casually that no one else noticed. Behind the sipping of his beer, Truman still wore a faint smile. David wondered if he was mocking the carefully memorized lecture of his confrere.
As soon as there was a pause in the speech, David broke into it and turned to Freeman.

"Kankakee? I know it pretty well?"

"You do?" Truman showed pleasure in his voice. "Then you must know Otis Coleman, the editor of the Gazette. Yes?"

"No, I don't believe I do, but let me ask you this -- part of my assignment is to get to know a minister. You know, a local minister of a church and all that." David was lying and he often went running off with meaningless phrases when he lied.

"Anyway, I would appreciate it if you would take dinner with me tonight in the dining car. I've got this expense account and I could buy -- and hear about your church and tell you what I know about Kankakee."

"I'd be pleased, Mr. Casterman. What time?"

"Please! Please, call me David. About six-thirty. I'll make the reservation for us."


The brown and orange locomotive pulled its line of coaches through the flatlands of southern Illinois. David watched the fields and marshes pass by. He sipped on his second martini of the day and glanced occasionally up the aisle of the dining car to look for Truman Freeman. It was nearly seven. David was rarely late for anything. It made him uncomfortable to be late. It was an irritation to his wife that he insisted on promptness even at dinner and cocktail parties. He refused to understand her reasoning that it showed panache to be late. He thought it a courtesy to accept an invitation for a specified time and to appear at that time. He did not understand why those who extended such invitations thought it discourteous of him when he arrived precisely on time. He even planned for contingencies such as heavy traffic or road construction so that he would not be late. More than once Judith had railed about having to sit parked a few blocks away from a friend's house because they had arrived early.

"What kind of class is this," she would scream, "to ride around Oak Park for ten minutes just so we can show up precisely as their clock strikes eight?" David chuckled to himself and looked out the window toward the lowering sun. He could not impress Judith with his argument that there was indeed a touch of class in being on time. So many other eccentricities people accept gladly. Why wouldn't she, they, allow him this one? He had grown to enjoy seeing an evening's hostess let them in with her hair still not combed out or with an apron still in place, mumbling that she wasn't prepared and was it really that time already. And when they would invite friends, at the given hour he would be ready. The hors d'oeuvres in place, he would be pacing and glancing out the windows over Lake Shore Drive anticipating a prompt arrival of his guests. He would nearly always be disappointed in his waiting.

"Forgive me for being late, David, I got wrapped up in this book and lost track of time." Truman stood looking down at David who pulled himself out of his thinking. The reporter realized for the first time how really tall the preacher was. David was seldom impressed with people's height because he was so tall himself, but Truman was yet a few inches taller. His hands were larger and stronger than David's. He felt the strength of them as they shook hands. Truman held out a book and David accepted it for examination, looking at the cover of the volume as he exchanged greetings with his tardy guest.

"Have a drink. I'm way ahead of you. Ah, you're doing homework about Mississippi. It's good?"

"A beer only. I'm not much of a drinker. Yes, it's excellent, but I don't think the state's chamber of commerce down there would agree." The book was James Silver's essay on the closed and backward nature of Mississippi. A few questions launched the clergyman into a detailed monolog about the state toward which they moved. David could see that Truman was well prepared for his visit. He had read not only this book, but several others about the historical and social character of the state. It was easy to listen to the tall man. His gentle eyes continued to glisten as he reviewed his studies. His voice was strong, but soft.

"On this great totem-pole of states, Mississippi is about dead last in everything and appears prepared to be last in granting full equality of citizenship to all people. The state is about forty-two percent Negro. That's a larger proportion than any other state. Yet, the voice of dissent has been meeker from there than anywhere. There's good reason. There's been carefully planned and stern repression for many years. Black people are poorer there than anywhere else. I think it's the poorest state in the nation in terms of family income. The median family income there is forty-two hundred dollars. The median income for a black family is fifteen hundred dollars. It's a sad condition. Only seven percent of the eligible Negroes are registered to vote while seventy percent of the whites are. That's what this summer is all about."

David listened intently, but he also thought again of the enigmatic, feminine quality of the speaker. It did not sit well on the masculine frame. There was a constant and apparent moistness to Truman's lips and David wondered if that might be what gave him this odd appearance. Again, he considered that the aura of compassion and gentleness in the big, strong man gave off such a contrast that he merely appeared feminine.

"They're simply still fighting the civil war there," Truman went on, "and it's frightening. They were the last state to integrate their university system and look at the fight they put up. It cost the federal government millions to enroll one black student. Yet, from the beginning one could see that enrollment was inevitable. But that is exactly Silver's point about Mississippi. He says the state is on the defensive against the inevitable social change which has been taking place for a century. It is committed to a biracial system. In order to preserve that kind of dualism it has had to become totalitarian in nature. The ordinary process of change, through accommodation and reason, doesn't happen there. Instead, power and coercion and force are used to prevent change from taking place. The result is social paralysis. Now when you listen to a Mississippian talk, like former Governor Barnett, you realize that it is a state which prides itself on individuality -- the rights of each and every person. Actually, and this is Silver's point – his thesis – that the individual in Mississippi lives in a climate where non-conformity is forbidden. If a man expresses an opinion deviating from the majority, he is ostracized."

David absorbed the enthusiastic book review. The man was a scholar. He not only read a book carefully, but dissected it and probed to understand the author's motives, prejudices and presuppositions in approaching his writing. They were interrupted by a waiter who stood ready to take their orders. Truman was not prepared to change the flow of his thinking.

"Oh, I don't know. Please order for me, David. Anything at all." David liked the enthusiasm which caused the disinterest in food, but he did not understand then that it was a permanent disinterest. Truman had selected a wife in order to have someone make his selections for him. He did not want to be bothered with picking out ties and Coq-o-Vin when he had to decide about the expansion of the war, Bultmann's demythologizing or had to explain the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to his congregation.

David ordered the braised short-ribs for each of them, another beer for Truman and a half-bottle of burgundy. He moved a pawn, not to seek victory, but to start the game again.
"You're really prepared for this trip. I'm impressed, but what makes you and Silver so certain that Mississippi is that resistant to change?"

"Do you read the papers? Lord, David, since the threat of this summer project became real for the state they've done nothing but create a show of force. They increased their highway patrol by over seventy percent. The state legislature has passed a host of laws, giving municipalities greater authority to restrain the free movement of individuals. On April 24th crosses were burned in sixty-four of the states eighty-two counties. What can I say? Do you know that a half-dozen Negro churches have been burned down just this month?" There was passion in Truman's eyes and he fixed them firmly on David.

