Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bingle, Bangle, Bungle


Minnesota's Supreme Court finally speaks up!
by Charlie Leck

As I write this, the talking heads are going wild. Here in Minnesota the Franken/Coleman issue has almost reached at orgasmic level.

The State Supreme Court issued an opinion on the matter today and said that Al Franken "deserves to be seated."

Is that an order, telling the Governor of this state to issue a certificate of election that can be delivered to the secretary of the U.S. Senate? As Will Shakespeare, from up near Lake Wobegon, might say: "That, my dear Odipitus, is the question!"

Are you the legal type who would like to read the court's actual decision? If you are, here you are: You can read it here!

Minnesota Highest court refers to the decision of a panel that it appointed to review the election and decide the winner: "...Franken received 312 more legally cast votes than Coleman and that Franken was entitled to a certificate of election for the office of United States Senator."

The opinion of the court then states, quite simply: "We affirm!"

Those are the words Al Franken and his legal team were hoping for and, as far a Minnesota is concerned, settles the matter.

Therefore, the Governor should, ought to, and is obligated to issue a certificate of election; however, you should not hold your breath. Sit back, relax, have a cup of coffee each day, read the Dos Pasos trilogy and then see how the whole thing unfolds.
My phone has been ringing off the hook with those of you who want to congratulate me and claiming that it was my blog of two days ago that finally rattled the Supreme Court out of its slumber and had them at last write a decision and issue it to us. In all modesty I have to say: "Oh, come on guys!"

You can read MAYBE I'VE GOT A NEW TARGET FOR MY RAGE by clicking here!

Quiet on the Home Front


This is Rowan. He celebrated his 5th birthday with us here in Minnesota.

The Grandkids have come and gone and, now, all is quiet on the home front!
by Charlie Leck

It was a wonderful week. The grandkids were here -- all four of them -- along with their parents. Five of our six children were here for a time over the long weekend. It was very pleasant to see them all -- along with our sons-in-law, too.

Tomorrow I can get back to some serious blogging. For now, I'll just give you a little photographic look at the exhausting weekend.


Daphne, Anna, Rowan and Caroline are ready for the fireworks show!


Anna at the Maple Maze at the Maple Grove Community Center


Sweet Caroline!


Rowan and his mom tackle the candles on the Spider Man cake!


Jim Deiters stands between Jenny (left) and Erika (right) along with the four grandkids.


David, with his two children, Rowan and Daphne at Underworld World at the Mall of America



Cousin Gretchen with Lisa and Jenny at Lisa's birthdy party


Daphne right after eating a chocolate-cream cheese cupcake!

Grandma reading to Daphne -- looking at pictures actually


Daphne at the end of the day!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

MAYBE I’VE GOT A NEW TARGET FOR MY RAGE



The State Supreme Court of Minnesota is beginning to piss me off!
by Charlie Leck

I’m sitting here in Minnesota minus a U.S. Senator. Can I claim to be disenfranchised? I certainly am unrepresented or under-represented. I’m mad as hell about it and I’m not going to take this anymore!

Who’s to blame? The Secretary of State? Former Senator Norm Coleman? The miserable jerks who couldn’t figure out how to fill out an absentee ballot correctly? Al Franken, for not running a good enough campaign that would have avoided such a close race?

I gone through all those targets. They’ve each gotten a heavy dose of my rage.

I attended a bash for Franken last night. Al stood before us and gave a speech that was half comedy gig and half sincere apologies for leaving the state with only one Senator in Washington. It was an entirely unsatisfactory speech. It wasn’t funny and the apologies didn’t ring true; yet, Al walked off with the money we paid down on his legal bills.

I walked across the street to the wonderful Chambers Hotel and had a drink served up by a half-naked bar lady who sensed my burning rage. After I explained, she said it seemed more a problem with a lazy Supreme Court than anything else.

Ah, hah! Now I’m starting to get focused on a real target and, maybe, the right target for all this wrath I’m feeling. I think that bartender with the remarkable chest had it right.

What the living hell is the Minnesota Supreme Court doing anyway? Or, is it anyhow? They’re fiddling while Rome is burning.

Sure they want to be careful about the way this decision of theirs is written, but, honestly Hannah, they ought to have been able to put something together by now. It’s been nearly a month – another month that I’ve been without my full complement of U.S. Senators.

Listen, you big, pompous jerks, get off your soft butts and get a decision out here to us so we can take the next necessary steps to get this problem solved.

I know you think you’re a very important and revered body and all that rubbish. You’re not, you know! You’re just one more cog in the giant wheel of government that must function smoothly in order that the whole wheel continues to turn smoothly. Someone over there ought to be kicking butt to get this decision written and out the door to the public. Either give us a new Senator or point us in the next direction we must go to get one.

I’m not kidding about this. I’m one angry dude and now I'm turning my rage on you ladies and gentlemen?

You know, I might make a habit of stopping at the Chambers Hotel for a drink. They've got this bartender there that you just wouldn't believe.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Toby and I


Memory snubs time and colors things in vivid hues!
by Charlie Leck

My best friend back in those childhood days of the late 40s and early 50s, even though he was two years younger than I, was Toby. It was a tight friendship in those years and then lasted, though a bit less tight, through most of high school.

Memories of Toby leak back in to my life now, in these elderly years, more than 50 plus years since I saw him last. A classmate writes that she and her husband are friends with Toby and his wife and that she sees them often. He sends a greeting through her and all kinds of memories of being pals is stirred up way back there in the shadowed recesses of my mind.

I write out a draft about those days and, when I proof it, I wonder if I have written fact or fiction. In a book I wrote many years ago, I said: “My mind remembers things in great detail – the names of the Brothers Karamazov and the name of Buffalo Bill’s horse and childhood rhymes my mother sang to me – but it cannot withstand the current storm that torments it.”

When I try to remember "things" from so many years ago with precision and clarity, a mild storm kicks up in my mind and timing and fact begin to swirl a bit and muddle up somewhat.

Yet, I remember Toby as if it were yesterday. We became young pals in the post war years of the late 40s. The boys had come home from war and our parents had celebrated that return together. They gathered in the Chester House, an old and massive inn built in the early 1800s. My home was just across the street and I crawled out on to a porch roof, outside my bedroom window, and sat listening to them sing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again – Hurrah! Hurrah!”

I would have been only 5 years old then, or just short of it, but the remembrance of sitting out there on the porch roof, in the dark night, alone, is very vivid. The war colored my earliest years and the stories of war and heroism in war hung on all the moments of life for a number of years after the boys came marching home.

Toby and I began playing war games together in the fields up behind his home when I was 10 or so. Some pre-war construction had begun up there and the war had halted it. Great mounds of piled dirt remained and also some deep holes from which it had been dug. With war helmets upon our heads, canteens of water hanging from our belts and toy war rifles in hand, we made the charge up long, long hills that rose out of the jungles somewhere in the South Pacific. We had been commanded to take the hill from the Japs and hold it until relief troops came. By shear surprise we captured the hill all right, but holding it became another matter. Japanese reinforcements attacked us long before our boys were due to arrive.

We stood our ground, however, and we held them off for days and then finally heard the singing of the Marine Hymn as our own brave troops approached from down the hill and routed the enemy. The stars and stripes remained in place, where we had planted it, and our permanent control of “Chester Hill” was established.

