Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hitting a Deer at 70 MPH

There’s nothing like hitting a poor deer, standing in the middle of the freeway, at 70 MPH… believe me!
by Charlie Leck

Anne was driving. We were chatting away about the most insignificant things. The cruise control was set on my big Lincoln LS V8 at 70 MPH. We were about 90 minutes from home and anxious to crawl into our lovely TemperPedic bed. Anne had been at a continuing education program and I had tagged along just to be a good husband and to spend time with my lovely, lovely sweetheart. We’d had a good time, but we were ready to be home again.

Fargo wasn’t the most exciting town to visit. I tried my best to find all that was good, beautiful and meaningful in the community, but, as friendly as the place was, I was ready to be home.

We were approaching Alexandria, Minnesota. The speed limit on the Interstate is 70 MPH, so Anne set the cruise control right on that number. Other cars and trucks passed us like we were standing still.

Suddenly, in a moment of extraordinary surprise, a big deer was standing right in front of us, dead-still, looking in through the windshield, and staring us in the eyes. What a beautiful creature! Her eyes were wide and she was as surprised as we. It was, momentarily, one of the most beautiful pictures I’d ever seen.

Wham! Crash! Pow!

Anne didn’t even get to the brakes. At 70 MPH we slammed into the big doe and she flew up on to the hood of our car and then, somehow, thankfully, flew over the top of our car and off toward the shoulder.

We were still at full speed. Anne still hadn’t reached the brake. It happened all that suddenly. gauges on the dashboard went boing-boing, the lights were gone and the engine was sucking wind. When we got the big car stopped and out of danger we could hear it really protesting.

"Shut ‘er down, Newt, cause it’s all over. "

My wonderful car was ruined. I had babied it since the day I bought it. It was one of my favorite automobiles. This sweet thing had 139,000 miles on it and had needed very little special care. It had been a wonderful car and I loved driving it.

Now she was done-for!

One of the subjects about which we were chatting as we drove along was the need to think about a new car. What should we do? It was tough for me to decide. I had enjoyed this car so much. I knew it was time, but it was difficult to let go. I had a crush on this car. It had been wonderful to me and had taken care of me so sweetly.

There’s nothing quite like a deer in headlights. What beauty! What splendid, peaceful acceptance!

This morning, as I was typing this, Anne announced that she’d caught a mouse in her new ZAPRAT electrocution devise.

“Good going,” I called down, “you should’ve been a hunter – mice, deer!”

She didn’t laugh!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

FARGO is a Coen Brothers Movie

What makes these Minnesota natives so good at making movies? Is it the Minnesota in them? (Burn After Reading)
by Charlie Leck

Sunday’s local newspaper carried a long story about the Coen Brothers and their Minnesota roots that is well worth reading – especially if you like the movies that the Coen Brothers make. The story is by Colin Covert

I like the quote with which the StarTribune story opens. It explains a lot about what has been happening on my blog lately.
" 'Everybody's interested in where they grew up,' said Ethan, 52, the filmmaking team's co-writer and producer. 'As you get older, you get more interested in it as opposed to fading away.'

" 'It's hard for us to imagine a story unless we have a real specific sense of where it's taking place,' said Joel, 54, the writer/director. And there's no place they know better. Minnesota is 'totally part of our identity,' Ethan said. 'The combination of being Jewish -- specifically Minnesotan -- is big and important.'

" 'An actor's body and voice are what they have to work with,' Joel added. 'Being from Minnesota is what we have to work with.' "
I remember the earliest movie by the brothers (Blood Simple). It was called strictly B grade and it appeared that future Coen Brothers’ movies would be the same. I didn’t look forward to anything outstanding out of them.

Then they came with Raising Arizona and, well, they certainly fooled me, which isn’t really very difficult, and they fooled the entire film industry by becoming one of the most popular cinema producing teams in America and, perhaps, in the world. After doing a few – Millers’s Crossing, Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy (none of which can I remember), they’ve given us a steady list of really popular and, if I may say it proudly, really wonderful flicks.


The Big Lebowski

O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?

No Country for Older Men

Burn After Reading

I left out The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, and the Lady Killers, just because I didn’t see them.

Their most recent film is A Serious Man. I’m not going to deal with the movie here because I haven’t seen it yet and you can get a good report on it in the StarTribune story cited above. And, if you want to read some of the reviews of the movie, try any of these:

The Chicago Reader

Hollywood Reporter

A Slide Show from the New York Times

I’ll tell you this: I can’t wait to see it.

Let’s build this as our case: Anyone who can make movies like the list of hits I mentioned above must be a damned good film maker. The Coen Brothers are damned good and I can wait to see how they treat Minnesota in A Serious Man.

Last week they appeared here, at the Walker Art Center, in a reception to honor them and their careers. 600 locals were on-hand there for a preview screening of their new film. Covert gives us a little tease about the movie in his article.

"A Serious Man follows hapless Jewish physics professor Larry Gopnik through his comedically dreadful midlife crisis. Both the Coens' parents were academics, but their longtime producer, Minneapolis native Bob Graf, cautions against mistaking the film for autobiography. Still, said Graf, who joined them on Fargo, ‘It certainly is inspired by the place and time in which they grew up.’ ”

The film had a small budget (15 million), but that never stops the Coens from making a great flick. They don’t go out to create Star Wars type movies. They look for something else and it usually has something to do with the absurd. The brothers have a large cult following now and these movie-goers expect something creative and even strained from the Coen brothers. They’ve certainly gotten their share of Oscar nominations and winners. Film professionals are willing to work for the Coen brothers because they know they’ll have fun and they’ll be allowed to exercise their creative sides.

The brothers also use plenty of local talent and even common, off the street, kind of people. In their newest film they used local teenagers and a local rabbi and a cantor.

I’m anxious for the opening of A Serious Man. I’ll wait a week or so and then go to a senior discount matinee as I almost always do.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fargo is Not Just a Coen Brothers Movie

It was a forced visit, but I found it pleasant enough.
by Charlie Leck

The first non-native settlers took up residence in Fargo, North Dakota in about 1869. The railroad workers came in the following year and began building the roadbed and laying the tracks toward the west. It was easy work in five-sixths of North Dakota. Not much got in the way.

Fargo is flat. Much flatter even than the Twin Cities, which has, at least, some hilly spots like Kenwood and out along Groveland Terrace. Saint Paul has its famous Cathedral Hill and the big cliffs that drop down to the Mississippi River on either side. Fargo has none of that. The city must often be held captive by the ravages of the mighty winds that build up speed and roar across the state.

The railroad company was the king in those early years of Fargo. The old railroad Station on Main Avenue is a spectacular, historic building. A visit to the historical museum finds a great deal of material about the railroad on exhibit. Another smaller, but attractive station is right in the heart of downtown. Several of the big railroad companies roared through Fargo on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

Frankly, I’ve found Fargo a pretty pleasant place. The people of Fargo out-Minnesota us in respect to their hospitality and kindness. This is a remarkably clean and neat community and it seems to be well organized. It’s easy to navigate around town and find destinations.

North Dakota State University is the gem of the community. The campus and its various properties, like the agricultural research center, take up a huge percentage of the community. It’s a little known school nationally (unless you follow collegiate hockey closely), but you should all know that it is a fine academic institution out here on the windy prairie.