"Doesn’t that sound like resistance to you, David?"

"I'll tell you what it sounds like to me." David spoke and rose a little higher in his chair. "It sounds to me as if there is going to be violence. Aren't you condoning it by supporting this whole program?"

"I think there must be violence," Truman said. "There will be college students in nearly every community of any size. Somewhere things will get out of hand. Mississippi does not understand tolerance. Its law enforcement officials are poorly trained and ill controlled. Local police departments will know nothing about restraining violence. They will probably even encourage it."

"Do you look forward to violence?" David asked. "Do you encourage it as part of the change process? You know? Yates said something this afternoon about growth through conflict." "No," Truman answered, "I abhor violence. I am a committed pacifist and I think all disputes can be settled rationally and without resorting to force."

"It seems to me that more and more Americans are just now discovering they are pacifists. You don't suppose it has anything to do with intensification of the war, do you?" David asked the question and knew it was unfair, but he didn't back down. There was a silence at the table and the two men looked firmly at each other. David was not going to break the silence.

"Pacifism is not very well understood in this nation," Truman answered. David's question did not disturb him. "We are too young yet and too close to the Revolution, the Civil War, the wild-west and the war against Nazism. The events make it difficult for us to understand or accept the pacifist. It is not so difficult in other nations where longer and more complex histories have shown his value and worth to his society. Here pacifism is only a dictionary definition and dictionaries don't have much understanding or compassion."

There was a silence again and Truman waited for a question or an argument. David offered neither, but enjoyed the silence. It seemed to be doing something creative to Truman's mind and he decided to observe.

"You know all the old school-room questions," Truman said to break the silence, "about `what if someone was raping your sister' and that kind of crap? It comes from the dictionary. They all say things like `under any circumstance' and people immediately misunderstand. You see, the pacifist is opposed to the use of force `under any circumstance' but that doesn't mean he will refuse to use force under any circumstance whatsoever. Does that make sense?"

"No," David answered, "I don't know what you're getting at."

"Well, let me use an example. Forgive me for dipping into the field of religion and theology, but I know it better than I know other things. Have you ever heard of Deitrich Bonhoeffer?" David said that he had not. Truman went on and introduced him.

"He was a pastor in Hitler's Germany. And, he was an avowed and terribly committed pacifist. Nevertheless, he participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was imprisoned and eventually executed. To him, his participation in that violent act against a human life was an extension of his pacifistic idealism. He was opposed to the use of force under any circumstance. That very opposition, that burning idealism, caused him to strike out against that person who represented the most forceful opposition to his ideal. Innocent men, women and children were being slaughtered all around him. His love of people, his love of non-violence caused him to act violently. It was a logical action and fully consistent with his idealism."

David was not sure he agreed, but he was moved by the passion in Truman's voice. The fluidity of the voice and the compactness of the thinking also moved David. He wanted to hear more and played another pawn.

"It allows one to be terribly selective doesn't it?"

"Exactly! Exactly!" Truman's voice rose with excitement. He took a long draw on his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he plunged in. "That's the point. We all have to be selective. Each one of us has to make decisions. The pacifist seeks to make his decisions in the light and under the influence of his idealism. He looks first for peace. He believes all things can be settled without force. That does not mean he is oblivious to the reality of forceful aggression in the world. He cannot sit idly by and watch peace be destroyed and people harmed. To do that would be contrary to his idealism. That is what motivated Bonhoeffer. It was precisely as a pacifist that he sought to commit murder."

The waiter placed short-ribs in front of the two men. The coach swayed gently on some warped rails as it approached Tennessee. Truman pushed his plate aside and continued.

"Todd Yates was correct this afternoon. There is growth through conflict. Most pacifists are afraid of it. They shouldn't be. They should seek to use it in positive ways. I don't mean they should encourage conflict, but, look, it's a reality of life. It's going to happen and when it does the pacifist ought to seek to turn the conflict into something good and even use it as an example to discourage the future use of violence. I wish it were not true, but there has been violence in Mississippi already this summer and there will be more. To let property destruction and death happen in vain is stupidity. I have a responsibility to grow through it. You, why you are in an absolutely wonderful position to help people understand violence and to make good things spring from it."

David smiled at Truman Freeman. He did not force the smile. It was not a laughing smile. It was one which showed his pleasure and gratitude. He had seen and heard idealists present their sugar-treats before, but in Truman it did not come out too sweet for the taste-buds. It was palatable. And, the preacher was likeable. Truman smiled back at David and pulled his plate back in front of him. He ate hungrily. David toyed with his food and made a decision. He would disembark in Canton, also.


Canton, Mississippi, was not much of a town. It began for David, Truman, Hamilton Stone and Todd Yates at a railroad station. The plan called for some black freedom workers to meet them there and then take them to a place labeled "Freedom House." There were no black faces on the platform as the four men climbed down. There were only white faces out of which suspicious eyes inspected the well-groomed descendents from the train. David did not judge them to be hostile. It was a hot morning and humid. David felt the heat crawling up his pant legs. The humidity circled beneath his shirt collar. A bit of minor fear wandered around in his stomach. His throat felt dry. He saw drinking fountains on the outside wall of the station and walked to one of them. Above it was a sign which indicated it was for "colored only." He wished young Butch Williams were with him to aim his camera at the sign and fountain. It would make writing a story easier. He felt something snapping behind his eyes and thought it to be anger. He dismissed it because it was an emotion which lacked objectivity. He did not admit it then, but he had dismissed most objectivity anyway. He sent it packing sometime during the night as he talked with Truman. The two of them talked through the night at the bar, in the aisles, in their coach seats and back in the dining car for breakfast. David took a long drink of the water which refused to get cool. White, he thought, is the absence of color, as in black. His skin, he also thought, had a motley pale look about it, slightly pink, slightly beige, but not the absence of color. His fingers ached. They longed to be at work on his typewriter.


On that same Saturday morning, Mickey Schwerner had taken his turn behind the wheel of a station wagon and was taxiing five other freedom workers from Ohio toward Meridian, a small town south of Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was the beginning of a grim and violent saga. The sign above the drinking fountain, the conversations with Truman and the little snapping sensation behind his eyes would have a definite affect on the way in which David would later write that story.


David felt someone tapping his shoulder. He turned quickly in jolted fear. Truman wore a wide smile.

"Mind if I have a bit, too?"

"Jesus, I thought you were the Klan."

"You're awfully jumpy."