It was only days later that we found ourselves in the poppy covered fields of France and Brussels, leading the advance toward Germany. Our assignment was to move on Berlin and to crush Hitler’s military mechanisms. We had survived the beaches of Normandy and advanced through the confused German lines into the heart of Europe. Nothing could stand in our way. In the little cemetery north of the Congregational Church we fought many a brave and victorious battle over the forces of evil and hate.

Two guys, linked so closely on the battlefields of hell, had to become good buddies. In those war years, I was clearly in command and the senior officer of the two of us. However, as the war games faded from our favor and we began to prefer the sports fields just a few blocks from our respective homes, things began to change and control passed to Toby. He was the supreme athlete. Even very early on, one could see his native, bred-in talent. On that big sports field we threw baseballs together or flung footballs to each other for hours on end. Whenever we could, we organized games of hardball or tackle.

Sometime in the early 50s, with me having only one year of remaining eligibility, one of the town’s service clubs (the Lions, I think) put together a Little League team. Toby’s dad became our coach and 3 other teams from Mendham and Brookside also joined the league.

Toby and I were as linked as heroes and leaders of this Little League adventure as we were on the mounded battle fields to the west. We took on all comers in that one year of little league and destroyed them unmercifully. There were no ten run rules back then and it was not unusual to defeat a team by 20 runs or more. We, both he and I, must have batted in the 500 or 600 percent categories. When Toby wasn’t pitching he played first base. When I wasn’t on the mound, I was over at third. How many hundreds of balls, from games and practices, I must have thrown over to him. Nothing within reach got by him. He dug balls out of the dirt and he leaped high to catch those over-energetic throws. He was a master with the glove.

I remember so well that day – I was 12 and he was 10 or, perhaps, just turned 11, when we were beaten in a regional Little League Championship game by a big city team. The game was close, but they were too much for us. Toby and I were utterly heartbroken and couldn’t look at each other for fear of seeing the grief in the other’s eyes. Back then, leagues formed all-star teams to go to these Little League World Series qualifying events. Nearly all our starting teammates were from our team in the little town of Chester – at least 7 of the 9 – and that lack of strength from the other teams in the league cost us dearly in the end.

I was about 13 when I took charge of Toby and brought him with me on a trip to Manhattan. Someone dropped us off at the Lakawanna-Erie Railroad Station in Gladstone. It was pretty exciting to be going off on an adventure like this on our own. Our ultimate goal was an electronics store in the downtown section of Manhattan where I would buy a tape recorder. What a big deal! All by ourselves! And, tape recorders were nothing like you might remember them from the last decade or so. Back then, they were massive machines with big reels of tape, perhaps 8 inches in diameter, that spun through a record-and-play devise. The train deposited us in Hoboken. I was feeling very much like a big deal because I had taken this trip a number of times with my big sister, who worked in the Woolworth Building in the downtown area. I knew exactly what I was doing. Toby was in awe when we headed for the Barclay Street Ferry and boarded it for the trip across the river. We stood outside, on the deck of the big, bulky boat, looking forward toward our destination. The massive skyscrapers – the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building – stood out in front of us. We must have both been wide-eyed and amazed. We went to the Woolworth Building first and called on my sister in her office. She introduced us to her boss and both of them made a very big deal about this trip we were taking on our own.

Dear sister bought us both lunch in the cafeteria on the main floor of the building and then she pointed us in the direction of the big electronics store. I checked to make sure the cash from my parents was safely in my pocket. It was. Of course, the trip into the city was only a minor part of the adventure. Following my purchase, we had to get this awkward device home to New Jersey and rush hour was approaching. The machine must have weighed close to 50 pounds and the two of us had to take turns carrying it and lugging it down the canyoned streets toward the Fulton Street Market and the departing ferry boats. Then, of course, we had to climb up in the train with it and it took some working together to pull the feat off.

How I remember the days playing with that stupid recording machine – talking and singing into it and laughing and giggling at everything we did. Naturally, and as you might expect, we tired of the activity quickly and the machine sat then for years unused and unadmired as faster, lighter, sleeker and less expensive products hit the market (times don’t change all that much).

I went on to high school two years before Toby and, because of my mother’s serious illness, pretty much said farewell to sports. I had too many responsibilities at home, helping my dad in his general store and caring for my mother. We had one more year of team play when I joined the high school baseball team in my senior year (my mother was extremely ill and my father insisted I had to go play). It was joyous to have one more year on a team with Toby.

High School seemed to tug the two of us apart; yet, Toby and I kept up our friendship to some degree. When he got to high school, I was nearly ready to drive. We spent a lot of time in that old Ford that brother John gave me. We dated together and went on numerous adventures.

On a dark night, when Toby and I had been roaming around in that 51’ Ford, we had a bit of a disaster that I think cost Toby dearly. He’d become a huge football star very early in high school. All the experts agreed that he had a sparkling future. The big time colleges and universities were watching him closely. He was going to set records by the bushels at good old Roxbury High School. Except, on this dark night, Toby wanted to go to a dance at the Presbyterian Church and I had to get home to tend to some chores. So, I pulled up on the side of Main Street, out there across the street from the big, white church. Toby sprang out and raced around the back of my car, heading across to the church and the dance. I put my sweet, blue Ford into gear and took off. I was already in my house when I heard the sirens racing up Main Street – an ambulance and a police car went by.

One of Toby’s legs was shattered pretty good by the car that hit him. Significant surgery was performed on him that night and eventually a steel plate was planted in his leg. The big time schools stopped following him after the accident; yet, he recovered and heroically went on to star in football at East Stroudsburg State. He set all kinds of records there and entered their sports Hall of Fame.

I went off to the Midwest and established permanence there. Toby and I drifted apart and never saw each other again after 1959. I checked on his sports career for a while and then, as these things go, I established other friends and interests that distracted me from childhood things.

Toby and I were pretty close there for a spell. I’ve had good buddies over the years and some with whom I’ve built pretty close relationships; but, I never had a buddy like Toby. We could climb important hills together and hold our ground against all kinds of odds. Together we dealt awesome defeat to Brookside and Mendham (1 and 2). We saw frightening movies together in the old Borough Hall on Saturday afternoons. We played hundreds of games of table tennis in the old church basement. He kissed a bunch of girls in the backseat of my car.

For years after I hauled my butt out of Chester and away from the east coast, I couldn’t figure out what was missing in my life. Sure, we had started drifting apart before my departure, but it made no difference. What was missing from my life, and what has been missing from it now for well over 50 years, was my buddy Toby. I survived it and, as a matter of fact, never even gave much thought to it, but it was still something special that was missing.

He’s done well. It’s good to hear he’s so successful and has such a neat family. I’m proud of him. I’ve done okay, too. Maybe, together, we could have conquered some pretty incredible worlds. There were plenty more hills to take and hold and lots of potential victories.

The images of youth, hyperbolic as they might be, are so absolutely wondrous in these latter years of life. I’ll never forget Toby. He was an important part of my life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States



When he was young and easy!*
by Charlie Leck

Let me begin by giving you the reference links for this blog:
New York Times feature article: When He was Barry!
M+B Gallery in Los Angles:
Exhibition of Lisa Mack Photos of Barry Obama
My wife just finished reading (actually listening to) The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I read it a couple of years ago. She was very impressed with it and went on about it for a long time a few evenings ago. I realized from her enthusiasm that I had already forgotten some of the significant “stuff” in the book. I think I’ll need to reread this one. I think, too, that I must reread Dreams of My Father.

It’s pretty exciting to have someone in office who is capable of literary achievement – even of stringing several words together in a coherent manner. It’s been quite a long time.