The community seems to have its weaknesses. I searched for fine restaurants by using Google and the first hits sent me down to Excelsior (MN) to dine at Jake’s Irish Pub and up to Winnipeg to dine at a downtown establishment way up north. But, we learned the rule: If you want fine dining in Fargo, go to Moorhead. That’s the Minnesota town just across the river. There we found John Alexander's Restaurant and Martini Bar (see more about this restaurant below). It was better than good and nearly sensational. The service was top notch and the menu was creative and had something for every taste and appetite. I’d give it four out of five stars. There’s also a fine Italian dining establishment in Fargo that gave raves in all the reviews I read about it: Sarellos. We’ll try it this evening.

Here’s what’s good about a trip like this to Fargo. Anne, my wife, was in a continuing education class for two days and I got a lot of reading done, watched a football game on television (the Gophers beat the Northwestern University Wildcats) and I took a couple of long naps. I also got in a long walk through the University campus and found a way to drive down near the Red River to get a good look at it.

The river was flowing slowly and gently. It was hard for me to believe that it had been a raging monster this spring and that thousands and thousands of volunteers had fought to hold it back from swallowing Fargo. Before the white man came, this was an important place for the natives who lived here in relative peace. The bison also gathered here in the hot summer to cool themselves and to drink happily together. This river flows north from just south of Fargo, getting its life from the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and the RiversOtter Tail and ends where it enters Lake Winnipeg, in Canada.

If you drive out along the plains on either side of the Red River you’ll discover beautiful, flat farmlands producing wheat, potatoes, sugar beets and cattle. Only the horizon interrupts the view of these massive flat fields. The colors, however, especially when the sun is very low in the morning or evening, are utterly spectacular. Tomorrow I’ll go with my camera and see what I can capture.

I couldn’t live in Fargo. There are too many wonderful things I’d miss about the Twin Cities region – great dining, wonderful museums, music centers, libraries and sports teams. I couldn’t live without those things. I’d miss our beautiful lakes also. Yet, this community shouldn’t be dismissed as insignificant. It’s a bustling metropolis and a trading partner with our own town – a lot of freight is transported both to and from the Twin Cities (250 miles away).

I’d come back to Fargo without complaint – especially so I could dine in Moorhead.

John Alexander's Restaurant and Martini Bar
I've reminded you here, on other blogs, that I am not a restaurant critic; however, I do know restaurants and I know a good one when I find it. John Alexander's, on Main and 4th Street in Moorhead, Minnesota (315 Main Street) is a really neat place and a fine restaurant.

The first thing I fell in love with is the setting. The dining room is right off Main Street in an old, restored western U.S. style building. The dining room is roomy, perfectly lighted and very modern in its decor. A big, L-shaped martini bar sits in one of the back corners and isn't at all intrusive to the diners. The tables are roomy and the chairs are comfortable. Each table is very subtly decorated in a way that doesn't take up valuable space.

I ordered a very ordinary martini on the rocks and it came in a nice, big, roomy, square-shaped glass that was pleasant to hold and easy from which to drink. Anne had a cold glass of Guinness dark ale and we shared a half dozen oysters on the half-shell with a very, very lovely and tasty sauce with mysteriously good herbs.

Anne ordered an Ahi tuna that was very large and perfectly prepared. It was a far larger portion than she ever eats, so I got a big share of it. It was spectacular and attractively presented with lots of appealing color. At $32 is was a properly priced.

I passed on all the magnificent looking, sizzling steaks that were being served all around me and went with an entree suggested by our server, Chicken Marsala. It was pan-seared in a tasty Marsala wine and Cremini mushrooms and green onions. Two large pieces of flattened chicken breasts were were presented to me over a bed of ala dente Linguini noodles with plenty of the Marsala sauce. The chicken was pleasantly warm, yet still delightfully moist and very tender.

A platter of several kinds of really tasty breads was put right between the two of us and I couldn't resist trying one of each of them. My wise and slim wife settled for just my reports on their excellence and tastiness.

The menu isn't wildly large, but it's expansive and varied and any diner could find something to his taste and pleasure. It begins with four different and attractively described steaks. I wandered around the dining room in a manner that I am sure wasn't exactly inconspicuously and peeked at the platters that were being served. The steaks looked scrumptious and each was served in a very pretty manner. Here are some of the other wonderful entrees on the menu:
Chef's Walleye -- broiled and battered and pan-seared

Herbed butter encrusted quarter chicken

Chef's meatloaf (beef)

Two bone-in pork chops -- pan-seared or battered and pan-seared

Wild salmon pan-seared with maple-pecan glaze
Or a chef's salmon of the evening

Peppered pasta primavera with chicken or shrimp

Shrimp scampi on Linguini noodles
There is also a very large salad menu and a variety of very beautifully described sandwiches like Philly-Cheese Steak, Pastrami, New York beef hot dogs, several burgers and a whopper of a BLT.

This is a very special restaurant out on the upper Midwest prairie and I'd go back to John Alexander's any time -- any time at all -- and I wish it were closer to home.

If ever you're in the Fargo/Moorhead area, make a stop at this really enjoyable restaurant a top priority.

John Alexander's Restaurant and Martini Bar on Main and 4th Street in Moorhead.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Politics at Home

When I go more than two days without posting a blog, there's usually a pretty good reason!
by Charlie Leck

I'm having a difficult time keeping up with my blog these days and there's a good reason for it, I'm overwhelmed with "stuff" to do and my head is spinning.

It all has to do with local politics. I'm running a campaign for a fellow in our community who is running for a seat on the City Council. I'm also trying to support another of the candidates as much as I can. I sometimes pour 12 hours a day into the work. There's so much to do and it is difficult to find people to help with the grunt work -- or, I just don't know how to ask for help (I really don't know which it is).

I'm taking a couple of days off from the campaign (Saturday and Sunday) and I look forward to doing some serious writing. There's plenty to talk about -- including the distant rumble of another possible war for the U.S.. Can you imagine? Isn't that just what we need now?

Don't give up on me! In the end, all this work I'm doing now will make for some mighty good blogs.

And don't forget to vote in your local city elections. Inform yourself about the candidates and vote. Your local elections, in the end, are far more important to your immediate life than the big money campaigns for national candidates. Vote! Vote! Vote!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Award Well Deserved

Simpson Housing Services
by Charlie Leck

I want you to meet an organization that really deserves an award it was recently given; and it deserves your attention and your contributions as well.

We support this organization and we urge you to find out more about Simpson Housing Services and to also contribute to it.

Read about the award on MinnPost.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Governor is AWOL

He is no longer the man even Minnesota Republicans voted for!
by Charlie Leck

We no longer have a Governor here in Minnesota. I have a number of readers in South Carolina who will understand this and have some sympathy for us; for our Governor is also Absent Without Leave. Except up here we say: Good Riddance. Why do we need him?

And anyway, he’s not the same guy even the Republicans voted for in the last election.

The emperor has a new set of clothes.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has shifted so far right that there’s no room to go any further. He desperately wants to be the next President of the U.S.A. and he believes he has to go right to do it.

That, of course, is all wrong and history has proved it time and time again. It was the disastrous mistake John McCain made last year in picking his Vice Presidential candidate. The choice moved McCain to the right when he needed to inch a bit closer to the center. You could see it McCain’s eyes that he realized the mistake as the campaign entered its final two weeks.

Now, our Governor is reading the tea leaves incorrectly. He’s been affected by all these scenes from America’s Tea Party. He’s decided to go with this radical message and he is banging home the message in speech after speech as he makes the rounds of the nation.

“Governor, you should understand that the Tea Party is not a conservative organization; it is rather a radical, right wing group of honkers who don’t understand America or American democracy. You are hanging out with the wrong guys!”