"All that talk with you last night about violence here has got me expecting it."

"Don't worry," Truman said in an assuring voice, "you're off the hook anyway. You're just the press -- the objective eyes and ears of America."

"I have a feeling the northern press is not going to be appreciated here."

"Well take my advice anyway, Walter Winchell. Put on your hat, stick your press card in it and pack yourself into a nice, white, downtown hotel."

"Sorry. There's no story there. I'm following you guys. Maybe there's safety in numbers."

"What are you so worried about?" Truman asked. "These people don't exactly look like a lynch mob."

"I don't know. Take it as a newspaperman's intuition. Something big is brewing down here. Where are the others?"

"Over there, in the waiting room. Dr. Stone has a phone number. He's trying to reach the Freedom House."

"Stone? You know, Truman, he's so soft and gentle. If trouble starts he's going to piss cement."

"I think you've misjudged him, David. He's the bravest man I know. He'll take to the front lines before anyone. Get to know him. There's a helluva story in that man."

David saw some movement among the men on the platform. There was a giggling among them that struck David's mind more as a curdling yelp of danger in a dark jungle. He felt his senses leap into action. Two of the natives, white natives, were restless and walked toward the waiting room where Hamilton and Todd had gone. David moved toward them and arrived at the door in time to hear them speaking to Todd Yates. Hamilton was on the phone.

"Y'all walked into the wrong waitin' room by mistake gentlemen. This here's the room for coloreds." The man wore a western straw hat and a white, short sleeved shirt. Todd looked frightened, but spoke as bravely as he could. His face struck up a nervous smile. There was effort behind it.

"It doesn't matter to us," Todd said. "This is fine. We're just making a phone call." He looked as firmly as he could at the eyes which stared out at him from under the straw brim. The face was red from time beneath the sun and, perhaps, from anger.

"Well, son, it matters a might to us folks here," the man said. "We'd certainly appreciate it if y'all'd respect our customs. You know, when in Rome y'all do as the Romans do. There's a right nice waitin' room for white folk down there at th'other end of the station. There's a phone there, too."

"That's okay," Todd said with only a slight quiver in his voice. "As long as we're here now we'd just as soon stay. You see, it really doesn't matter to us." The man and he who followed him moved a pace farther into the big room. He spoke again.

"I'll tell you fellas, you're a gettin started on the wrong foot and you ain't gonna make no friends this way." Hamilton finished on the phone, hung up and walked toward the men at the doorway. He heard enough and it was time for him to speak up.

"Thank you, sir. Thank you indeed for the advise, but I've already told our hosts we'd be in here waiting for them, so I think we better stay." The bulky southerner looked Hamilton Stone over. He felt a disdain for the groomed and gentle human being he saw. He tried to persuade the group one more time.

"We'll make sure your friends find y'all okay. Now if y'all will just accompany me to the other end of the station, I'd be pleased. And don't be afraid. Nothins gonna happen to y'all." Hamilton took a firm step toward the man and spoke as firmly.

"We're not afraid, sir, but perhaps we ought to be more honest. We'd prefer to wait in this room. It is a matter of principle. Thank you, though, for your kind advice and offer." David watched the professor closely as he spoke. There was nothing insincere about him. His voice did not waver a bit nor did his eyes move from the man to whom he spoke.

"Suit yourself gentlemen," the red faced man said, "but I'm tellin' yuh that y'all are making a big mistake in comin' into our town and disruptin' our customs."

The straw hat turned away and walked down the platform with the bulky man beneath it. The other man stepped in quickly behind him. There was a threat in the way they walked. Hamilton Stone had not pissed cement.

The four men gathered in the big, bare waiting room and waited. They said very little to one another, but David could tell that each of them was intent on the doorway. An over-head fan moved slowly. It gently stirred up the heat. It was only a few moments later when they heard car doors slamming and feet moving quickly over the platform. The sound moved toward the closely watched door. Each of the waiters released a bit of fear when the faces which appeared in the doorway wore huge white smiles sprawled across a black background.

"Welcome to Mississippi. Let's get the hell outa here."


This is the way Pulitzer-Prize-Winning stories get rolling. David called the Tribune on that Sunday morning and left the number of the Freedom House for Stuart Gergen. He also left word that he thought there might be a good story and was going to stay on it for the week. Hamilton and Todd planned to remain for a couple of weeks and observe the voter registration drive and, if possible, do some door to door canvassing themselves. Truman was going to spend the month. He told David that he talked it over with his wife and they decided he would take his month's vacation this way. David wavered between thinking it stupid and admirable.

David started taking notes on Sunday afternoon at an orientation session for the three newly arrived ministers and a dozen college students. The collegians arrived in spurts and in a variety of ways over the previous few days. A map of the city was tacked on the wall. Sections of the black parts of town were divided between teams of two. It was immediately clear to David that the young black organizers expected more out of the ministers than their observation. The black leaders gave them work to do. None of the three objected. They were eager. David made a rough copy of the map on his note pad and scribbled out some quick statistics.

“Population = 10,000, 75% Negro, downtown all white, white residential community rings the downtown, black area surrounds white community.”

The organizers made housing assignments. They asked David if he wanted housing. He would have to stay with a volunteer since all assignments were made in pairs. They explained that there was more safety in that. David accepted. Truman spoke up and volunteered to share housing with David. They nodded across the room to each other.

They heard a young, tall black boy announce that work would begin on the next afternoon. Those who wanted to go to church in the morning should be at the Freedom House by nine. Cars would go to a black "freedom church" in the country. How many would go? David raised his hand. Truman did not. David made a note to ask him about that.

"Turkey-butt," Truman later told him and laughed, "I'm a Presbyterian and I wouldn't think of going to anything but a Presbyterian Church and there's one in town. You can bet it's all white."

"I don't think they're going to enjoy seeing you there," I told him.

"Safe bet again. But remember what I told you about creative conflict. In the morning we'll see if I can do some creatin'!" He laughed hard and truly. His eyes smiled thunder and lightning.

The three brave men impressed David. He was uncomfortable with the impression. He made an effort to move out of their circle and meet some of the other volunteers.

In the late afternoon, a group of them gathered in an old, Negro general store across the street from the Freedom House. David walked through the dust to join them. George Washington the Second was the proprietor. Today his son, George III, was in charge of general operations. He held court and had his audience in rapt attention as David entered. He did not interrupt their attention.