Dreams of My Father was quite a revealing book. On first blush you would never dream that the author would ever become President of the United States. I mean, this Obama character really can write – with great clarity and an easy-reading, smooth style. Sample an early paragraph from Dreams of My Father.

“I remember there was an old man living next door who seemed to share my disposition. He lived alone, a gaunt, stooped figure who wore a heavy black overcoat and a misshapen fedora on those rare occasions when he left his apartment. Once in a while I’d run into him on his way back from the store, and I would offer to carry his groceries up the long flight of stairs. He would look at me and shrug, and we would begin our ascent, stopping at each landing so that he could catch his breath. When we finally arrived at his apartment, I’d carefully set the bags down on the floor and he would offer a courtly nod of acknowledgment before shuffling inside and closing the latch. Not a single word would pass between us, and not once did he ever thank me for my efforts.

“The old man’s silence impressed me; I thought him a kindred spirit. Later, my roommate would find him crumpled up on the third-floor landing, his eyes wide open, his limbs stiff and curled up like a baby’s. A crowd gathered; a few of the women crossed themselves and the smaller children whispered with excitement. Eventually the paramedics arrived to take away the body and the police let themselves into the old man’s apartment. It was neat, almost empty – a chair, a desk, the faded portrait of a woman with heavy eyebrows and a gentle smile set atop the mantelpiece. Somebody opened the refrigerator and found close to a thousand dollars in small bills rolled up inside wads of old newspaper and carefully arranged behind mayonnaise and pickle jars.

“The loneliness of the scene affected me, and for the briefest moment I wished that I had learned the old man’s name. Then, almost immediately, I regretted my desire, along with its companion grief. I felt as if an understanding had been broken between us – as if, in that barren room, the old man was whispering an untold history, telling me things I preferred not to hear.”

Let me tell you. I feel a delicious comfort in having as President a man who can feel and express such thoughts and emotions. This is a man who cares about us – all of us – and who would gladly help us carry our groceries up the stairs if it would ease our discomfort.

Go look at the photos in the Lisa Mack exhibit as cited above. You’ll find a real, living, loving and involved human being staring into the camera lens. There appeared, even then, to be great promise in that face – in those eyes – and I enjoyed looking at this boy who was to grow into an exciting man.
*This sub-title is taken from FERN HILL, a poem by Dylan Thomas (if he will kindly excuse me). Thomas is one of my very favorite poets and this one of my all-time favorite poems.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

IMPERIALISTIC AMERICA


I never learned these things in my history classes!
by Charlie Leck

High School history classes, or college ones for that matter, never taught me the real history of the United States. Those histories were really propaganda sessions teaching me a lot of pabulum to make me feel warm and fuzzy about my country. I came away from those institutions of education with the wrong ideas. In other words, I was cheated.

If you want to read some accurate, authentic and good histories of the United States, I recommend two books:

1. Overthrow (America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq) by Stephen Kinzer(see it on Google Books)
2. A People’s History of the United States (1492 to the Present) by Howard Zinn (see it on Google Books)
It was as if someone, like that crazed character Jack Nicholson played, was afraid I couldn’t handle the truth: “Truth? You don’t want the truth! You can’t handle the truth!”

Gee whiz, Jack, the truth, in this case would have been a lot more fun and I would have understood my country a lot better. I wouldn’t have come away with this false concept that my country was so much morally better than all other countries.

To learn that we are really an imperialistic country is not so bad. I really can handle the truth. This fact, for instance, helps me understand a lot of things. I understand the Vietnam War much more clearly. Trying to understand that war from the basis of my youthful education in history was virtually impossible. The same is true with the Korean War before it. And it is certainly true now of our War in Iraq.

As a simple example, I attended a number of graduation celebration parties this early summer – college and high school. As a little tease, I liked to ask some of the assembled scholar-students how many military bases the United States has around the world. Seldom did these new graduates have any idea whatsoever; however, I was surprised by one sniveling kid at the last gathering I attended. He was a very sharp young man.

“Well,” he began with a pedantic tone, “we really don’t know, do we? That’s highly classified information. We know of several hundred; perhaps as many as 5 or 6 hundred, but there are likely very many more.”

“You learned that in school,” I asked in a somewhat surprised tone, “really?”

“No, no,” he promptly corrected me, “I read that on the Internet somewhere when I was going through a period when I thought I might enlist. I wanted to know to what possible places I might be sent. Our bases are in some exotic locations, you know.”

Well, this young man is a rarity. Most people in our nation have no idea that we have more than 750 military bases around the world. In this regard, we were weak in the great Middle East, but the massive base we’ll leave behind in Iraq when we leave will take care of that. Camp Anaconda, a 25 square kilometer base north of Baghdad, is headquarters to the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. We have also built a permanent embassy compound in Baghdad that is capable of housing several thousand people and is very heavily fortified. There are huge gymnasiums and swimming pools and facilities capable of keeping a small army trained and ready.

Chalmers Johnson wrote a very revelatory article on the HISTORY NEWS NETWORK in 2004 (The Arithmetic of America’s Military Bases Abroad: What Does It All Add Up To?). He opens that article with this interesting comment:

“As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.

"Our military deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations. To dominate the oceans and seas of the world, we are creating some thirteen naval task forces built around aircraft carriers whose names sum up our martial heritage -- Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John C. Stennis, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another.”
I hope this comment by Johnson will make you want to read the entire article.

Once you finish that piece, I hope you’ll go on to Kinzer’s book (OVERTHROW) and learn about the history of our imperialistic actions from Hawaii to Grenada and beyond. If all that stirs your innards and makes you curious about our nation’s real, unadulterated history, go on to read Zinn’s incredible book (A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES).

If you think any of what you read in these sources is fiction, think again. They are all well documented and have been proven by many researchers to be extremely accurate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

IF THERE IS TO BE A REVOLUTION IN IRAN


The only way a revolution in Iran can work is if the U.S. butts out completely!
by Charlie Leck

“Officials” in Iran have admitted voter ”errors.” It wasn’t serious, however. At least that’s what these “officials” are saying. Let’s see, in 50 different cities in the nation more votes were counted than there were voters. At the moment they are saying that only 3 million ballots are at issue. This admission will do nothing to slow down the protests in the streets of Iran’s major cities.

The faces of a revolution are lining up in Iran. The most significant face is probably that of Iran’s women. This is symbolized by this week’s sad and unfortunate killing of Ned Agha-Soltan. You can actually watch her death on You Tube if you’ve got the stomach; however, I’m not going to provide a link for you to do so. She was an innocent. She was not a protestor. She was caught in the proverbial and also real crossfire. Yet, she is now a symbol for change in Iran. Women want to be free. They want to be equal. They want to be first class.

My particular opinion, and perhaps it’s because I have four daughters, is that women in revolution are going to win. Men may back down in fear or even in sensibility. Women will not back down.

The important thing about a revolution in Iran is that the U.S. cannot be linked to it. There must be no evidence that our nation has assisted or even encouraged revolutionary forces there. If such a charge could be proved, the rebellion will fail. For this reason, I am completely sold on President Obama’s current and carefully stated policy to stand clear of the action.

We may not see clear results of this revolution in the coming months. It may even be years before we see the impact that the current rebellion will have on that nation. It is coming, however – the day of change and enlightenment and human freedom is coming to Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot stop it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

51 Years Ago


Sweet Marion and Frankie Pasqualle (always laughing)

It was 51 years ago this month that I graduated from good, old Roxbury High. Imagine!
by Charlie Leck

It is easy for us to say it; yet it so unalterably and starkly true: "How quickly the years slide by!"