This week our Governor put together a blue ribbon fund raising organization to start gathering money to be used in his campaign – though he is officially saying he is not yet sure he will be a candidate (with the emphasis on the yet).

In his current guise there is no way Tim Pawlenty could even carry his home state of Minnesota in a presidential election, so it would be great if the Republicans do select him. He is now way too far out on the right for Minnesota. One must remember he won in the last election by a very slim margin.

I don’t look for Pawlenty to be a national candidate for either the first or second position on the Republican ticket. The Grand Old Party needs to win back some of the middle ground and they’ll make some wiser choices this time.

In the meantime, the air is fresher with Pawlenty spending so much time running around the nation opposing health care and blaming Democrats for the financial disaster his own party wrought with two too expensive wars in faraway places.

And, as in South Carolina, the state is running just fine even while the Governor is off chasing his titillating dream.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Family Differences

My Brother Believes in Rush Limbaugh and the Like
by Charlie Leck

An older brother, who lives out in NJ, wrote me this past week, urging me to join The Tea Party.

"CHL, I know you will not agree, but our President is leading us on a very rocky road. The country is not We the People -- it is Obama, Polosi and Reed.

"We the people (Tea Party's 9-12) don't want socialism, we don't want the DNC removing our freedoms. We will start, through our vote, to change the power of Congress (RNC, DNC, Ind).


"Hope you and Anne are doing well! Enjoy your blogs."


I intended to quit at this point and just allow my brother's note to me to stand on its own. Yet, I couldn't. This is another case of someone who listens too much to Rush Limbaugh and that liar Beck and others like them. These two guys are inciting so many folks who don't use other means to enlighten themselves. These days, there are a whole host of these dishonest talking heads who know the only way they can succeed in the business is to incite normal citizens through their out and out lies and distortions. Without this kind of bombastic presentation of the news and their views, guys like Bill O’Reilly could not keep working.

Well, I'm certain that my brother is referring, in his comments above, to two legislative activities of the Obama administration, so I'll quickly deal with them.

The Corporate Bail Outs
This is a difficult issue. First, it wasn't begun by Obama. He inherited a policy from George W. Bush. It will probably, one day, be proven to be a good and correct policy -- not a pleasant or cheap one, but a good one. It has probably saved the nation from a depression that would have made the Great Depression of the 30s look miniscule. It's a tough issue and only history will show whether or not President Obama was correct to follow George W. Bush down that murky, muddy trail.

Health Care Reform Legislation
It is on the basis of what Obama is proposing in this area that my brother calls President Obama a socialist. I'll start off, first, telling my brother that Obama's proposals are far too conservative for me. My great hope was that the President would send to Congress a plan for nationalized, universal health care. Of course, the legislation that the President will ask Congress to pass is much more conservative than that. It is so tame, as a matter of fact, that one couldn't even dream of calling them socialistic.

Many of the great democratic nations of the earth have nationalized health care systems that work quite well, if not far better than the system we currently have in place. Does one dare say that the following nations are not democratic: Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and so many more? The system that President Obama is recommending doesn't come close to being as all inclusive and sweeping as those of the nations listed above.

The United States, according to the World Health Organization, is ranked in about 27th place in the quality of the health care services it provides its citizens and in the results it achieves.

I've been down this road before and have told this tale too many times. I won't bore my readers further, but I had to present some sort of defense to my brother who is bloated with Limbaughisms.

Now, if I could get my brothers to open their minds and read some really enlightened material by solid commentators, I'd send them right to Bill Moyers and his latest comments on this subject of the crazy, radical right and its nutty commentators: Conservative Radicals and the Politics of Vengeance. I recommend it to you, my regular readers. Sadly, Moyers argues that "Intellectual Conservatism is dead." The column amounts to a conversation between Moyers and Sam Tannenhaus, the author of The Death of Conservatism.

Enough said! It would be crazy to yak on over the mind and voice of Bill Moyers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Forest Woodward Photography

It’s Sunday, you know, and I need a break from the constant thunder in my head!
by Charlie Leck

Enough for a few days, anyway, with all the hassle about politics, and health care reform, and racism, and humankind’s stupidity – and my own particular brilliance!

I like to get away from that stuff on Sunday mornings and maybe write about the Minnesota Vikings, or the Twins, or our mule, Reva; or, of course, as I like to occasionally, about photography.

Wow! Did I find a photographer for you! You don’t have to be a photography genius to tell that this guy’s work is special. He’s got a very creative eye and a very special sense for light, color and angles. That’s a photograph of his (above), which I purchased from just so I could show you an example.

If you want to see a lot more, go to this particular Forest Woodward Blog, and he has lots of his work on display there that you can enlarge to a handsome size; or, go visit his spectacular web site, where you can see a great deal of his very special portfolio.

Here’s something Woodward says about himself and his photography that I found both interesting and intriguing.

“The relationship that I strive to cultivate between my lifestyle and my photography is one of symbiosis; growth in one fosters growth in the other as I pursue new experiences and horizons. My camera has allowed me to travel to amazing places, meet great people and hear fascinating stories. In return I let the camera share fully in my experiences, opening the shutter to my life and the relationships and lives of the real people… people I am fortunate to call my friends and family.”
Woodward’s photographs have appeared in National Geographic, Men’s Health, Prevention Magazine, Passport, Ask Men, Science Daily, Momentum and Forbes.

If you’re a hobbyist or pro, you can find out about Woodward’s photographic equipment on his web site. He is a very young man – certainly in relation to his success. He was the youngest student ever to attend the Rocky Mountain School of Photography and he’s worked on the staff of that school for the last four years. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa this year from the University of Northern Colorado, with majors in Spanish and sociology.

If you go on to examine Woodward’s photographs, you are in for a real treat. He is a special talent. Below are two more of his photographs.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Values Inherent in our Constitution

The right to pursue life, liberty, happiness and health is tenuous!
by Charlie Leck

If we don’t protect our core values, find them precious and vital to civilization, they can easily slip away; for our values are a fragile treasure.

Here’s a blog posting, called The Fragile Treasure, that’s really well worth reading. It raises some serious questions about where America is at and what it is all about. Here are just a few takes from it.
“...when a society argues about when it is acceptable to torture someone, that culture has already moved to a place where it is corrupted.”

“The debate in the United States has shifted from whether it is ever right to torture someone, but whether this ‘works’.”

“But it is especially disappointing that the defense of torture is being articulated so forcefully in the United States, where it is a founding principle that moral instincts and impulses should be revered.”
David Williamson writes the blog, Van Peebles Land. It is one of my favorites.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Racism and the Obama Opposition

Jimmy Carter laid in on the line this week! Does he have a case?
by Charlie Leck

Jimmy Carter is viewed as a bad President. My wife won’t agree with you. She thought Carter was both a wonderful man and a good President. Frankly, so did I, but I’ve thought about this question at great length and, I think, in great depth. Most people have not. “You could believe Jimmy Carter,” my dearest said to me one day. “You could both believe him and believe in him.”

I urged her to tell me more. “Jimmy Carter didn’t have a huge ego. He was a simple, sincere Christian. He wasn’t going to save his presidency by being a phony. Jimmy Carter wanted to help the underdog. He wanted to help the poor and needy. He wanted to help the hungry and the diseased. For God’s sake, who does that sound like? He was an avid, enthusiastic follower of his Lord. It’s not something we expect of a President, so people were confused and even embarrassed by it. It became easy to think Jimmy Carter was a simpleton. I have a feeling a lot of people thought Jesus was a simpleton also.” I wanted her to add that Jimmy Carter believed that peace was possible. He believed that Israel and the Islamic world could live in peace. Of course he was an idealist! So was Gandhi! So was Martin Luther King, Jr..