"You all better understand Whitey down here. He ain't nothin' like you northern liberals has know'd before. He gonna fight ya. He ain't takin' this thing layin' down No he ain't. You better not walk on the grass or he'll getcha for trespassin'. If you cross in the middle of the street, he gonna getcha for jay walkin'. And if ya drops a gum wrapper, he'll getcha for littrin'. He'll getcha for sumthin' even if ya ain't done nothin'." David took notes and George Washington III looked over at him and smiled.

"Write this down, Mr. Reporter. They gonna get yer fuckin' ass, too, if you ain't careful cause they don't like no white ass northern newspapermen down here neither. Far as they're concerned yer all jest a lot of fuckin' nigger lovers." A huge white grin broke across his round, chocolate brown face and he added one more comment. "But as long as you nigger lovers is her yer all welcome in George Washington's place and the coke is always on us, hear? So drink up."

Bottles of wonderful, dark, rich Coca Cola were passed around the room and David, with the others, drew deeply on the soda in a battle against the scorching heat and dry dust of Mississippi.

He watched the young men and women and he moved into their circle with questions. They answered freely. He wanted to know about their weeks of training school at Oxford, Ohio. The wire services had covered it thoroughly, but he hoped for a new highlight or two.

While David listened to their answers, over a hundred miles away Mickey Schwerner and his good buddy, James Chaney, got the news about the Mount Zion Baptist Church. On June 16, with Schwerner and Chaney away teaching in the training school at Oxford, Ohio, the church burned to the ground. Some black folks were at the church and a white mob beat them badly. One poor fellow was in particularly bad condition. The church was a meeting place for civil rights workers and it would soon have become one of Mickey Schwerner's Freedom Schools.

The site of the fire was fifty miles northwest, but Schwerner decided to borrow an old station wagon belonging to C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality) and drive there the next day. Schwerner could feel the Mississippi heat crawling all over his body as he listened and asked questions. David Casterman would write later that it was probably not the heat of Mississippi at all, but the boiling rage of reaction to injustice.

Michael Schwerner was an unusual young man and his wife an unusual young woman. They came to Mississippi at the turn of the year. Working for CORE, Michael set up a community center. There they trained voter registration workers. It included a library of about 10,000 volumes and housed a freedom school. Mrs. Schwerner taught reading in the school and the operation of sewing machines and citizenship. Michael was twenty-seven. He left his job as a social worker in New York City for this freedom work. He was willing to sacrifice much, but he did not want to give up his life.

David did not hear of Mickey Schwerner and would not until late Monday afternoon when he would receive phone calls from Stuart Gergen and from the Attorney General of the United States. Both of them would mention the name. Until then, David had to scratch for a story.

Truman joined him in George Washington's general store. David grabbed him a cold cola and told him of the II's and III's generosity. Truman's hot body and thirsty throat agreed.

"I've drawn a map of the way to our housing, Davy. Let's grab our luggage and scoot on over there. Then we can find a black restaurant and some dinner."

"Fine," David answered, "let's move ass preacher, but I want to tell you that as long as I live I will never forget the general store of George Washington." Walking across town, David spoke more truthfully.

"What a fuckin hole this town is. They ought to stick some dynamite up its ass and make it into one big swimmin' hole." Truman chuckled at him.

"First let's get its Negro people registered to vote so they can get in the water if they want."


Turelina Adamson was not a very handsome woman. She bore wear across her face and more upon her body. She was tiny and very black. Her eyes were as sad as a beagle hound. Her teeth were rotted. There was a stench to her breath and to her body. She had born eight children and all of them lived with her now. Her husband, Morris T. Adamson, did not. He headed for Alabama to work shortly after the eighth child was born. It left his wife eligible for welfare payments. She considered it good fortune for reasons other than the payments. Now there might not be any more drunken beatings from him and no more children from him.

Truman tried to speak with her, but the woman barely responded. She kept her eyes fixed on the floor of her little house and only muttered quiet little answers to the white man's questions. While Truman tried to lead her in conversation, David wondered what he was doing in this place. There were hotels. There were other cities with more comforts. There were stories which could be written so quickly that he could be gone from Mississippi in three or four days. Readers of the Chicago Tribune would not be very interested in Turelina Adamson -- not a paragraph of interest -- even if Truman managed to get her to say more than "Ya-sir" or "Na-sir."

That little shack, which I will describe to you in a moment, is now more than forty years away from this little room in Cushman, Iowa. And, Cushman is more than fourteen hundred miles away from Canton. It is more. It is less. Time and space controls our thinking and we put our history within a book and upon a shelf. But there is a fourth dimension into which '68 has gone, but is still present. And there are those of you who are still reading. I salute you because you are about to understand David Casterman. He is more than one man at one moment. He is less. He is a whole people but, he is less than one man.

Is symbolism so bad? Isn't mythology greater than fact and not confined to truth? Did not a nation have a storm raging in its head? And, did it not also run away and hide -- leaving behind, as if it never happened, a war, a revolution and all the wealth of possibility which struggle, crisis, tragedy and torment can bring? It acknowledges the existence of the past by sending back a cashier's check from time to time. Is the storm gone? Or is it repressed? It is difficult for me to remember the past precisely and to recall how tragic and ugly it was when the odor of pig shit and the sounds of screeching hogs fill me up. Mythology is another dimension. It points beyond itself and beyond its presence and present.

David Casterman went away from the sixties. On May 4, 1970, it was easy for him to decide the sixties were over. Yet, time and again, he is drawn back and wonders if he should not have filed that final story. He wrote so well in 1964 of Turelina Adamson and Mickey Schwerner and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. However, while he stood looking at her, wiping sweat from his face, and listening to Truman lead her in conversation, he did not know there was a story in her. It was because Mickey Schwerner was still alive. It was difficult for David to comprehend that eight children lived in this place with their mother. He tried to glance through doors to measure the house for some surprising space it might have yet to reveal, but there was not any surprise.

Truman made certain. She wanted them to stay. They were to have her room -- the master bedroom. There was another bedroom and she insisted she could sleep there or in the little living room or on the porch with some of the children. It amazed David that Truman had gotten her to speak now in phrases which moved closer to sentences.

"Truman, I think this is too much to ask of her." David Casterman was sincere, but he wondered if Truman did not think he simply wanted out of this shack, this stench. "We can get a room somewhere else. We can't put her out of her room."

"No," Truman insisted, "this is important. She wants us to stay."

"Ya-sir. We wants y'all to stay here whiz us. We ain't got much in the ways of comfort. Ya-sir, we wants y'all to." This sudden splurging of words surprised and quieted both of the men. It moved Truman and he smiled at David. He looked back to the woman and spoke quietly to her as if she was a lady.