Young people don't give a damn because they're living young; yet, they too will be here where I am in nothing flat. Is there a message in it? Only one and it is not a hedonistic one: "Don't fritter away opportunities to do what is right and good! Don't neglect the wholesome and worthy!"

A flood of photographs came in from my high school reunion. I thought I'd share a few with you -- none of me, but of my mates who were all so young, handsome and pretty and athletic then.


Julia and Marion: I had unbelievable crushes on both these pretty girls!

Joanie, the flashy drum majorette of our marching band.


Ronnie, our first baseman and the sweetest swinger you'd ever see!


One of many tables in the old gym for the 50 year reunion:
Sitting on the left is George, one of the captains of our football team, and his wife, Gretchen, a girl from my hometown. They are both Methodist ministers now. Keith Ralston and his wife are standing on the left and next to them is a classmate Sandy who married another classmate, Jack, standing next to her. Allan is standing on the right and his wife is in front of him.

Andrea, and Nick and Peg (who married a few years after graduation)

Lois, Jack and Val -- the girls look excited to see each other!

Monday, June 22, 2009

THE TIME OF OBAMA



This is the time for Obama to shine or not!

by Charlie Leck

There are a host of crisises arrayed in front of the President of the United States right now. And, they are real testers. North Korea is stirring up trouble. Iraq is quiet one day and volatile the next. Afghanistan has seen too many civilians getting slaughtered and the mission there seems fuzzy. The stability of Pakistan is threatened daily by terrorists who appear, seemingly, out of nowhere.

Yet, the most critical test for our new President is clearly Iran. We should watch this situation and how Obama handles it very closely.

The Republicans – even moderates – are being highly critical of the President so far. They want to hear a stronger voice. Senator John McCain has been one of the loudest critics urging the President to get tougher. Yet, Obama remains moderate and urges the Iranian leadership to be more open to protest and negotiation.

We just went through a period of drum beating, shouting and threats from the last occupant of the White House. I urge you to look at where it has gotten us – deeply mired in military interventions in too many places and spread so thin that we cannot respond to threats in other parts of the world.

This is the promised change that Obama campaigned on. This is what he pledged – that things would be handled differently.

We don’t need bellicose threats and raised, clenched fists. We need calm rationality. We need discussion. We need a pursuit of solutions. We need cooperation from other nations around the world.

World citizens are liking what they are seeing in Obama. First, there is not gun-slinger, fast draw reaction. At the moment, the McCain approach in Iran would be the worst possible thing we could do. If we shake our fists and makes demands on Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader will laugh at us and tell us where to go. He’ll challenge us to make good on our threats and try to lure us into a third front of military confrontation. Is there a sane person who thinks we can handle that? Obama is being praised all around Europe for his approach on this crisis – and on his approach with North Korea.

This quiet, voice of Ali Reza, an actor from Iran who is observing the street protests, is the same voice of hope I feel in my own soul:

“We don’t want this regime to fail. We want our votes to be counted, because we want reforms. We want kindness. We want friendship with the world.”
That is the quiet, consistent voice of our President. He knows that the movement for change in America is really an international movement. There have been years and years of loud voices and clenched fists. The President approaches these matters with open hands and an open mind. It has been so long since we have had such leadership. If we are patient, I believe the approach will work.

This is the moment of Barack Obama. This is why we voted for him.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A READING DAY



Tired and worn down, I could only sit and read today!
by Charlie Leck

Plenty has caught up with me this morning. I can’t get my engines started. They are stalled out. I just want to sit and rest up and not move, except between my very private easy chair in the living room to the bed in our bedroom.

I give in to it. Sometimes our systems need days like this. So I do nothing.

A major golf tournament is on television, but it bores me. The golf course has taken lots of rain and it has been made susceptible to the wishes of the players. It is more like they are playing darts and the event has lost its excitement.

I have only a few chapters left to read of Toni Morrison’s novel, Song of Solomon. There is just enough energy to do that and I leaf slowly through the book, wondering why all the experts call Beloved her finest work. As wonderful as that novel was, this one pleases me more and I turn each page with anticipation.

For those of you who know the book, this is Guitar speaking to Hagar, who is in a stupor that has gone on for weeks as she mopes over a lover, Milkman, who has left her.

“’You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you? And neither does he. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.’”

He stopped. She did not move or give any sign that she had heard him.“Pretty woman, he thought, Pretty little black-skinned woman. Who wanted to kill for love, die for love. The pride, the conceit of these doormat women amazed him. They were always women who had spoiled children. Whose whims had been taken seriously by adults and who grew up to be the stingiest, greediest people on earth and out of their stinginesses grew their stingy little love that ate everything in sight. They could not believe or accept the fact that they were unloved; they believed that the world itself was off balance when it appeared as though they were not loved. Why did they think they were so lovable? Why did they think their band of love was better than, or even as good as, anybody else’s? But they did. And they loved their love so much they would kill anybody who got in its way.”
Shortly following, we see the incredible scene in the funeral home where Hagar lies in her coffin and her mysterious and greater-than-life grandmother, Pilate, sings over her.

“Conversationally she spoke, identifying Hagar, selecting her away from everybody else in the world who had died. First she spoke to the ones who had the courage to look at her, shake their heads, and say, ‘Amen.’ Then she spoke to those whose nerve failed them, whose glance would climb no higher than the long black fingers at her side. Toward them especially she leaned a little, telling in three words the full story of the stumped life in the coffin behind her. ‘My baby girl.’ Words tossed like stones into a silent canyon. Suddenly, like an elephant who has just found his anger and lifts his trunk over the heads of the little men who want his teeth or his hide or his flesh or his amazing strength, Pilate trumpeted for the sky itself to hear, ‘And she was loved!’

“It startled one of the sympathetic winos in the vestibule and he dropped his bottle, spurting emerald glass and jungle-red wine everywhere.”
Somedays, perhaps, it’s good to be so tired you’re dizzy and nearly immobile. “You can’t do nothin’ – only sit and read.”

Sugargirl don’t leave me here.
Cotton balls to choke me
Sugargirl don’t leave me here
Buckra’s arms to yoke me

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pondering a Friend’s Visit to Minnesota


Photo by Cynthia Erickson, my neighbor, here on the prairie.

Appreciating Prairie Land, the Big Woods and Minnesota’s Land o’ Lakes
by Charlie Leck

I’ve had a number of people come to visit me from other parts of the nation (including family) who see Minnesota the wrong way. The southern part of the state is grand, graceful and legendary prairie land. The northern part of the state is lakes and woods. There is an awesome beauty in this land that has no great mountains or even hills. However, the prairie has contours as graceful and rolling as a beautiful woman’s body. The wonder of the lakes land can only be appreciated by traveling slowly through them and realizing that no road will lead straight anywhere because it must contend with the thousands of lakes, wetlands and thick forests that interrupt it.

We live at about the dividing line. South of us and west and northwest of us are the great prairies stretching out all across western Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. North of us is the beautiful lakes region of Minnesota with its abundance of lakes of every size – all the way to Lake Superior and the Canadian border – and a vast amount of northern forests (poplar, white birch and evergreen trees of every type).