Try this on and see how it fits. Most people couldn’t keep up with Carter or relate to him. He spoke from a different perspective and with different beliefs than most people. His presidency came crashing down on him as a result of the Iranian hostage situation and the totally unethical interference in that situation by presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. Reagan cut a deal, outside the law and outside the realm of justice and ethics, for the Iranians to delay the release of the hostages until he took office. In return, he promised the Iranians a healthy amount of military weapons when he got to the White House. Now, with that in mind, you tell me who was the “good” President and who was the “bad” one. For God’s sake people, open your brains just an inch, will you!

We’ve had lots of presidents who’ve pretended to be religious. Jimmy Carter was really, deep down, a man of faith and commitment to his Lord and Master. George W. Bush called Jesus Christ both his hero and his savior. Remember that? I never got the feeling that President Bush really understood what that means. As a matter of fact, I was pretty certain that he did not; but, as a matter of fact, most of my fundamentalist Christian friends haven’t the slightest idea what it means to be committed to Christ. Carter did!

So, when Jimmy Carter says that it is racism that prompts most of the cruel opposition to President Obama, I’m going to sit up and take notice and listen to what he’s saying.

Frankly, this is a red-flag issue. Very few people are willing to sit back and think about it – and discuss it calmly. Hardly anyone is willing to consider Carter’s comments as something worth discussing. Is there any chance that some of this more volatile and ugly dislike of President Obama could find its foundation in racism? I know Obama wants to dismiss it. I would expect that. Yet, the Joe Wilson incident – and the strong hatred that cropped up during the campaign – and the hatred cropping up now during the town hall meetings – and the whole unnecessary and trivial birth certificate incident – make me wonder if there isn’t something more behind all this than just political differences. Look at the right wing protest on the Mall last week. There were Confederate flags in abundance. There was more than one depiction of President Obama in white face. There were also signs suggesting that the President go “back” to Africa.

Does any of this sound like racism to you? Does it come close enough that a discussion of the possibility is warranted? You can bet contemporary historians are looking at this question – and so are sociologists and philosophers and psychologists. To dismiss it out-of-hand, as stupid, is to be indeed stupid. Former President Carter’s comments are worthy of serious and thoughtful discussion.

It is worth adding here, as my proof reader pointed out to me, that Jimmy Carter is a man of the South and he understands the southern perspective more than most. He also understands racism in the South versus racism in the North. He understands the fears of the southern voter. He also understands the southern Bible Belt and the "born again" Christians who are so dominant there.
Personally, I think most “Jesus saves” Christians are idiots -- even understanding that Carter is one of them. Most of them don’t understand “the cost of discipleship.” And, they don’t understand the depth of this man from Galilee. They don’t understand the call that he uttered to those fishermen by the sea that day: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jimmy Carter understood and he dedicated his life to that calling. He became a “fisher of men.” He devoted his life to seeking peace. God bless a man like that; "for blessed are the peacemakers!"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finn Caspersen Obituary

The New York Times Obit
by Charlie Leck

Just to finish off this subject that has generated dozens of emails from my readers (I wish they'd become commenters instead), here is the NY Times Obituary for Finn Caspersen, a significant citizen of the state of NJ and a contemporary of mine -- and an acquaintance.

Congress has the Votes for Public Option

The President has the needed votes, so why can't he get it done?
by Charlie Leck

This communication came in today from Howard Dean. For those of you who desperately want a public option in health care reform, you ought to follow up on this.

We've worked together since the beginning of the healthcare debate to draw a line in the sand -- the choice of a public option must be included in any reform bill passed this year. And every time Republicans have tried to kill it or the insurance industry has claimed it's already dead, we've stood up and proven them wrong.

The new line from opponents of reform is that Congress doesn't have the votes to pass a public option.

Once again, thanks to you, we've proven them wrong.

We've asked everyone in Congress where they stand. At least 218 House and 51 Senate Democrats have said they would vote for the final healthcare bill if it included the choice of a public option rather than vote against the bill and kill reform. That means Congress has the majority votes needed to pass a public option -- TODAY.

Now is the season for action. The majority of Americans want it. Majority votes in Congress will pass it. Join President Obama in calling on Congress to get the job done this year.
Dean points out that a majority of Americans still want a public option, even after all the Town Hall meetings a circus-like propaganda gatherings agains it. He then gives us a challenge!


Some have said it takes 60 votes to pass any bill in the U.S. Senate. It's a myth.It's a myth because while any Senator can attempt to block most Senate bills with a procedural tactic called the filibuster, there are exceptions. Senate rules don't allow filibusters of certain bills that affect the budget. That's right; the healthcare reform plan including the choice of a public option can be passed in a budget bill by a majority vote in the U.S. Senate.

Don't take my word for it. Numerous budget scholars and experts on Senate procedure have staked their reputations on it. Stan Collender, a contributing editor at the National Journal, contributing writer for Roll Call, and author of "The Guide to
the Federal Budget" is an expert on the subject. Here's how he explains it: "The House-passed version of the 2010 budget resolution allows health care reform to be included in a reconciliation bill and, therefore, adopted in the Senate with 51 votes..."

"First, contrary to what some have been saying, reconciliation has become such a standard part of the budget process that using it for health care would be neither surprising nor precedent-setting. When they were in the majority, Republicans insisted that reconciliation was allowed by Senate rules and used it in 2001, 2003 and 2005. Back then, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has been one of the biggest opponents of using reconciliation this year, made what in retrospect is an almost infamous floor speech about the appropriateness and legality of using reconciliation.

Second, health care reform will have a substantial impact on federal finances and so can't be said to be unrelated to the budget, which is one of the critical criteria for using reconciliation. In fact, given that at least two of the largest mandatory
federal spending programs — Medicare and Medicaid — are health care programs; health care reform and reconciliation would seem to be a perfect fit.

"Over 25 times in history the Senate has passed major reforms this way, including the Bush tax cuts and funding for the Iraq War. Whether the Senate passes reform
through a budget bill or in a different bill that has overcome a filibuster, the truth of the matter is it only takes a majority vote to get the job done.


NY Times on Finn Casperson

Some added notes that deal with the mystery!
by Charlie Leck

A few days ago I wrote about the sad death of Finn Caspersen (Death by Suicide), a larger than life sort of person who my wife and I knew quite well.

An article in the New York Times by Lynnley Browning may explain some of the questions I raised about his death. Thanks to a good friend for pointing me to it.

More Troops!

I’ve spent my life hearing the call!
by Charlie Leck

It seems I’ve spent my life hearing one military honcho or another calling for more troops – more troops for the war in Korea, more troops in Vietnam, more troops in Iraq and, now, more troops in Afghanistan.

Does anyone else ever wonder? I mean, isn’t this somewhat, somehow, some way just a little crazy? What kind of nation are we anyway?

I haven’t any answers. Who does? I just shake my head and think about how exhausting it all is. It just isn’t fun being the mightiest nation on earth. Or even pretending we are! It would be better, wouldn't it, to just be little Luxembourg?

Can’t we just give peace a chance! Damn!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Drop-kick South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma out of the great union of states and we’d get a fantastic health care plan for Americans.
by Charlie Leck

Joe Wilson, the Congressman from South Carolina who made a fool of himself recently in a joint session of Congress, is only the beginning. He’s one of many good, old boys from the southern states who hate the President and want to make our national leader look like a liar, cheat, crook, communist, Nazi and terrorist all rolled up into one. Representative Wilson once belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was also heard to strongly denounce the claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of former Senator Strom Thurmond (her claim turned out to be true). Wilson was also one of the leaders of the movement to keep the confederate flag flying over South Carolina’s state capitol building.