"Yes, Mrs. Adamson, and we want to stay. We appreciate it all and will enjoy being your guests."

David listened to Truman and watched him. Could a man be that kind? Or is it a way of talking, a way of expressing kindness that they teach preachers? Of course not. The man was real and David knew it. These kind thoughts about Truman motivated David to speak to the tiny woman, also.

"Thank you, ma'am, thank you for your kindness."

Six of the children huddled in the doorway leading to the kitchen, listening. They were wide-eyed and frightened. Not all of them could understand the words which were spoken, but each of them sensed the tone. When they heard the bravery rise up in their mother and observed her lengthy speech, they each began to relax. Their wide eyes narrowed slightly. Here and there in the huddle, a smile spread across a black face. It was contagious. David reached for his suitcase and spoke.

"Got some gum in my bag, Mrs. Adamson. I wonder if I might give each of the children a stick."

"Ya-sir, thank ya sir."

David did not leave his chair, but extended his arm straight toward the children in the corner. He held out two packs of Chicago's own Juicy-Fruit. The bright yellow colors did dances in front of the children's eyes and they widened again and eyes looked at eyes and smiles smiled upon smiles. The youngsters pushed forward the biggest child, a girl of twelve or thirteen. She took tiny, nervous steps. Her mother urged her on.

"Yu kin hep yerself, Miza, yu kin. Says yer thank ya-sirs, girl."

The girl rushed forward, swooped the gum out of David's hand and skittered back to the safety of the huddle.

"Thank yu, sir, thank yu indeed," the big girl spoke from across the room. She sent flashing eyes of wonderment at the two big, but gentle, white men.

With a baby in her arms and a boy barely able to walk clinging at her skirts, Turelina toured the house with David and Truman. There was a bathroom. It was only relatively clean -- cleaner than the rest of the house. There was a shower and David felt a stream of gratitude in seeing it.

The woman's bedroom was small and one double bed looked cramped there. David felt a stream of discomfort.

"Da sheets is brand new. Dey brung em from da Freedom House."

"Thank you," Truman said, "we'll be very comfortable here, but we feel badly in putting you out of your room. Are you sure?"

"Ya-sir, I'ze to sleep on da couch."


On a beautiful Saturday morning, a visit to a farmers market is not a bad idea!
by Charlie Leck

I visited the Midtown Farmers Market in Minneapolis yesterday. Not a bad place to be. Lots of really nice people and good food, too. It's too early in Minneapolis for local produce, but with each passing week one watches more and more fresh, delicious items beginning to show up. My wife, Anne, makes the trip almost every Saturday, to set up her lamb booth. She's made a lot of terrific customers down there, who've also become good friends, and she enjoys those Saturday morning chats she has with many of them.

This is the beautiful pickle lady. They sell home canned pickles, pickled tomatoes, beats, peppers and other wonderful delicacies.

And these are some of her pickles.

I designed the original web images for this farmers market web page, including the banner up there with the title of this blog. I thought we had their web site looking really good; but, over time, with first this person and then that one tampering with and altering the site, it has become a pretty distasteful mish-mash of clashing flavors.

The market -- this one and all the others -- is a wonderful place to take photographs and I'll just leave you with this little show of my visit yesterday.

Two Pony Farm, which is out near our farm, is my favorite place to buy tomatoes when the season finally arrives. At the Midtown Farmers Market they were selling some of their heirloom tomato plants.

I've been exchanging emails with Ruthie for months and months, but we never met before yesterday. She owns Ruthie's Kitchen and makes wonderful items to sell at the market, including jams and spreads and all kinds of great baked goods. I bought a loaf of her Bohemian Rye and it was really wonderful.
Here's part of Ruthie's display.

And, here's one of the shoppers at the Midtown Farmers Market.

This is the magic hot dog bus!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Due to Technical Difficulties

No blogs will be posted until Sunday… due to technical difficulties!
by Charlie Leck

There are workmen all over the house. In a moment they’ll need to disconnect the big computer in my wife’s office. Our wireless network is housed on that computer and the router is there too. The Internet will be out for a day for me and maybe through Friday, too. So no blogs will be posted until sometime Saturday and maybe Sunday.

Instead, enjoy these blogs written by one of my daughters, who lives out in Portland and writes a neat, tidy little blog called EAT WELL

This one is a reminiscence about the Cokato (Minnesota) Corn Days Festival.

This one is about how cooking can sometimes go out of kilter.

Jenny is a good writer. You’ll enjoy your visit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Nancy Pelosi Thing

What did she know and when did she know it?
by Charlie Leck

I like Nancy Pelosi. I get upset at people who don’t like Nancy Pelosi. I have a friend, Fred (Fred B and not Fred K), who can’t stand Pelosi and he is always making wisecracks about her. Fred is convinced, as is Adam, that Nancy’s goose is cooked.

“They told her all right. She had the information about water-boarding. She didn’t do a thing to stop it.” It’s difficult to describe the smirking smiles that spread across their faces as they say this to me.

My response is to not count her out yet. The count is only up to about 7 and she has a great recovery rate – maybe the best in the Congress – and she’ll be back on her toes, dancing and jabbing in just another second.

Nancy Pelosi is my kind of dame. She’s tough as nails. She vicious when she has to be and she can do it with an angelic smile on her face. Fred and Adam, together, couldn’t make it through a round with her. On top of all that, she’s pretty as all get out.

Now listen up! Would you really believe those bastards at the CIA before you would believe Nancy? How about those guys from the George W. Bush CIA?

Give me a break! I’ll tell you two things.

(1) Nancy Pelosi will come out of this smelling like a rose.
(2) The CIA, as it usually does, will come out of this with lots of cow shit on its shoes.


Here’s a great video that makes simple and comical “The ridiculous Nancy Pelosi Scandal.” Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Extraordinary People in May

Let me introduce you to John Dittmer, one of the extraordinary people in May!
by Charlie Leck

Tra la! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month
when everyone goes blissfully astray.

That shocking time of year
when tons of wicked little thoughts
merrily appear!

It’s mad! It’s gay!
A libelous display!

Somewhere in those lyrics there should be something about the commencement speakers on display… in May… in May!

Ah, the commencement season!
Can’t you hear Julie Andrews gaily singing those giddy words from Camelot. Geez, I was a Learner and Lowe fan and loved their stuff. I wonder if either of those guys spoke at any college or university commencement ceremonies.