The prairie land was very attractive to European farmers who came to settle in the United States, and they came by the thousands when the land was opened up. There it was, flat and ready to be worked. Of course, there was the small matter of the Native Americans who had a far different attitude about the land. They didn’t believe that portions of the Great Mother Earth could be owned or possessed. They thought the land was there for us all to share and appreciate,and even worship. How foolish!

Our region was holy land to the Native Americans who lived here. They called the region the Big Woods. Those who came and saw it before it was thinned, like Bradford and Maria Wakefield, the great-great grandparents of my wife, Anne, spoke of the giant hardwood trees in hushed and reverent tones. Here grew incredibly large and ancient red oaks, elms, maples, bass wood and less hard green ash, aspen and ironwood. All around the beautiful holy grounds of Lake Minnetonka, the Big Woods stood so thick that light could not permeate to the ground. It was for that reason that the spectacular and massive lake remained a great, hidden secret for so many years.

The first white men, who worked their way through the dense forest, and found themselves looking at this precious jewel, must have been overwhelmed by the raw beauty of what they saw. Yet, the Native Americans had come here to worship the great spirits for hundreds of years prior to that day of discovery. They had pledged to the Great Spirit that no blood would ever be shed on or about the splendid, sacred lake. It was a place of peace and negotiation.

“…For this was a special place, a place blessed of God. Here a man could find everything he needed for living. Here was water alive with fish. Here were his cousins, the white tailed deer and the black bear. The bison ranged to the western side of the forest. Here were raccoon, red fox, mink, beaver, weasel and the muskrat in his little teepee of swamp flowers cemented with mud, and here were the trumpeter swan and the roosts of the passenger pigeon. Here was the bald eagle, whose feathers a man wore haughtily, for he won them only by merit. In the swamps were the cranberries like drops of blood, to dry, and also to dry was the swamp potato, and all manner of roots, and barks for medicine, and in spots all around the lake was the rice a man needed for his stews and soups. Here were the trees, with their great, straight trunks for man’s dugout boats and the poles of his tipi and travois. And the sap of some of the trees, especially that of the maple, the women boiled down into the sugar that gave savor to food.

“And here, wherever a man turned his head, there was such a variant beauty that often during a day he dropped to his knees, his heart big with thanksgiving. And especially he gave thanks at one knobbed point of land on a northeast shore of the lake, and left there offerings before a polished stone that was an altar. It was easy to see that this was a place favored of God. Even the people who had lived here long before his fathers came had known that and had left monuments – hillocks of earth, upon the headlands.”[Jones, Thelma: Once Upon a Lake, p. 18]
Anne’s great-grandfather, Warren Wakefield, who arrived here in 1857, spoke in his later years about the Big Woods.

“The groves were God’s first temples and no one can doubt that the pioneer men and women who sought to establish themselves in the Big Woods… were religiously and morally impressed by the majesty and grandeur of their surroundings. They were literally dwelling with their creator in a remote garden of his estate…”
I have taken friends driving through the prairie land to the west of us and I am always startled to hear them say, “How flat it is!”

It makes no sense to me when I look out at the prairie and see the rolling hills and the sunken valleys noticeable only because of the shades of difference in the lightness or darkness of color that the sun throws upon them.Rolling – the meadows and prairies are always rolling and the wind, when it is blowing, amplifies the rolling of the land. No, granted, it is not like the jagged, rugged mountains of the great west, but it is more sensuous and graceful – like a Mozart melody.
Oh, how I have come to love the prairie and the land o’ lakes.

The prairie not only rolls, but it waves – great amber waves – and the natural wild flowers of the grasslands and wetlands are simple compared to the vast oceanside land of the California coast. The roar of the Big Sur is mighty like the majesty of Bach. The prairie is more like Beethoven – soft and gentle until the wind stirs it to extraordinary swells of tempo.

Who would ever believe that I would fall in love with the grand beauty of natural wetlands? Oh, my! What color and majesty! And what a home for wondrous wild life! The birds that rise up out of the vast wetlands are spectacular and take my breath away. The great Blue Heron looks so awkward and clumsy – that is, until it rises into the sky with a grace that even makes a prima ballerina look awkward. How many times I am startled each week by the beating wings of the rising Heron, surprising me with its strength and quickness as it flees from perceived threats.

And of the lakelands in the north, I can only say they are so remindful of what heaven must be like. What is more spectacular than groves and groves of white birch trees interspersed with clumps of cedar trees and spruce trees, hiding our view of the vast flat, sparkling lakes beyond them

Should the dark, somber man of endings approach me and inform me that I have but one voyage yet to take in life, and ask me to where it shall be, I would answer that I would like to be set down in Nisswa – to grab a hot latté and then drive along the meandering lakes and tree lines of that spectacular region of Minnesota. I would like to watch a sunset on Gull Lake and breathe lastly the cool, crisp air of October. Then, I would be able to rest peacefully for eternity.

Oh, Minnesota, I love you like the succubus that forever tantalizes me. This is my lovely home and I want no other. I need no pounding surf against the rocks – though Lake Superior gives me that – and I need no rugged mountains climbing skyward. I love the rolling, seductive land of the prairies and the shimmering lakes within the woods.

I live for the changing of the seasons here. I no longer fear the cold, chilling January days. I rejoice in them. I know of no place on Earth that I would rather be in autumn than in the chill of October – right where I am and will always remain – in glorious and splendid Minnesota.

How different we are from the eastern coastlands and the pounding surf of La Jolla and how vastly different than the overwhelming mountains of Colorado. The plains and prairies are so unfamiliar to most Americans; yet, here there is a beauty that is so sensual as to drive a man to madness or to slumbering peace.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

READ MY LIPS



Minnesota’s Governor has raised our taxes dramatically in spite of his pledge!
by Charlie Leck

It – this pledge not to raise taxes – has been an obsession with him – our Governor here in Minnesota. Nevertheless, he is about to do it and we’re all going to get hit right between the eyes.

Minnesota’s legislature passed a budget at the end of its session this year that would have required a significant hike in taxes across the board – that is, both corporate and personal and sales taxes. That’s not surprising when one takes into account “the condition our condition is in.”

However, our Governor took the pledge some time ago. He pledged NEVER to raise taxes.

So, instead, the Governor began to slash and he cut out this and he cut out that. Aid to local communities and school funding were among the items lacerated. The big cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul took it the hardest, losing nearly 4 percent of their state funds this year and nearly 7 percent next year. Local communities lost significant amounts of funds also.

So guess what they – these cities and communities – must do? To balance their budgets and pay their bills – to keep fire and police protection and basic cities services going – they must raise taxes.

Now the question becomes this: Who has raised our taxes?

At the state level there would have been creative and progressively fair ways to increase income. At the local level there are far fewer choices. Property taxes must go up!

Thanks, Gov, for keep you absolutely stupid, idiotic pledge! You’re bustin’ my chops!

Monday, June 15, 2009

HATE FROM THE RIGHT



The constant spewing of hate-talk from right wing talking heads breeds violence rather than debate.
by Charlie Leck

Here is what Shepard Smith, of FOX News, said:

“If you’re one who believes that abortion is murder, at what point do you go out and kill someone who’s performing abortions?... If you are one who believes these sorts of things about the President of the United States – [silence].”
I don’t think Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Shaun Hannity or Glen Beck understand the potential of the violence they might unleash with their hate talk.

It is one thing to report news and to make commentary about news – and that is what they will claim they are doing in reaction to those who charge they are inciting violence – however, it is quite another thing to do it with clear tones of hatred and moral judgment in your voice – in your delivery.