Some of this is just in the blood of the southern states. They live in fear of federalism. And, oh, by the way, there is still some fear of the black man left down there as well. Some of my friends wonder why I don’t want to go south in my retired years! It’s quite simple for me. There’s not much I like about the southern states and the hatred that permeates the air down there makes me nervous. I’d rather be cold than live in a state that would elect the likes of Joe Wilson. Ooops! I forgot that we are the state that elected Michele Bachman to Congress. Oh, well, I am again trapped and exposed as a hypocrite. It’s not the first time.

Nevertheless, were it not for the southern states and their irrational fears, we would more than likely have had a strong health care reform package pass the U.S. Congress this year.

That’s a sad statement of fact because there are plenty of people in need in many of those states I mentioned above. Remember, most of those states are rated among the most economically needy states in the nation. One would think their congressional representatives would want to take better care of their constituents than that.

But, what does a hypocrite like I know?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Public Option is “Deader than a door nail!”

Don’t even dare to hope; for all hope is lost and he that hopes is lost as well and hopeless in the dim!
by Charlie Leck

Word comes to me from Washington – from sources very close to the top (at least in proximity to the top if not themselves nearing the top): “The public option is dead – deader than a door nail!”

And, from Shakespeare’s Henry IV comes the pronouncement:

Falstaff: “What! Is the old king dead?”
Pistol: “As nail in door.”
How sad! The words of Doctor Howard Dean, M.D., keep ringing in my ears: “Health care reform without a public option is not really reform at all.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), as progressive as they come, has warned all of her constituents that she must look at reform legislation that does not include a public option.

Obama built his campaign on the promise of “universal health care” or a “public option in health care” and now both are lost. The Democrats and the administration will put a great spin on this and still call the bill they pass reformative. Judge for yourself! Even Howard Dean, for political reasons, will tone down his rhetoric, but I can’t see how one could realistically call these minor changes anything like “reformative.”

The doctor is in the house and has officially pronounced the patient as dead – deader than a door nail.

Before screws were developed, nails that were used in the assembly of a door were broken off at the top and bent to the side (clinched), and buried beneath the surface so they would not show after the small hole they left was filled and finished. A clinched nail could never be used again and was therefore regarded as “dead.”
Senator Olympia Snowe, from Maine, may be the only Republican Senator to vote for the President's health care reform legislation. She’s made it clear to the press that the public option is not even on the table for negotiation any longer. [See this story on Bloomberg News]

The public option, just like universal coverage, is dead – “as nail in door!”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Strange Stats… Take a Look at Them!

Who favors health care reform with a public option?
by Charlie Leck

The most recent significant poll of Americans shows that 55 percent of the public favors health care reform legislation with a public option.

The same poll shows that only 50 percent of the public favors health care reform without a public option.

With numbers like these, why couldn’t a majority party pass health care reform legislation with a public option? It leaves me dizzy when I think about it. It is a certain sign of a lack of legislative ability in the executive branch.

“No,” friends tell me, “it’s just a sign of the crazy times and the power of the far right to stir up vocal resistance.”

“Well,” I tell my friends, “the battle lines ought to have been drawn and the fight waged. There is no more important issue upon which to do it. Is the President a chicken?”

“No,” my friends reply, “it is not the President, but it is nervous legislators who have to win reelection in 2010 and they’ve been frightened by the town hall meetings where those opposed always are more willing to come out than those in favor.”

At the moment, I am not proud of my party. The Democrats, across the board, have failed the American people and I, personally, will not forget it.

Keep the Government out of my Medicare!

The Nation has gone insane over the health care debate and both conservatives and progressives are messing it all up!
by Charlie Leck
“So Obama has retreated a little and portrayed this option as a ‘only a means to an end’ that could be discarded. He should not retreat. The public option best enshrines the principle of the state’s commitment to insuring everyone.” [Roger Cohen, NY Times]
Well, this blog really isn’t by me. I’m going to promptly point you to a very special column in the NY Times that I think is precisely and perfectly right-on; but first I want to leave my only little reaction to it.

I lived in Paris for a short, wonderful time. When you get to know that city, it never leaves you; it becomes a part of you and then you take it with you wherever you go. That’s what Hemingway was getting at it in his book about Paris (A Moveable Feast).

Well, during that short period of living in Paris, I came down with a thoroughly awful cold, which turned into flu, which had all sorts of terrible symptoms connected to it. A Parisian friend took me by the elbow and guided me to a hospital not very far from where I was living. I expected long lines, massive amounts of paper work and all sorts of complexities involving my American insurance company. Instead, there was none of that. I was ushered right in to see a friendly, efficient and cooperative doctor. I was examined, given a shot, handed a prescription with careful instruction, and sent back to my apartment to go to bed for a couple of days. No payments! No charges! No health forms to fill out! In two days I felt better. In four days, voila, I was back on my feet and doing fine.

Now, I urge you to read Roger Cohen’s column, Get Real on Health Care.

“Nothing illustrates right-wing ideological madness in the United States better than calls from some to “keep the government out of my Medicare!”
If that’s not enough good reading for you, I urge you to read this 2007 column by Paul Dutton in the Boston Globe: “France’s Model Health Care System!

“Perhaps it's time for us to take a closer look at French ideas about healthcare reform. They could become an import far less "foreign" and "unfriendly" than many here might initially imagine.” [Paul Dutton]
Now, please, don’t think me naïve! I know the battle for a public option is lost. Obama has surrendered. Any talk from him about continuing that fight is blatant political bluster. What a catastrophe! What gross mismanagement of the legislative process by the Obama administration! My great fear now is that a kitty-whumpus, gerri-rigged, unworkable piece of legislation will be passed and will function so poorly that it, and the baby, will be rapidly thrown out and our nation will be destined to go decades more with no real reform.

I fear the matter of passing health care reform legislation has now become a matter of political pride for the Obama administration and is no longer a matter of true reform and service to the country.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Death by Suicide

Finn Casperson was an enigma. He took. He gave.
by Charlie Leck

Finn Casperson, one of New Jersey’s very prominent citizens, died last week by his own hand. The news rattled me and my wife quite thoroughly and we looked at each other with frightened confusion. The question hung over our thick emotions: “Why? My God, why?”

We couldn’t, in any way, call him a friend. We knew him well enough, however, that he wouldn’t hesitate to call us for a chat about donating funds to one of his favorite organizations, the U.S. Equestrian Center, at Hamilton Farms, in Gladstone, New Jersey. Somehow, over the years, I also became a member of a couple of fairly unusual clubs of which he was also a member. And, we once found ourselves, quite coincidentally, as guests at a cocktail party aboard a yacht in the harbor of Stockholm, Sweden.

So, we had some opportunities to chat and to get to know one-another. We weren’t anything alike, but I enjoyed his company. Though Finn was enormously successful in many ways and had achieved great wealth and prominence (see the following story about his death), he wasn’t a bold and confident character. He was always hesitant in conversation and seemed nervous about engaging with people he didn’t know well. He liked his cocktails a great deal and talking with him became easier as he loosened himself up; however, very few people were ever going to get to know him very deeply. He had built up a strong defense system over the years and he was only going to let you glance at the surfaces of his character.

