Monday, May 31, 2010

Flanders Field

Memorial Day has become so much more than Decoration Day!
by Charlie Leck

We stopped by a couple of cemeteries yesterday and paid our respects. We were very impressed with the decorations left at so many of the graves by families, or perhaps dear friends, who had come to remember and placed there beautifully arranged flowers and flags.

There are a number of ideas about where and when Memorial Day really began; that is, where its historical roots are. Women of the South, it is said, were decorating the graves of soldiers who lost their lives in the war between the states immediately after the end of that conflict. On the early text of a hymn, called Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping (by Nella L. Sweet) there is a dedication “To the ladies of the South, who are decorating the graves of the confederate dead.” [Library of Congress citation]

Though the holiday was originally meant to be a day to remember especially the lives and sacrifices of those who served in the various branches of our U.S. Military, for Anne and me it’s become a day to remember family gone to their eternal rests. So, because Anne’s family roots are in this geographic region, we stopped by to nod a greeting to her extraordinary father (Lyman). His brother, our dear Uncle Sam, was also put to rest there and we gave thought to him as well -- and also to their father and mother, Anne’s grandparents. Lyman and Sam both served heroically in World War II.

From there we drove to the Union Cemetery, which had been a part of Anne’s great-great-grandfather’s settlement farm and was set aside during the Civil War as a place to bury boys of the village whose bodies were returned from the battles in the South and East. Anne’s great-great and great-grandparents on her father’s side are there, as well as uncles, aunts and distant cousins. A marker there also memorializes a great-great uncle who died in Tennessee during the Civil War and was buried down there. The gravesites sit on a hill that looks out over Long Lake and it is a peaceful and lovely spot. Nature has decorated it so well. The flowers, flags and ribbons left behind are only minor touches of decoration dabbed on a splendid natural canvas.

Union Cemetery, on land sold by Anne’s great-great-grandfather to the City of Long Lake for two dollars in 1862, is a special place where the breezes seems to play a threnody for the dead. The setting makes me think of Flanders Fields.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
I always think of my father on this day, too. He served in the U.S. Cavalry in the Great War. He never much liked to talk about it. To him it was something horrible and ultimately too sad. And, as I looked out over the lake on this peaceful, beautiful day, I paid respects, too, to my mother and my blessed, wonderful sister.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Did he really say that?
by Charlie Leck

President Obama’s statement about the new, safe technology in oil drilling, about which I blogged yesterday, was followed up in rapid-fire fashion by the great minds within America’s news media. I document some of them here for you. If you sense (or smell) a bit of big oil company publicity management in all of this, I think you’re on to something. If you don’t, I think you’re on something!

Steven Hayward put it best
“To fear oil spills from offshore rigs today is analogous to fearing air travel now because of prop plane crashes.”
Weekly Standard, 26 April 2010

Here’s David Gergen
You know, there are a lot of serious people looking at, "Are there ways that we can do drilling and we can do nuclear that are--that are nowhere near as risky as what they were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago?" Offshore drilling today is a lot more safer [sic], in many ways, environmentally, today than it was 20 years ago.” CNN's Situation Room, 31 March 2010

And, for your reading pleasure, here’s Monica Crowley
“Since the big spill off the coast of California about three decades ago, the big oil companies have really put a lot of time, money and resources into making sure that their drilling is a lot more safe and environmentally sound.” Fox Business Happy Hour
, 31 March 2010

Even Sean Hannity said it
Drilling could be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner. We already drill in an environmentally sensitive manner.” Fox News, 1 April 2010

And Dick Morris said it on the O’Reilly Factor
“We had a hurricane on the Gulf Coast and there was no oil spill. If Katrina didn't cause an oil spill with all those oil wells in the Gulf....” Fox News'
O'Reilly Factor, 31 March 2010

Charlie Krauthammer said it, too
And even in terms of the environment, we're going to consume oil one way or the other. It's safer for the planet if it's done under our strict controls and high technology in America as opposed to Nigeria.... We've got a ton of drilling happening every day today in the Gulf of Mexico in a hurricane area and it's successful.”
--Charles Krauthammer, WJLA's Inside Washington, 4 April 2010

And so did Brian Williams
Some Americans have an opinion of offshore drilling that was first formed decades ago with those pictures of oil on the beaches in Santa Barbara, California. Others see it differently. They say time and technology have changed things. They say in order to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and keep gas prices low, we've got to bring more of it out of the ground and from under the sea.NBC Nightly News, 31 March 2010

Eric Smith wrote it in the Washington Post
“The technology of oil drilling has made huge advances.... The time has come for my fellow environmentalists to reassess their stand on offshore oil. It is not clear that the risks of offshore oil drilling still outweigh the benefits. The risk of oil spills in the United States is quite low.
Washington Post, 2 April 2010

And even the sage, old USA Today nailed it for us
“Some of the most ironic objections come from those who say offshore exploration will destroy beaches and coastlines, citing the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska as an example. The last serious spill from a drilling accident in U.S. waters was in 1969, off Santa Barbara, California.
USA Today editorial on 2 April 2010 [read it for yourself]

Last night I sat watching the news and looking at the damage done to poor Louisiana and I wanted to scream: “Enough already! Give the state a break!” What devastation to such an important ecological area in North America. The damage to human lives, wild lives and dear old Mother Earth is too much.