Remember? For weeks before Doctor George Tiller was murdered by a right-wing nut-case, Bill O’Reilly had bludgeoned the doctor unmercifully on show after show. He called him “Tiller the baby killer.” O’Reilly further compared Doctor Tiller to the Nazi doctor “Mengele.”

It is very easy to assume that the bastard of a man who entered a church and gunned down Doctor Tiller was inspired by the hate talk of O’Reilly and other spreaders of loathing and detestation.

I ask you only to quietly contemplate this: The right wing hate spewers are now raging against President Barack Obama.

Disagreement with Obama is one thing. Working against Obama is another acceptable thing. Voting him out of office is part of the American way. Inciting dangerous violence against him is damnable.

Our President is a good, compassionate, caring and completely decent man. To verbally portray him as a dangerous enemy is contemptible.

What has the President done to incite such bitterness from the right wing thinkers? He has promised change. Change has always made the staunch conservative uneasy and nervous. Change deals with the unknown. Change threatens current levels of comfort. Change is the opposite of strict conservatism.

Glen Beck hastened to describe Doctor Tiller’s murderer as an Obama hating killer and thus drew the line between abortion doctors and the President.

Have you any idea where such talk could lead some other deranged person out there who is listening to this hatred?

There is one example after another of this kind of careless and dangerously inciting talk coming out of FOX News on the web page of FOX News Boycott.com, which encourages us all to boycott the stupid, idiotic news channel.

No worry about me boycotting these low-downs because I get sick to my stomach when I hear them go on and on. How do these hate-mongers manage to sleep at night?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Reader


What must it be like to not read – to be unable to read?
by Charlie Leck

We watched the recently popular movie, The Reader, on TV a few nights ago. What a splendid and emotional film. The power and glory of reading was, of course, one of the underlying themes; however, the enormous stigma of not being able to read and the unwillingness to admit to it in our society, and what that can lead to, was another. What an extraordinary film! How simple it would have been to get caught up in the indignity of the Nazi regime and do its will without realizing how deeply into hell one was desending?

Should you watch this film, it will probably tear your heart out or, at least, put a giant lump in your throat and tears in your eyes. If not, you are unusual in regard to emotional control. Was it a great movie? I can only say it gripped me, held me and tortured me with questions I could not answer. I could not!

Reading
What an extraordinary gift to be able to read! No? And to read well is only a bonus in this life! I was challenged as a child to learn to read well. I would sometimes worry that I couldn’t read quickly and still retain a high degree of comprehension.

“Poof,” my mother would say. “Jehzee Schmallya! You needn’t read quickly. You should enjoy what you read. If you read a lovely paragraph, read it again because you want to. If you read a stunning chapter, go back and read it again because it deserves a second reading. Read for the love of it.”

My old lady believed that reading books opened more doors than any other skill. It didn’t matter to her if it was a novel, a spiritual homily, a biography or a collection of essays – even treatises about a scientific theory in biology, anthropology, psychology or physics. If it was written well, it deserved to be read. If it wasn’t written well, it should be quickly set aside.

One of my mother’s dear friends, Mae Call, was also my English teacher in high school. I wasn’t a very good student, but I believe my mother and Mae conspired together about my education. I believe they decided that, if I could be taught to read well, all other things would fall together for me. Mae would often keep me after class, or ask me to return at the end of the school day. She wanted to talk about what I was reading and what I was getting out of it. I thought it was disciplinary, but today I understand something else. She wanted to make sure I was equipped to do battle in the world – to do battle well in the world. It was part of their plan to make me a sharp and talented reader.

In college, where I struggled again as only an average student, I soared in those classes that demanded significant reading skills and I met a few professors (Doctor Cummings and Doctor Savage) who taught me even more about reading with comprehension and how to be on the alert for themes and thesis. And, again, in graduate school I met a master (Dr. Campbell) of comprehending the book – a master of taking it and its thesis and its presuppositions apart – without damaging the simple, elegant beauty of it.

Watching Hanna, in The Reader, reminded me of all these people in my lives and how much I owe them.

Do you want to empower a child for life? Do you really want to reduce the gaps in education between the poor and those blessed with plenty? Teach children to read – to read – to read – and to love reading with all their hearts. Do that, and you have given them the tool that will open any other subject they want to open. Then, you haven’t given them a fish; you have given them all they need to get along well in life.

I think again of Malcolm X and what I wrote about him here nearly two years ago. He was in prison when he learned about the power of reading. As he learned to read – to read with stunning comprehension – both his life and his world changed. He read hundreds and hundreds of books while he was confined behind bars. He made that period his college and graduate school years. He carried this skill throughout the rest of his life and was devoted, from then on, to setting up centers to teach underprivileged children to read, read, read. In prison he had found the key that unlocked the lock that held shut the heavy, thick door that led to life’s successes and all its wonders.

Should a boy or girl mature to the point where they could read well the following extraordinary paragraph by Toni Morris, from her book, The Song of Solomon, that child would be on his or her way to challenging life to its fullest.

“They talked on and on, using Milkman as the ignition that gunned their memories. The good times, the hard time, things that changed, things that stayed the same – and head and shoulders above all of it was the tall, magnificent Macon Dead, whose death, it seemed to him, was the beginning of their own dying even though they were young boys at the time. Macon Dead was the farmer they wanted to be, the clever irrigator, the peach-tree grower, the hog slaughterer, the wild-turkey roaster, the man who could plow forty in no time flat and sang like an angel while he did it. He had come out of nowhere, as ignorant as a hammer and broke as a convict, with nothing but free papers, a Bible, a pretty black-haired wife, and in one year he’d leased ten acres, the next ten more. Sixteen years later had had one of the best farms in Montour County. A farm that colored their lives like a paintbrush and spoke to them like a sermon. ‘You see?’ the farm said to them. ‘See? See what you can do? Never mind you can’t tell one letter from another, never mind you born a slave, never mind you lose your name, never mind your daddy dead, never mind nothing. Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and his back in it. Stop sniveling,’ it said. ‘Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage. We live here. On this planet, in this nation, in this country right here. Nowhere else! We got a home in the rock, don’t you see! Nobody starving in my home; nobody crying in my home, and if I got a home you got one too! Grab it. Grab this land! Take it, hold it, my brothers, make it, my brothers, shake it, squeeze it, turn it, twist it, beat it, kick it, kiss it, whip it, stomp it, dig it, plow it, seed it, reap it, rent it, buy it, sell it, own it, build it, multiply it, and pass it on – can you hear me? Pass it on!”
Never mind that the next paragraph begins: “But they shot the top of his head off and ate his fine Georgia peaches.” Even this paragraph is part of the understanding, of the miracle – of the escape.

My, oh my, but what must life be like without being able to read such things. Hanna, in The Reader, shows us the inside of the prison in which one is locked up.

Friday, June 12, 2009

HARLEM CHILDREN'S ZONE


Changing children's lives one kid at a time!
by Charlie Leck

I had the extraordinary good pleasure of listening to Geoffrey Canada on Minnesota Public Radio today. He was talking about something I've written a lot about here on this blog; that is, the education gap among minority and lower income children in America's school. Cleveland's topic was "How to close the achievement gap in America's schools."

America will never achieve its full potential as a democratic society until it figures out how to handle this problem. Canada is committed to achieving it in one section of Harlem -- student by student and teacher by teacher.

This was an extraordinary presentation and I urge you to listen to it.