Nonetheless, I admired him for his successes and for his charitable habits. He ran Beneficial Finance Corporation for years and, when they sold out to Household International for 8.6 billion dollars in 1998, Finn walked off with over 25 million dollars to add to his already staggering wealth. At the time, William Aldinger, who was brought in to run Household’s new holding, had some pretty unflattering things to say about Caspersen’s management skills. He thought Finn spent too easily and too freely. That matched pretty closely to the guy we had gotten to know. Finn liked to live big, comfortably and obviously. We were at a couple of lavish and sumptuous parties at his home where no expense was spared.

Yet, Finn was also generous. He was a major supporter of Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey. He also gave large amounts to Brown University, Harvard College and Law School, and Morristown Memorial Hospital (a place where my mother spent a considerable amount of time during the last, painful years of her life).

It was clear, however, that the organization he loved most and to which he gave most of his time and effort was the United States Equestrian Team. That’s how we first got to know him. He supported both the riding program of the team and helped it develop a significant driving program. Under Caspersen’s direction, the U.S. teams, in a change from the past, became extremely competitive. While Finn was the chairman, the U.S. brought home 71 medals from international competitions and that included 25 gold medals.

“How could he do this?” My wife kept asking the question. She was stupefied. She was also angry.

“How selfish,” she ranted. “How selfish! Just think about poor Barbara, and his children, and his grandchildren.”

I tried to defend Finn. After all, we didn’t know what he was going through – what was going on in his life. Sure there were rumors of some severe financial reverses, but there were also stories about his health and that he was dealing with a significant amount of pain. Is that selfishness? Or, is it a loss of centeredness?

“When you’re in that state of confusion and agony,” I argued, “you don’t make good decisions. You only make desperate ones. It’s difficult to think of others when circumstance and pain won’t allow you to see anything but your own falibility and miserable condition.”

I wish I had gotten to know Finn better. I would have liked to find the quiet, confident and comfortable side of him. That never happened. Perhaps I should have worked harder at it, but that’s not my way either. Now, it’s too late anyway. Finn has moved on and out among the stars and he shall get to rest eternally. There will be no more pain and all confusions of mind and spirit become settled and clear. When he made his decision, in a fog of self-centeredness, that’s what he was seeking.

The following is a poem by Edward Arlington Robinson:

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

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

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

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

This could be the BIG and fatal mistake of the Obama administration!
by Charlie Leck

His failure to get what he wanted and promised us on health care reform will certainly be a major part of the Obama legacy. This alone may make his reelection impossible.

But, like presidents before him, a nasty and unnecessary war is what will doom him. The President has taken the bait and has been hooked into the hopeless and tragic war in Afghanistan. It is no longer George Bush’s war. Now, it is Barack Obama’s war.

And now, the war issue threatens to cream our current promising and talented President. A few weeks ago I wrote here about the hopelessness of this current war (Snagged or Snarled in an Unwinnable War).

One would think that history cannot be ignored. It has been.

War brought Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency down. It did the same to Richard Nixon. It destroyed George W. Bush.

Recently the President asked Congress to allow him to send more troops to Afghanistan.

“Hooray,” cheered all the Republican members of Congress.

“Wait just a minute,” howled the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a Democrat. This Senator knows how to read a tea leaf – or at least public sentiment. Public support for the war is declining dramatically. This doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone who follows contemporary political history. We are supposed to hear a speech today, in which this Senator (Carl Levin, of Michigan) will express grave doubts about deepening America’s involvement in this tragic war.

What is the major complaint? It has to do with mission. Are we involved in another war without a clearly stated mission? When one does that, in either love or war, it is difficult to find end points. When there are no goals and purposes to fulfill, how does one decide the end has come? If you'll remember, we went into Afghanistan to get Osam bin Laden. Now we're there for reasons even God probably doesn't know. If I were in Congress, considering the President's request for more troops, I'd demand that he explain his precise mission for this war and what events would trigger the return of all our troops.

The Senator from Michigan carries great street cred! His abilities and knowledge on military matters are admired by Senators on both sides of the aisle.

Over in the House, the Speaker herself has warned the President that he will face significant opposition to any request for more troops.

“I don’t think there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday.

The President has recognized that he’s in a hornet’s nest and he’s decided to delay his requests until he can build up more political support for what he wants to do.

In the meantime, polls show that public sentiment for supporting the war is declining rapidly.

There is clear evidence of a split in the Democratic Party. The progressives are getting snubbed on health care and now they feel neglected on the Afghanistan issue as well. This is a huge wing of the party we’re talking about and, without support from this group, the President’s productivity is seriously wounded or, perhaps, destroyed.

There are plenty of Democrats who are starting to wonder about President Obama’s persuasive abilities. In this case, it’s difficult to be persuasive when you’re wrong!

Late addition to this blog
After putting this blog to bed and scheduling its posting, I came across this extremely thoughtful column by Robert Scheer on Alternet: Obama's Quagmire Looks a Lot like Vietnam! Perhaps you should read it.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Why we can’t wait!
by Charlie Leck

One of my daughters put this video on her FACEBOOK page yesterday. I found it very moving. I thought I’d post it here for you to see. The number of uninsured people in this country is rising alarmingly. Something must be done. Health care reform without a public option is not health care reform. Be sure to let your Representative and Senators know that Health Care Reform legislation must have a public option.

Arnold S. Relman, M.D. and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School pointed out, in an article in the NY Times, what was missing from Obama's speech on Wednesday night.
"The main drivers of medical inflation are fee-for-service payment of physicians, and all the other incentives in the current medical care system for increasing providers’ income. We will not control costs without major changes in the way medical care is organized, delivered and paid for. Without such changes our health care system is not viable for much longer, but hardly anything of substance was said about that. In fact, the president emphasized his determination to keep the structure of the present system largely intact by steering a middle course between the major reforms advocated by liberals and the free market approach favored by conservatives. He even seems willing to abandon a strong public insurance option in order to get something done now.

"This political strategy may work in the short term, but certainly not for long. I’m afraid history will not heed Mr. Obama’s intention to be the last president who will have to fight for health reform. Until a political consensus for major change appears, the struggle will continue."
Obama's willingness "to abandon a strong public insurance option in order to get something done now" is precisely what scares me and it is what we all have to keep screaming about -- loud enough and long enough that he will hear us. We must scream to him and to our Senators and our Congressperson.

A large number of my readers are upset with me, that I have been so harsh and so critical of the President. I'm sorry, but nothing has been so important in my lifetime for the future of this nation. I am ashamed that our country cannot take care of its ill and injured properly. I am ashamed that people, through no fault of their own in most cases, are driven into poverty but serious illness. It should not happen in a country that considers itself great. It often does happen.

Andy Driscoll, the Driscoll Group, from whom I get regular emails had this to say on Tuesday to his regular readers. He suggests a petition demanding a public option. I signed the petition. Here's your chance to sign it.
Dear Friend,

If we don't make a stand now for a public option, the Obama administration may hedge on its plan for health care reform.

On Wednesday, the president is expected to lay out his vision for health care reform at a joint session of Congress.

But there are already troubling signs that the Obama administration might be open to passing health care reform without any provision for a public insurance option similar to Medicare that could compete with private insurance companies. For example, reports came out on Friday that President Obama held a conference call with House progressives and asked them how far they'd compromise on the public option.

For those of us who support single payer, a robust public option is the compromise. Aside from single payer, a health care bill without a robust public option is just more of the same.

I just signed a petition to tell President Obama that the public option is not optional and that he should tell Congress and the voters that he will not sign a bill without a robust public option similar to Medicare.

I hope you will sign this petition too. Please have a look and take action.