Many thanks to Andy Driscoll and the Driscroll Group, the source of this blog!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Nuclear Plants Now Safe

Like off-shore oil drilling rigs, nuclear power plants are now safe!
by Charlie Leck

Call me a conservative, if you’d like, but I don’t like the idea of going ahead with more nuclear power generating plants!

Don’t ask me why I’m afraid! I just am! You see, I have these words of President Obama ringing in my ears: I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore" [2 April 2010]

Do you want to see his statement, exactly as he said it? It’s in the video below.

Now, of course, as our nation’s largest oil spill washes ashore in Louisiana, we’re getting assurances about how safe nuclear power plants have become. Well, let me ask you a question. Do you want one a mile down the road from where you live? How about 5 miles?

If your answer to the above questions is “no,” then don’t go promoting one that might be built 5 miles from where I live or from where anyone else lives. It’s call NIMBY, baby! NOT IN MY BACKYARD!

Don’t go promoting nuclear power plants to be built along any of America’s wonderful rivers, or near any of America’s wonderful parks and forest preserves.

Conservation is the answer. That’s what conservatives are all about. It is from conserve that the word conservatism comes. So, let’s all just agree to conserve, and get along!

I say: “No more drilling!”

And don’t forget it was Sarah Palin who began chirping, “Drill, baby, drill!”

And, when dumb-ass Big Bird starts promoting nuclear power plants, put a clamp on his friggin’ beak, will you!

Friday, May 28, 2010


I looked at the little woman, riding in the elevator with me, and I realized she represented current America – bitter, confused and lied-to!
by Charlie Leck

It was, I hoped, my last visit to the eye specialists. My eyes were repaired. They seemed to be working as well as I had hoped. My new sets of eye-glasses were either on my head or packed in the little cases I was carrying in my hand. Because I couldn’t locate the staircase, I took the elevator down to the main floor of the building. I was glad to be leaving the joint behind me. It was fun to see bright colors and sharp edges again, but I’d had enough of the place and they had too much of my money. As I moved into the cabinet of the elevator, I was giving thanks for Medicare and our good supplemental insurance plan from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Four or five people accompanied me on the very quick trip down to the main floor, including a little lady of about my own age. She seemed jittery and nervous. Like many people, I thought, she didn’t like elevators. Something made her blurt out her news to the group of fellow passengers, apparently all strangers to each other.

“I had this cataract surgery early, you know,” she said to us all, as if we cared. “I didn’t really need it yet, but I wanted to get it before Obamacare goes into effect.”

No one reacted to her. I saw a couple of medical types (they were wearing those cheesy uniforms that surgeons and their assistants don at work) glance quickly at each other.

“Well,” the lady spoke up again, “they’re going to filter seniors out, you know.”

Silence. The elevator jerked to a stop and the doors slid open with that humming, sissing sound they make. We all allowed the little, angry woman to go first. She took a sharp right and headed for the exit door and the parking lot. The others dispersed into the building. I followed the lady out the doors, into the bright sunshine. I stopped at the curb behind her, this confused and bitter lady.

“What do you mean,” I asked quite loudly into the back of her head, “about Obama filtering us out?”

She turned quickly to see who her interrogator was and recognized a fellow senior.

“He’s filtering us out, you know!” She spoke as if she was concerned for me and how I was going to pay for my future health care.

“That’s not true,” I said to her, rather boldly and in a confident, matter-of-fact way.

I think she recognized me as a liberal, agitator type. I thought I saw a flash of fear in her face, sensing she was sorry she’d brought the whole thing up. She turned away and stepped down from the curb, heading for her automobile.

“I read it in several places,” she said quite loudly, putting a hard exclamation point on the sentence, as if she’d given me careful sourcing for her comments.

“But I’ve read the entire bill,” I called out to her as she grew smaller and further removed. “There’s nothing like that in the bill. Seniors will be better off than ever.”

She hadn’t heard me, of course, because she didn’t want to. She’d read something about what Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or some other crazy dickhead had said and that was enough for her. Never mind what the legislation said. You couldn’t trust that.

Seniors were going to get filtered out. There was no arguing that with her. The loud, slamming of her car door said it all to me.