You will enjoy this fine gentleman as much as I did. When he tells you his "Green Eggs and Ham Story" it will touch your heart and you will wonder how we can get other children to have such life changing moments.

This is a gift I am giving you today. An extraordinary and wonderful gift. Don't lose it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SHE'S A... A... A... (it rhymes with WITCH)



Michelle Bachman just doesn't get it!
by Charlie Leck

One of the greatest disappointments I had in the 2008 elections was that Michelle Bachman got reelected. I've spent plenty of time analyzing why that happened. She just has too, too many far right conservatives and religious nut-cases up there and they really don't stay on top of significantly important issues. They get their news from very biased and simpleton sources. We've got to get more of the informed and sensible people to the voting booth.

Lately Bachman has been taking on ACORN, an organization you will discover to be quite remarkable and important if you really look into it. Here are a couple of things you might look at if you want to know what ACORN really does and doesn't do.
Go to the ACORN web page and go to About Acorn to see how active and effective the organization is.

Here's where you can explode myths and get the truth about ACORN -- a place where Michelle Bachman has not spent any time.

Watch this Brave New Films video about ACORN.

And, here's ACORN's Minnesota web page!
Finally, here's a letter from one of Minnesota's ACORN organizers that was originally sent to Andy Driscoll, a local journalist and radio commentator on KFAI -- Truth to Tell.

Dear Andy,

I'm getting tired of Michele Bachmann's smears.

Families are losing their homes in the foreclosure crisis every day. But you wouldn't know that from listening to her.

The crisis is worse in her district than anywhere else in the state of Minnesota -- her district has more foreclosures than any other. But instead of focusing on helping families stay in their homes -- the Congresswoman continues to launch attack after attack on ACORN.

That's what we're dealing with here in Minnesota, where Bachmann would rather continue her witch-hunt campaign against ACORN -- which has been more successful at helping families keep their homes than any other organization -- than focus her energies on helping the nation get out of our foreclosure mess.

And I've had enough. ACORN is working hard to help families avoid foreclosures so they can keep their homes by pushing for widespread mandatory mediation and -- when necessary -- by peacefully blocking access to homes through Home Defenders. We at ACORN do this work day in and day out.

And what does Congresswoman Michele Bachmann do? She introduces an amendment targeted at de-funding ACORN. It's a purely political move, and it won't work. But it takes our time, our energy, and our already-sparse resources away from doing the work that is saving homes in Minnesota and all across America.

This mean-spirited campaign doesn't just hurt ACORN. It hurts families. When Bachmann picks on ACORN, she picks on me and on you, and on every family that is being helped by our efforts to combat foreclosures -- including the residents of her own district who have been hardest hit by the crisis. It's one thing for Bachmann to twiddle her thumbs when it comes to making a real difference for the people being hurt by this foreclosure crisis. But it's something else entirely to try to stop the very organization that is working hardest to protect families and their homes. It's wrong -- plain and simple.

You've stood with us in the past. Please tell your friends that you stand with ACORN -- and that their support will make us strong.

Thank you for supporting us so that we can keep doing the work that matters most -- saving homes.

Sincerely,
Akaluck Nurack
Head Organizer
Minnesota ACORN

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sam’s Blog



Sometimes the best favor I can do for you is to send you somewhere else.
by Charlie Leck

I’ve a neighbor just down the Luce Line (that’s a recreation trail that runs right through our farm and goes about 16 miles to the East and 60 or so miles to the west), who writes an occasional blog that I like to follow. His writing is sharp and so are his insights. Occasionally one of his blogs is extra-special and that’s the case with his latest post (And, he’s left handed!).

I really recommend it to you; for, Sam is pointing to the only possible way to solve the Mideast problem that the Israeli people have with the Arab States of the region. It’s not an easy path or a popular one and it would require that the people of Israel swallow real hard, but it is realistically the only way out of the constant violence.

Don’t miss the comments appended to the blog. They’re intriguing.

[read Sam’s Blog, Prairie Ponderings, about Obama’s leadership in world affairs]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

SO MANY BOOKS! SO LITTLE TIME!



Would you look at the wave of absolutely fabulous books on the market! What’s a guy to do?
by Charlie Leck

I’ve told you here before that there’s too little time to deal with all the books that ought to be read. The books that have just recently hit the market, or are hitting it in the coming weeks, really amplify my points.

Gabriel García Márquez: A Life
by Gerald Martin
Oh, heavens! This one will go on the old reading pile. Along with Richard Russo and Mark Helprin, Gabriel García Márquez is my favorite contemporary writer. Too bad I must read him in translation; yet the great author himself has had to read most of his favorite English and American authors in the language of his own tongue. I’m going to turn very soon to Márquez’s autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale. It would make sense to follow that autobiography with this biography that sounds acceptably good in the NY Times review of it by Paul Berman. [Read the NY Times review of the Gerald Martin biography or read any of many of the NY Times reviews of the books by Gabriel García Márquez.]

Márquez is in his 80s now and he still writes for several hours a day. It’s because writing is what he is – if a verb may be a noun – and write he must. He may well be too somber for the conventional reader. I like him because, like Russo, he tells a remarkable story and, like Helprin, he constructs spectacular sentences (even in translation).

My Father’s Tears and Other Stories
by John Updike
Talk about a love for writing and an obsession to write, write, write! We’re also talking about John Updike and this sounds like it’s all there is folks. The end of the line and the last of the great man’s writing. Are these stories any good? Don’t know! I’ll just need to read through them to find out. [Read the NY Times review here.]

Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler
by Anne Nelson
I can’t wait to tell my friend, Freddy, about this one. He loves this kind of stuff; however, it will probably be a while before it comes out in audio form. Fred likes to do his reading that lazy way. That’s the way my wife reads books, too. Maybe they’re on to something rather than being on something, because they go through three times the amount of books I can consume. So, maybe I can get this read before the audio version hits the market and I can tell him whether or not it will be worth his time.

Anne Nelson, the author of Red Orchestra is a journalism professor at Columbia. She’s also a playwright. Nelson is familiar with military dictatorships. She encountered and lived under them in South America. In Red Orchestra she tells the true story of a small band of dissidents who stood against the rising Nazi regime in the 30s. They distributed literature trying to warm German citizens and foreign nations what was coming their way. They were an eclectic group that came from many social and cultural levels – Christian Protestants and Jews, theatrical bohemians and Social Democrats and Catholics. They were linked by a common fear and hatred of Hitler.

It was an awful – an atrocious – time in Germany and the holocaust was terrible; yet, but for this little group of brave souls it might have been worse. Who knows?

Gang of Four: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945
by Andrew Roberts
This is my kind of reading – a biographical account of four of the most important men of modern history (Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, George Marshall and Alan Brooke). And Andrew Roberts is a good man to tell the story. He’s a British historian and a prolific writer – and he’s damned good at both. World War II history interests me deeply and the British-American alliance has always fascinated me.

So, how’s that for a summer reading list? If you tackle any of these, let me know what you think.

Monday, June 8, 2009

BING


Bing is here and it ain't all bad!
by Charlie Leck

Stanley Bing has a blog. It's called The Bing Blog.

In the last couple of days Microsoft unveiled Bing, it's powerful and glitteringly new search engine. Now you'll have to decide if you want to google something or bing it. And, believe it or not, you may be in somewhat of a dilemna.