It’s that time of year when the colleges roll out the distinguished people to address their departing students, imploring their guests speakers to make a pitch for loyalty and annual fund gifts to the alma maters from these listening students.

If you watch who is speaking where, you will of course see the big guns and the famous people.

The President took a surprising and successful direction in this address to the graduates of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. On the Huffington Post you can find both the full text of speech or a full video of it.

Michelle Obama addressed the first graduating a class in the history of Merced University, California’s latest school of higher education. The students there set out to make Mrs. Obama the school’s first commencement speaker and laid out an energetic plan to convince her to choose them over hundreds of other invitations. [Here’s an LA Times story about their inventiveness.] She was impressed and she went and spoke sensibly to them [read her address here or see a video of the address here].

The First Lady’s was a barn-burner of a speech. She laid it on the line to those Merced students and told them they were now in debt – not just financial debt but in debt to everyone who had worked so hard to get them where they were. Now, it is pay-back time.
“Think of the people who sacrificed for you… be the realization of our dreams…. we believe in you… we are looking to you for some sign of hope… remember that you are blessed…. in exchange for those blessings you must give something back… you must reach back and pull someone up… bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future… so, graduates, when times get tough… think of those people who paved the way for you… hold on to the hope that brought you here today… I know a little something about the power of hope… my husband knows a little something about the power of hope… you are the hope of Merced and of this nation.. we believe in you!”

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, delivered separate commencement addresses to New York University.

Who’s speaking where?
I found it an interesting exercise to track who was speaking at what University and what they were saying. If you try hard enough, you can find a full text of each of these speeches or, in many cases, a video presentation of them.

  • Secretary of State, Eric Holder, is addressing Columbia graduates.

  • Rahm Emmanuel, the President’s Chief Aide, spoke at George Washington University.

  • Hustice Anthony Kennedy spoke at Stanford.

  • Clarence Otis and Anne Garrels spoke at Williams College – Otis is one that would be worth looking into.

  • Gwen Ifel, the journalist, spoke at Howard University.

  • Vernon Jordan, civil rights activist and leader, was at the University of the District of Columbia.

  • Barney Frank (House of Representatives) and Susan Zininsky (CBS News), Lonnie Bunch , historian, and John Pedergast (the Enough Project) will all speak at various commencements at American University.

  • MIT will have the Governor of its state, Deval Patrick, addressing graduates.

  • Gene Davis (actor) and Fareed Zakaria (Middle East policy expert) will address the graduates of Bates College.

  • Various colleges at UCLA will have Arianna Huffington (journalist/blogger), Oliver Stone (Hollywood writer/director) and James Franco (actor and UCLA alum) speaking to appropriate schools.

  • The former President of Mexico, Vincente Fox, is delivering the address at Emory University.

  • Tom Brokaw (broadcast journalist) spoke at Fordham University.

Other speakers around the country
The Shark, a clever blog from CAL Law, listed some of the sexier speakers around the country in a blog this spring.

What’s the point?
Well, I could go on and on, listing hundreds of speakers and colleges for you. What’s the point?
I’ll tell you! Among the lists, if you search diligently, you’ll find some gems to whom you can give special attention. Colin Powell at Franklin and Marshall? Yup, I’ll look into that one. He was the member of the last presidential administration who was the most embarrassed by the policies of George W. Bush and I keep track of what he’s saying, looking for the day when he’s going to really let it all out.

But, here’s my prize for this year!
John Dittmer, award winning historian and author of Local People (The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi) and also a new book, The Good Doctors, spoke on Sunday to the 2009 graduating class at DePauw University in Indiana. [You can get an audio of the address by clicking here.]

"It may seem like cold comfort right now, but I believe that coming of age in an era of adversity has provided you with an education you could not get in the classroom… I also believe that we are at a unique time and place in our history, where we have the ability and the will to right many wrongs."

Dittmer nailed a theme that columnist Tom Friedman is hitting hard these days. This is a time to take advantage of the global problem with the economy. It’s a time to look at a new way of living and a new way of approaching problems. It’s time to see ourselves as totally interconnected as a global people who must cooperate and work together in order to survive in a brand new world that is coming.

It was more than 10 years ago that I read Dittmer’s work on the Mississippi civil rights struggle. It was an extraordinary account of the immensity of the problems in Mississippi. It won one of the most prestigious book awards in existence, the Bancroft Prize. It also won the Lillian Smith Book Award. In his commencement address he referred back to Mississippi.

"Nowhere was the black freedom movement more dramatic and dangerous than in Mississippi, the state I know best, where thousands of local people -- maids, sharecroppers, small business owners -- risked their livelihoods and their lives in the struggle for equality."

Local People
Dittmer’s book is not a story about the civil rights workers who went to Mississippi in the 60s. Rather, it is a story of the black people who lived there and fought and struggled for some semblance of civil rights in a “closed society” that barely recognized them as human. And, one must remember, Mississippi’s white population was set on keep their “colored people” out of the power loop. Mississippi was a state of “white supremacy.” Dittmer called it “the last vestige of a dead and despairing civilization.”

The NY Times said that Dittmer’s book gives "a gripping portrait of largely forgotten civil rights workers who forged racial change in the face of violence and murder,…"

The University of Illinois Press summarized the book this way:

Local People tells the whole grim story in depth for the first time, from the unsuccessful attempts of black World War II veterans to register to vote to the seating of a civil rights-oriented Mississippi delegation at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Particularly dramatic - and heartrending - is Dittmer's account of the tumultuous decade of the sixties: the freedom rides of 1961, which resulted in the imprisonment at Parchman of dozens of participants; the violent reactions to protests in McComb and Jackson and to vote[r] registration drives in Greenwood and other cities; the riot in Oxford when James Meredith enrolled at Ole Miss; the cowardly murder of longtime leader Medger Evers; and the brutal Klan lynchings of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman during the Freedom Summer of 1964.”

I’ll just tell you this. Dittmer helped me understand, better than anything else I read, the Mississippi social and political structure from the black person’s point of view.

Famous civil rights worker and Georgia Congressman, Julian Bond, called Local People “the definitive analytical history of the black freedom movement in Mississippi… an exciting and dramatic story of unknown heroes persevering over decades of quiet struggle against rampant terror, and the villains who resisted them with lynch mob justice and sophisticated political backstabbling.”

Seeing that Dittmer was the speaker at this year’s DePauw University commencement brought the book back to mind and sent me scurrying to my book shelves to find it again. My copy is filled with notes and comments. It was great fun to go back and reread what I said about the book then.