Thanks, Andy

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Do you know what a “public option” really is?
by Charlie Leck

President Obama’s speech to Congress last night was brilliant – brilliant and “pretty” tough. It stopped short of guarantying that he would not accept any health care reform legislation that comes to his desk without a public option.

Just what is a public option? Robert Reich explains it very well in this video, which you certainly ought to watch. He also explains what you must do if you think a public option should be included in health care reform legislation – and he tells us we only have a few weeks to do it! Please watch.

Here’s one of the best demonstrations of grass roots democracy at work in America that you will ever see. Without people of every kind getting involved and demanding their representatives in Congress support the public option, it is not going to happen and then what we get will NOT be reform. I ain’t just a’ kiddin’ folks.

Make sure your friends see this video!


This discussion between NY Times blogger, Stanley Fish, and his readers is crucial reading for those of you who care about education in America!
by Charlie Leck

Though the title seems to limit the topic of this blog to college education, that it not at all accurate. Much of the discussion, to which I am going to point you, has to do with high school and middle school education as well.

Stanley Fish, who blogs regularly in the NY Times, is one of the most important bloggers in America. I have recommended him to you many times in the past. Fish has some seriously impressive credentials and he does some serious and impressive writing on his blog, Think Again. He currently teaches law at Florida International University in Miami. He is also a dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Chicago. He has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, John Hopkins University and Duke University. He is the author of eleven books, most of which deal with the subject of higher education.

Fish’s extraordinary blog, WHAT SHOULD COLLEGES TEACH?, is in three parts. I got so expansive because of the hundreds of response comments Fish received to the first blog. Most of the comments were polite and offered in the spirit of discussion and honest debate. That led Fish to expand on his first blog in an attempt to answer questions that the commenters had raised.

A great deal of Fish’s argument has to do with the question of teaching both reading and writing in preparation for college and during the college years. If you are a regular reader of my own blog, you know these subjects are important to me.

As someone wise once said: “You can lead a horse to a flowing blog, but you can’t make it read.”

Well, I have led you to the river’s edge and, now, the rest is up to you.

Read Part 1 of What should colleges teach?
Read Part 2 of What should colleges teach?
Read Part 3 of What should colleges teach?

For those of you too timid to delve into the river, I’ll provide some excerpted quotations. If you are particularly interested in the question of how we improve writing skills in students, this will only be a tease to what Fish includes in the three part series.

“A few years ago, when I was grading papers for a graduate literature course, I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence. They could manage for about six words and then, almost invariably, the syntax (and everything else) fell apart. I became even more alarmed when I remembered that these same students were instructors in the college’s composition program. What, I wondered, could possibly be going on in their courses?

“I decided to find out, and asked to see the lesson plans of the 104 sections. I read them and found that only four emphasized training in the craft of writing. Although the other 100 sections fulfilled the composition requirement, instruction in composition was not their focus. Instead, the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization. These artifacts and topics are surely worthy of serious study, but they should have received it in courses that bore their name, if only as a matter of truth-in-advertising.” [Opening paragraphs of the blog]


“It probably is neither; curricular alternatives are just not that world-shaking. The philosophical baggage that burdens this debate should be jettisoned and replaced with a more prosaic question: What can a core curriculum do that the proliferation of options and choices cannot? The answer to that question is given early in the report before it moves on to its more polemical pages. An ‘important benefit of a coherent core curriculum is its ability to foster a common conversation among students, connecting them more closely with faculty and with each other.’

“The nice thing about this benefit is that it can be had no matter what the content of the core curriculum is. It could be the classics of western literature and philosophy. It could be science fiction. It could be globalization. It could be anything so long as every student took it. But whatever it is, please let it include a writing course that teaches writing and not everything under the sun. That should be the real core of any curriculum.” [The closing two paragraphs of Part I of Fish’s blog]


“The negative comments on my previous column (there were many positive ones oo) fall neatly into two groups, the attacks on me and the attacks on my ideas.

“Let’s do the ad hominem stuff first. More than a few posters declared that while I talk the talk, I don’t walk the walk. Eric issues a challenge: “So Mr. Fish, how about teaching some comp classes yourself?” English Professor is confident that “we can safely assume that Mr. Fish has never actually taught a composition class himself.”

Ditto anonymous writing instructor: “I’m sure that Fish is paid too dearly for his opinions here and elsewhere to actually teach composition classes.” Maeve asks, “By the way, when’s the last time you taught a freshman composition class?”

“That one’s easy. The last time I taught a regularly scheduled freshman composition class was my last year teaching in a liberal arts college. That was 2004-2005, and in the years before that, when I was the dean, I taught the course every fall. Since 2005, I’ve been a faculty member at a law school where there are no freshmen to teach, so I’ve had to make do with offering a non-credit writing workshop on Mondays; it’s my version of pro bono work and last fall 50 or so students and a few colleagues took advantage of it.

“Earlier in my career I taught composition (sometimes two courses in a semester) for 12 years at the University of California, Berkeley. I was one of two full professors to do so. In 1974, I moved to Johns Hopkins, where there was no writing course because of the (mistaken) assumption that students who were good enough to get into the university didn’t need one. An enterprising graduate student named Pamela Regis enlisted my help in setting up a fledgling program, and by the time I left for Duke in 1985 the program was established and growing.” [The opening paragraph of Part II of Fish’s blog]


Johnny provides a deeper analysis. I wrote, he says, two essays, one about writing skills, the other about conservative efforts to undermine professorial autonomy. They didn’t quite mesh and got in each other’s way.

“He’s right. I should have remembered a fellow columnist’s golden rule — one topic at a time. I’ll try to do better in the future.” [The closing lines of Part II of Fish’s blog]


“By all the evidence, high schools and middle schools are not teaching writing skills in an effective way, if they are teaching them at all. The exception seems to be Catholic schools. More than a few commentators remembered with a mixture of fondness and pain the instruction they received at the hands of severe nuns. And I have found that those students in my classes who do have a grasp of the craft of writing are graduates of parochial schools. (I note parenthetically that in many archdioceses such schools are being closed, not a good omen for those who prize writing.)

“I cannot see, however, why a failure of secondary education relieves college teachers of a responsibility to make up the deficit. Quite the reverse. It is because our students come to us unable to write clean English sentences that we are obligated to supply what they did not receive from their previous teachers. No doubt this obligation constitutes a burden on an already overworked labor force, but (and this is one of those times a cliché can acquire renewed force), somebody has to do it.

“The question of the relationship of reading and learning to write is more complicated. Classical rhetoricians preached the virtue of imitation; students were presented with sentences from the work of great authors and asked to reproduce their form with a different content. I like this exercise because its emphasis is so obviously formal.

“But what about just doing a lot of reading and hoping that by passing your eyes over many pages you will learn how to write through osmosis? I’m not so sure. If to wide reading were added daily dinner-table discussions of the sophistication and wit found in many 18th and 19th century novels, I might be more sanguine. And if your experience with words were also to include training in public speaking and debate (itself a matter of becoming practiced in forms), I might say, O.K., you probably don’t need a form-based composition course. Unfortunately, however, reading is not the favorite pastime of today’s youth and debate societies don’t have the cache they once did; so my insistence that a narrowly focused writing course be required for everyone stands.” [Paragraphs from Part III of Fish’s blog]


“You have to start with a simple but deep understanding of the game, which for my purposes is the game of writing sentences. So it makes sense to begin with the question, What is a sentence anyway? My answer has two parts: (1) A sentence is an organization of items in the world. (2) A sentence is a structure of logical relationships.