I've had Bing up on my Internet Engine for a few days now and I've alternated between it and Google when I've done searches. Bing is every bit as good as Google and maybe a little cleaner and more pleasant. Perhaps it's because it is early in Bing's life, but there isn't so much clutter with ads and plain old garbage.

Bing seems to sense what I'm looking for and if there are unusual options it points that out, and then asks me questions to direct me further. Google is solidly tucked into the minds and hearts of almost all of us and there is going to be an enormous loyalty factor involved in making any change, but I urge you to bing instead of googling a few of your searches in the next few days, just to see how you like it.

If you use Windows Internet Explorer, go up to your search window in the very top bar and click on the little down arrow next to the magnifying glass. Then click on "find more providers" and, when you get to the list, choose Bing and then click that you want to make it one of your search engines. I made it my default search engine because I have the Google Tool Bar installed and that search option is always there.

Then go back and forth in your searches and see what you think.

Microsoft is spending an absoute fortune on advertising and promoting the roll out of this search engine. They have a huge banner today on the New York Times web site. Everywhere I turn on the web I'm seeing invitations to Bing it instead of Googling it.

Now back to poor old Stanley Bing. He's chuckling about the confusion this presents for him and is enjoying the increase in readership. For instance, I never would have come upon his blog in a million years, but, I'll tell you, it has some interesting stuff. However, it's not interesting enough to me to bookmark it, but plenty of people will. Congratulations, Stanley, because you're in the big time now.

There is also a graphic design firm out there called Bing Limited. They're far too worried about the confusing branding identity between Microsoft Bing and their little firm. "Oh, my goodness," they worry, "people will think we're copycats when we were really here first!" Suck it up, boys, and enjoy the ride. You're in for a lot of traffic and maybe some surprising business. Think big (or maybe think "bing") and make this work for your little company.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

EATING FRESH & LOCAL IN MINNESOTA


Two Pony Farm has been at the Midtown Farmers Market selling tomato plants.

The wonderful season of fresh vegetables and fruit is about to burst upon Minnesota!
by Charlie Leck


My wife’s great-great grandfather, Bradford Wakefield, arrived in Minnesota in 1856. They journeyed here from Ohio in a covered wagon pulled by a pair of oxen (via Mower County, Minnesota, where they spent one very difficult winter). He brought with him his wife, Maria, and a half-dozen children. Bradford’s good friends, John and William Harrington, had arrived here a couple years earlier and had already set up their settlement farm on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in an area that is now just a tad southwest of the village of Wayzata.

Bradford and Maria purchased land, which had been set aside for the local public school system, and was just northwest of the village in an area that is now partly occupied by Wayzata Country Club. The land extended west and north and included a large part of the south and east shores of Long Lake (including Billy’s Lighthouse Restaurant and the old Union Cemetery). There, along Old Long Lake Road, Bradford built a 16x16 foot settlement cabin and the big family moved in.

One of the boys in that family, Warren Wakefield (my wife’s great-grandfather), would later write of their first winter in Wayzata.

“We were a happy family that winter on the Bowman Hill, where we had plenty of palatable corn bread, fresh fish and venison and cranberry sauce, after eighteen months of wandering and trial we were mighty glad to be at home.”
Now, granted, that early Wakefield clan ate local and they ate relatively fresh here in Minnesota. There were not jumbo jets that could haul thousands of bushels of fruit and coffee up from South America. And there were not giant semi-trailers bringing vegetables galore from California. The family pretty much ate what they grew – potatoes, corn, green vegetables, eggs, maple syrup and maple sugar – or what they could buy from neighbors – apples, milk, wheat flour and some occasional meat. Otherwise they fished in the surrounding lakes and hunted for venison and other tasty animals.

The vegetable cellar was an important part of any of those settlement homes. There the produce of summer and autumn would be stored to carry the family through the harsh winters. With luck, there would be a few apples, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables still left when spring began to slide into the state. Warren penned an interesting story about a Sioux tribal leader, named Cut Nose, and the family vegetable cellar (it was a thrill for me to read the account in Warren’s original hand and on the original paper upon which he scratched it out).

“One spring we had a cellar full of vegetables that we could not use, so father invited all the squaws who lived near us to come and get some. They came and took them away. In the cellar also was keg [sic] and a two gallon jug of maple vinegar. Cut Nose, one of the finest specimens of manhood I have ever seen, tall, straight and with agreeable features in spite of the small piece gone from the edge of one nostril, was their chief, and came the next day with a large bottle, asking to have it filled with whiskey. Father said he had none, but Cut Nose said he knew there was a jug and keg of it in the cellar. Father told him to go and take it if he found any. He sampled first the jug and then the keg with a most disgusted expression and upon coming upstairs threw the bottle on the bed and stalked out. This maple vinegar was made from maple sugar and none could be better.”
In addition to this fresh, local food, Maria would make taffy for the children from her maple sugar and the kids also discovered they could make a chewing gum from the inner bark of certain elm trees. The gum was eventually named Slippery Elm.

Peter Gideon, one of the earliest white settlers in Minnesota accomplished what he had been told would be virtually impossible here; that is, he developed several species of fine eating apples – including the Wealthy and the Duchess – and he became very famous in these parts.

When Anne’s great-grandmother, Abby, arrived in Minnesota in 1868 as a 17 year old kid, she spent, by arrangement, “two happy weeks” in the home of the Gideon family. Here is how Abby, later in her life, remembers her arrival with her sister, Frances.

“A funny little steamboat – I think it was called the Governor Ramsey – awaited the train. It carried passengers to Excelsior. They were helped on board and soon the boat was chugging merrily over the water. At Excelsior they transferred to a rowboat which awaited them and were rowed around the shore into what was then called Gideon’s Bay to the home of Peter Gideon, the originator of the Wealthy, Duchess and other Minnesota apples. It was believed by many at that time that apples could not be grown in Minnesota, but Peter Gideon knew better and planted the seeds of the hardiest apples he could find and faithfully cared for the seedling trees until they came into bearing, retaining those worthy of preservation and discarding those bearing inferior fruit. To his work we owe much, though for many years most people thought he was wasting his time."
Today, Minnesota also boasts the wonderful Harrelson apple and the Minnesota Honey Crisp, as well as the Fireside and the Minnesota Delicious. The Keepsake is a late freshening apple that is pretty easy to keep through the winter.Well, now, here in Minnesota, we have about 5 months ahead of eating fresh and local. As I write this, on the first weekend in June, the local farmers markets are showing fresh asparagus, cauliflower, rhubarb and some sprouts, green lettuce and mushrooms. That’s about it. Late in June the raspberries will make an appearance. In July we’ll start to see beans, beats, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, eggplant, squash and blueberries. Late in July we’ll see strawberries, garlic and fennel.

It’s not until August that we can get really fresh and local in Minnesota and, oh, what a glorious month it is. I truly don’t believe sweet corn on the cob is any better anywhere in America than our own Minnesota corn. And, of course, we’ll also see tomatoes in August and I’ll stop on many days during the week at the wonderful Two Pony Farm in Medina to pick up some of Lisa Ringer’s fabulous heirloom tomatoes. I’m in heaven in August because the markets are flush with so many wonderful, fresh foods. My camera goes crazy taking photographs of all the spectacular varieties of potatoes, onions, peppers, melons, zucchini, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, and dozens of herbs.


A platter of heirloom tomatoes from Two Pony Farm

Minnesota Grown program, which touts itself as “Minnesota’s Buy Local Headquarters.” If eating fresh and local as much as you can interests you, you might like to visit the organization’s web site.