Dittmer, a native of Mississippi, who taught for a time at Tougaloo College in his native state, has been a professor of history at DePauw University and is now a Professor Emeritus. He received his doctoral degree from Indiana University and also formerly taught at Brown University and M.I.T..

It addition to the awards mentioned above, Local People also won an award from the Mississippi Historical Society (the McLemore Prize) and also won the Herbert G. Gutman Prize, and the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights Outstanding Book Prize.

You can find very inexpensive copies of the book on sale at ABE (American Book Exchange) – my favorite place to buy books.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Obama must rethink what he is doing in Afghanistan and ask himself some hard questions!
by Charlie Leck (introducing Howard Zinn)

Lately, I’ve become extremely interested in the writing of Howard Zinn. A friend introduced me to him a couple of months ago (THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES).

Well, Zinn recently published an essay on THE PROGRESSIVE (a damned fine web publication) that all progressives should support.

In his contribution, called CHANGING OBAMA’S MINDSET, Zinn wants to know what happened to the Obama who said, “It’s not just that we have to get out of Iraq; we have to get out of the mindset that led us into Iraq.”

What mindset is Obama talking about? Zinn proposes to answer that question.

“It’s the mindset that says force will do the trick. Violence, war, bombers—that they will bring democracy and liberty to the people.

“It’s the mindset that says America has some God-given right to invade other countries for their own benefit. We will bring civilization to the Mexicans in 1846. We will bring freedom to the Cubans in 1898. We will bring democracy to the Filipinos in 1900. You know how successful we’ve been at bringing democracy all over the world.
“Obama has not gotten out of this militaristic missionary mindset. He talks about sending tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan.

“Obama is a very smart guy, and surely he must know some of the history. You don’t have to know a lot to know the history of Afghanistan has been decades and decades and decades and decades of Western powers trying to impose their will on Afghanistan by force: the English, the Russians, and now the Americans. What has been the result? The result has been a ruined country.”
I hope you’ll read Zinn’s powerful commentary. Again, here’s where you go:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Town

What do you call a place that has no center point, no sense of balance and not a single place to buy a quart of milk?
by Charlie Leck

In 1994, I wrote a letter to the editor of the weekly newspaper (if you dare call it that) that covers happenings in My Town and a handful of other villages in the region. I was trying to be satirical, but a friend of mine says that I don’t understand the subtleties of satire well enough to be a satirist. Sure enough, a handful of people took it all seriously and the paper got a “rash” (or is it “rasher?”) of follow-up letters from its readers, complaining about the raving idiot who was so confused about the town in which he lived.

It might make good Sunday reading for you to go back 15 years and read what I wrote about My Town. Then you can decide for yourself if I am truly the village idiot.

Dear Editor:

Independence, Minnesota! This is my town. I live here; though I rarely get to tell people that. I usually have to say that I’m from Maple Pain because that’s what my post office address says. And, there is a downtown area in Maple Plain and all of us seem to want to associate ourselves with some downtown. Sometime I tell people I’m from Lyndale, which is not really a town, but it’s a neighborhood only a half-mile up the road and there’s a bit of a downtown there (if a gas station and tavern can be called that). I tell firemen I know that I’m from Delano because it’s that town’s fire department that will respond to fire emergencies at my home – except, I tell a lot of folks from Minnetrista that I’m from their town because the part of my farm where the livestock live is in that township and I don’t want them to get confused because their fire department (which is really the Mound Fire Department) is supposed to respond to fires on that part of my property except that they have made special (informal) arrangements with Maple Plain to cover for them because Maple Plain can get there so much more quickly. Most of my friends think I live in Watertown because my telephone exchange is called the “Watertown exchange.”

Confused? It’s really only the beginning…. The fact is, I live in Independence. It’s my town – my kind of town. There’s something that brings us all together in this town. None of us is exactly sure what we should tell people when they ask us where we live. I often draw a complete blank from people when I tell them I live in Independence, so I don’t do that anymore unless it is someone I enjoy confusing.

Now we’ve got a new city government building. The officials there had a big discussion about what to call the building. I suggested they call it the Maple Plain/Delano/Watertown/Mound/Orono/Lyndale/Loretto/Rockford City Center in Independence. I was only joking, but a few people took me seriously. So they dismissed my terrific idea that they call it “Independence Hall” and hang a big, cracked bell out in front, because they thought I was joking. I wasn’t.

One of my city councilpersons – I think he tells people he lives in Loretto – has proposed that all Independence telephones fall under the 479 exchange. He’s proposed this because it makes sense and is totally logical. Therefore, this proposal doesn’t stand a tinker’s chance in _________________________ (insert the name of a town you really dislike).

Well, I’ve always wanted to write an extremely important Letter to the Editor and now I’ve done it. Feels good! I’m still confused, but I feel better. My only hope is that the various fire departments around me know exactly what’s going on. I have nightmares that there is this giant fire in my hay barn and, while it burns, Delano, Mound and Maple Plain stand around arguing about who is supposed to cover it. Silly, isn’t it? It could never happen.

The editor of the paper was extremely happy to publish the letter. He said he thought it was “laughable.” At first I thought he meant that the letter was funny or comical. Then I started to think “laughable” might mean something else entirely.

Just the other night we had a city council meeting here in My Town that made me very, very proud of this place – this town like no other town around. I came home that night and told my wife that this was the first time I’d really been proud to live here. The opposing party, of course, took that as a statement of disloyalty and claimed I was unpatriotic and didn’t deserve to be the First Lady.

I wondered how they overheard this statement I made to my wife in the privacy of our bedroom. Or, is my wife an informant for the opposition?

If we've got a downtown in My Town this is it. It's the Ox Yoke Inn. We just call it the Ox Yoke around here. Right across the street from it there's an auto mechanic's garage. That's it!

I’ll write about that wonderful council meeting in the next few days.

Thousands and thousands of acres in My Town still produce hay and other crops even though we're less than 25 miles from downtown Minneapolis.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

U.S. World Domination

Do you realize we have nearly 800 military bases spread around the world?
by Charlie Leck

Helen Philpot, of the Margaret and Helen Blog, tangled this week with the philosophy of Dick Cheney, former Vice President. In trying to explain Cheney she began by explaining U.S. military expansionism and pointed out that we have over 700 military bases around the world that control over 2 million hectares of real estate.

Then she dares ask why in heaven’s name so many Arabs around the world hate us so.