“The second part tells you what kind of organization a sentence is, a logical one, and in order to pinpoint what the components of that logic are, I put a simple sentence on the table, something like “John hit the ball” or “Jane likes cake.” I spend an entire week on sentences like these (which are easily comprehended by students of any
background), asking students to generate them, getting them to see the structure of relationships that makes them all the same on a formal level, getting them to see that the motor of meaning production is form, not content.

“Once they see that — and it is an indispensable lesson — they are ready to explore, generate and practice with the other forms that organize the world’s items in increasingly complicated ways. Basically, there is only one thing to be learned, that a sentence is a structure of logical relationships; everything else follows.” [Paragraphs from Part III of Fish’s blog]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


U.S. Senator Al Franken (Minnesota) astounded folks last week at the Minnesota State Fair!
by Charlie Leck

Okay! There’s lots of reasons to be proud of your elected representatives to Washington; however, newly elected Senator, Al Franken, may have taken the biggest blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair last week for a sketch he did before a live audience.

This is so astonishing that I recommend you go take a look at how he did it. It’s speeded up to save you time.

Now, folks, I dare you to give that a try!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


The Minnesota Congresswoman claims her political enemies are just trying to sabotage her chances to become President!
by Charlie Leck

Recently, on a nationally broadcast radio show, Michele Bachman, Congresswoman from Minnesota’s 3rd District and our leading nut-case in the state, announced that she ranks among the leading incumbent House members who have been targeted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi for defeat in 2010. Why? Bachman explained carefully that it’s because she has a good chance of running for President in the near future.

Representative Mrs. Bachman is letting the world know that there will be certain “destruction of our great country if we continue to go down the Obama path.”

Further, the Democrats are frightened, she explains, that the Republicans will elect a woman President before the Democrats will – and that she and that Palin woman from Alaska are remarkable possibilities for assuming that high office.

I probably wear out my readers (especially those of you who don’t live in Minnesota) with my rants about Representative Michele Bachman. She is one of the looniest, nuttiest simpletons who ever sat in the House of Representatives. It is an embarrassment to have someone like she representing our extraordinary state. I keep giving my friends in the 6th Congressional District hell for allowing her election to happen.

If you want to read more about Bachman’s most recent proclamations about her greatness, you should go to Media Matters (one of my most frequently visited web sites) and read about Bachman’s crazy statements or listen to an audio of them.

What frightens me is that my readers from places other than Minnesota will begin to get the wrong impression about our state. When they wonder how any state could send such a ding-bat (as Archie Bunker may have described her) to the U.S. House of Representatives. I simply have no answer for that query. It’s a strange district, the 6th, and Minnesota, like many other states, has some real red-necks hiding out in some of our rural communities.

Bachman is a ‘Jesus saves’ type personality and she’s been thoroughly “saved” while the rest of us dangle over the fires of Hades. Jesus has shown her the right way and it’s been hidden from the rest of us. In Bachman’s mind there is good and bad, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, and saved and condemned – and there are no hues or shades in between these black and whites.

My challenge to my friends in the 6th District is to make sure this woman gets soundly defeated in the next election. Do it fairly! Do it honestly. Do it with great honor! Just make sure you don’t send her back to the House where she can continue to embarrass the hell out of us with her utter stupidity.

My God, I had this incredible nightmare a few days ago that featured Michele Bachman taking the oath of office for the Presidency. Hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing the nation and looking for refugee status in Europe, Asia and South America. In the dream, I, personally, had chosen to move with my children to Toronto in order to evade the wrath that this woman would bring to the office.

I awoke in a frantic state and my wife had to shake me and console me back to reality. I was covered with perspiration and my heart was pounding. I heard the coyotes howling out in the rolling fields of our farm. I could swear they were saying “Michellllllllllllllllle, Michellllllllllllllllle!”

Monday, September 7, 2009

An Incredible Story

How could I have not known about this story before now?
by Charlie Leck

4 September 2009

Nervous and excited, he waited on the platform at London’s Liverpool Station for the arrival of the train from Prague. He felt like pacing to wear off some of his excitement, but he was confined to a wheelchair and he could only wave his arms and bob his head to release some of the nervous energy he felt. His name is Nicholas Winton and he is now 100 years old. He’s surprisingly spry and alert for a gentleman of that age. Newspaper reporters and photographers hovered nearby; for this was something special – something special indeed! They took hundreds of photos of a smiling, joyous Mr. Winton.

You see, Nicholas Winton is a hero; at least, he is to 669 people whose lives he saved in 1939. This was a day of celebration – recognizing the 70th anniversary of Winton’s rescue of train loads of children who were in danger of losing their lives in Nazi Germany.

This is a story that will choke you up if you are a lousy sentimentalist, like I, or, frankly, if you are a piece of 12 inch solid concrete. So, let me explain.

On the 1st of September, in the late morning, a vintage train left the capital city of Prague carrying approximately two dozen survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Nicholas Winton and a number of his friends organized the recreation of the event and arranged for those remaining survivors to bring along members of their families as well.

As the passengers disembarked from the train, Winton rose very briefly from his wheelchair and stood with the assistance of a cane and shook hands with the passengers. He was filled with emotion and a few tears broke from his eyes, though his smile remained constant and strong.

“It wonderful to see you all,” he beamed. He laughed heartily and urged them not to wait so long for their next reunion.

Nearly all of the elderly passengers posed for photographs with Winton as a band played triumphant music. Many of the children and grandchildren of those who were themselves children in 1939 came along on the rail voyage and got to meet Winton at the big celebration. They presented the elderly hero with hugs, kisses and flowers.

In 1938, Winton, a London stock broker of German Jewish descent, traveled to Czechoslovakia. He was afraid, after being alerted by a friend of his who worked in the British Embassy in that far off land, that the Nazis would soon invade and begin clearing the nation of Jews. His goal was to organize a way to get as many Jewish children as he could out of the country. He worked out an acceptable program with the British government, organized foster homes and began extracting the children. In the months before the beginning of the war, he organized eight trains to carry the kids through Germany and onto Britain. Most the children remained in Britain, but a few were sent on to Sweden. Very few of them ever saw their parents again.

The story of Nicholas Winton remained basically unknown and untold for 50 years. Winton’s wife only found out about it when she came across some of her husband’s correspondence related to his organizational effort. Winton didn’t like talking about the work because his mind was fixed more on the children he couldn’t get out than on those he did. He had organized and scheduled one train to leave on 3 September 1939, but the war broke out on that day and the 250 who were to escape on that voyage never made it out.

Thanks to Winton’s wife, an electrifying documentary of Winton’s story was made in 2001 and it won an international Emmy award in 2002. Shortly after the release of he film, Winton was knighted by the Queen. At the time of the knighting, Tony Blair, Prime Minister, called Winton “Britain’s Schindler” in a reference to the moving story of the German businessman, Oskar Schindler.

British filmmaker, Karel Reisz, was among the children Winton saved. He was the director of the film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Prominent Canadian TV journalist, Joe Schlesinger was also one of those children who made the journey in 1939.

People of Czech background, who owe their lives to the work of Nicholas Winton, traveled from all parts of the world, including the United States, to make the journey from Prague to London. A steam locomotive from the 1930s pulled the restored passenger cars. The first leg of the journey took them to the North Sea. After a ferry crossing, a restored British steam engine pulled the cars on into London.

Who says the good always die young?

[To read a story about Winton and his heroism in the Jewish News click here]

A remarkable documentary has been made about Winton’s heroic work. It is called THE POWER OF GOOD. You can find out about it from many sources by googling it on-line.

Thanks to my buddy, Rich McConnell, for alerting me to this story.