“Never mind that we have been occupying their homelands for more than 60 years. Never mind that today we have dozens of “enduring” military bases just in Iraq and dozens more in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar… Is that really so terrible? We’re just there looking to send back a little oil to help run our cars and our factories back home.”
Global Research, an extraordinary Canadian think-tank has carefully examined this huge shadow of the U.S. and explains how it has spread its coverage out over the entire world. The extensiveness of this world domination is explained thoroughly in a 2007 article by Professor Jules Dufour.

“The US has established its control over 191 governments which are members of the United Nations. The conquest, occupation and/or otherwise supervision of these various regions of the World is supported by an integrated network of military bases and installations which covers the entire Planet (Continents, Oceans and Outer Space). All this pertains to the workings of an extensive Empire, the exact dimensions of which are not always easy to ascertain.”
A friend recently put me on to two very extraordinary books that I have written about before on this blog – Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer and The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

To understand the U.S. policy about world domination, you really must read these books. I’m not being a raving idiot here. When you take a careful, accurate look at U.S. history you are able to see how many governments we have overthrown and how we developed such global control in order to protect our own self-interests everywhere. Some people will regard this as good and positive; others of us will be horrified at what our nation has done while we were playing golf, or skiing or taking the kids to the beach.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I’m not a restaurant reviewer and my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt (방향염).
by Charlie Leck

I had lunch out today with a beautiful woman at a little Korean joint (with emphasis on the “oint”) called Dong Yang! I always feel a little guilty about these weekday adventures when my wife can’t be along, but I decided, what the heck, I’m going to relax and have fun.

Dong Yang is out there north of Nordeast Minneapolis in the not very well know community of Hilltop. Might seem like a journey, but it’s not really. A drive straight out Central Avenue to 45th Avenue NE is a pleasant enough journey. There are so many new places along the street that it will amaze the locals who haven’t been out that way in a while. I saw ethnic establishments that, as a young man, I never dreamed I’d see in our small town of Minneapolis. There were so many Halal markets that I couldn’t believe it – from the Jerusalem Market to Holyland Deli. If you're looking for markets and delis that feature Afghanistanian, Iranian, Russian, Slavic, Urkranian or African products, you can find them as you journey through the wonderful Northeast part of town. And, there are still the wonderful old Italian and German establishments surviving out there, too, right along with the typically American bars and grills.

However, this was a preplanned trip and our sights were set on Dong Yang. At 45th Street we hung a left off Central Avenue and went west a few blocks. There it was. It was larger than I was expecting, but I was soon to find out that the space was for the grocery and produce section of the store. The dining area was crammed back in a far corner and it provided a less than spectacular dining view of the shelving out in the grocery store Oh well, we didn’t come for the view.

The reviews I had read of the place said that we wouldn’t be made to feel particularly welcome; however that wasn’t true at all. Well spoken clerks made us feel comfortable the instant we walked through the doors. Eyes sparkled at us and smiles were as wide as old Broadway.

We stepped right up and, after a very slight wait in line, placed our orders. A couple of items had been recommended to me and I was anxious to try them. The Bipimbap, which is simple to pronounce but slides all over my tongue when I try to say it, is high on the recommendation list of friends who’ve been to Dong Yang, so we went for that and also for the Short Rib Grill (#12 on the menu). My gorgeous date is more adventurous than I and she approaches everything as a learning experience and she was asking everyone questions about nearly everything and it seemed longer than the Stone Age before we finally settled in at a table. I’ve been out with her before, however, and I was prepared to be patient. She is scientific about dining out and she has an approach that is tried and true. She knows more about Twin City restaurants than any other person I know and that includes all the fancy reviewers from the paper and city magazines.

The tea, coffee and water were included in the price of our meals. We each had a Styrofoam cup of a plain, but satisfying tea. Well, our orders were dished up for us after only a pleasant wait. A sweet Korean gentleman, older than I for sure, helped us gather our food and get it back to our table and he recommended an extraordinary ketchup that was nothing really like ketchup.

We dug first into the bipimbap and I was hooked. I didn’t care about all the other food that surrounded us. This dish was entrancing and immediately hooked me. I’ll be honest about this, so listen hard: If I had to order a last dish in life, to enjoy before I die, it might be the bipimbap from Dong Yang.

Bipimbap, if I understood correctly, simply means "mixed up rice." Well, that it is so, but it is so much more. The rice is mixed up with a lot of wonderful vegetables and a touch of sea weed and then its grilled in a sort-of stone pot and the rice touching the pot gets all crispy and crunchy and so do some of the vegetables. Just before it's served, an egg is cracked open and dropped on to all this mixed up, wonderful food. The jumble of flavors is remarkable and tantalizing.

I’d brought my wonderful camera along and I began snapping close-ups of our food before the tasting began. The flash attracted a lot of attention and I just pretended I didn’t notice.

I was surprised by some panchan items that had been unexpectedly served to us. It’s traditional that Korean meals are accompanied with a number of these little samples side dishes.

So, what we had in front of us looked like more than either of us could really consume – even together. Yet, we’d try.

I liked each of the panchan items without exception. Their flavors seemed to enhance the delights I was discovering in the bipimbap.

The grilled short ribs were extremely tasty, but there were times when I really just couldn’t chew some of the pieces of meat. It was quite extraordinary. The meat wasn’t tough and actually seemed to be tender. It just wouldn't break up very well at the command of my teeth. If I had a steak knife I would have cut it into small little bits and then I probably would have given that dish a top rating also. As it was, I wouldn’t actually order them again.

The cooks at work at Dong Yang

We spent a lot of time over our lunch. It’s the kind of food that encourages you to dine slowly and chat as you eat. We did, and a lot of ground got covered. Eventually, though, we gave up our table and the kind little gentleman helped us bus our dishes. He also went out into the store with me and helped me find the tasty ketchup-type condiment I’d tried with my lunch.

We bought a handful of little items and questioned a clerk at length about the way bipimbap is prepared. It seemed so complicated and time consuming that we decided we’d just come back to Dong Yang to enjoy it.

I’ve got to add that the clerks in the grocery store could not have been nicer and they spent time with us as if we were regular and important customers. They were very cheery and polite.

Hilltop, in which Dong Yang resides, is a tiny little suburban community of working class homes and it couldn’t be neater or prettier. We drove around its streets for a few moments and we were mighty impressed with the attractive lawns, the colorful flowers and the well-maintained homes from the 50s.

On the way back home, we stopped at a few of the other markets and delis that line Central Avenue all the way into the city, but I’ll save a description of that part of our adventure for another time.