“You’d better get ready to be filtered out!”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride

The Catholic Church has an image problem and this case doesn’t help!
a recommendation by Charlie Leck

The recent column of Nicholas Kristof about Sister Margaret McBride is quite amazing. The Nun just got excommunicated by the Catholic Church for saving a mother’s life. Amazing!

Be sure to read Kristof’s column about the incident.

I’ll be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Craving Too Late in Life? That's a Question!

Why now, in this sunset portion of my life, has the intense desire to learn so overwhelmed me?
by Charlie Leck

I’m talking to myself in this blog; but the problem is that I'm not answering me, so you get mainly questions and, between them, long pauses marked by riveting silence.

I’m rushing toward my 70th year. The years pass swiftly and there is nothing one can do to slow them, even as much as one would like. Time’s haste gets incrementally faster with each fleeting year. All now seems so ephemeral.

Why do I now feel so compelled to read so much, and to learn so many things that I should have absorbed years and years ago?

Why am I only now reading the Frederick Douglass autobiographic work? Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave should have been required reading in high school, or certainly in college. It wasn’t! I read it today and fell captive to it. It answered a few questions, but raised so many more. It’s simple reading. High school kids could easily handle it and it would mean so much – especially to African-Americans. No black kid in America should fail to read Frederick Douglass.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” [Frederick Douglass]

“The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! That very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.” [Frederick Douglass]

I hope black kids are being taught about Frederick Douglass.

Why have I read so little Faulkner? I build a sizeable stack of his works and put them on a small table near my desk, to remind me.

A mule will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once. [William Faulkner]

I’ve rushed lately through all the short stories of Eudora Welty. What a powerful writer! Such mysteries bound in spectacular sentences. Her characters come to life and you feel you are close to them, near enough to reach out to them. Why did it take me so long to find her? Perhaps I would not have appreciated her in my youth.

Greater than scene is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all of these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame.” [Eudora Welty]

Why does a rather new and complex friend of mine not like the work of the essayist, Patricia Hampl? (“I wouldn’t care what Hampl ever said!") Is it important? Have I time to understand. I pull one of Hampl’s works from the shelf and read a chapter. How can you not appreciate her? I should read her again.

“She managed to generate several microseasons in that garden out of the single rushed one Minnesota makes of spring and summer. Each of her seasons had its crop of flowers that gave way to another, different breed and then to another – from tulips to lilies to asters and petunias, through roses and more roses (which always required a scissors for cutting, though in general hands were the instrument in that garden) until only things as sturdy as the mums and the dry red flames of the salvia were left in the shadowy corners by the shed. Finally even those were cut back or taken indoors, and she was back again on her knees burying the bulbs that would start it all over again next year.” [Patricia Hampl]

I’m tempted to pull a Jane Smiley (13 Ways of Looking at the Novel). She determined to read 101 novels in the period of three years. She made a list and began. She did it without rushing. It's about one novel every 10 or 11 days. A few times she couldn’t handle a particular book. She scratched it and added another to her list. I could make a list of 100 books I should have read. It might be a good exercise.

“If to live is to progress, if you are lucky, from foolishness to wisdom, then to write novels is to broadcast the various stages of your foolishness. This was true of me. I took up each of my novels with unwavering commitment. I did not begin them by thinking I had a good subject for a novel. I began them by thinking that I had discovered important truths about the world that required communication…. But at the end of each novel, I would more or less throw down that lens along with that subject. My curiosity was always about how the world worked, what the patterns were, and what they meant. I was secular to the core, and I investigated moral issues with the dedication only someone who is literally and entirely agnostic would do – my philosophical stance was one of not knowing any answers and not believing that there were any answers.” [Jane Smiley]

Get hold of yourself! Don’t be so frantic! You’ve learned what you’re going to learn! Just enjoy now whatever comes along. See a bunch of great movies you should have seen. Read some books you should have read. Play some golf courses you should have played. Take better care of your body! Exercise! Eat better! Surprise everyone by living another 10 years.

“Float like a butterfly! Sting like a bee!” [Mohammed Ali]

I’ve got a game plan for all these things. Fate, give me but the time!

Monday, May 24, 2010

America Going Backwards

As we listen to John Stossel and Rand Paul, does our nation seem in reverse?
by Charlie Leck

Do these guys have no appreciation for the Woolworth sit-ins? Do they not understand the gentle defiance that took place and the victory won?

Here’s a friendly historical reminder of just the surface of the event. Woolworth, all over the south, in times before 1964, operated what we called, back in those days, Five and Dime Stores. Negroes (using the terminology of the time) were allowed to shop in those stores all they wanted. They could wander the aisles and spend their money on hair barrettes, birthday cards, brooms and dustpans; however, they could not go to the popular dining counters to have a mid-morning doughnut, a BLT for lunch or an afternoon coffee break. They could order items from the famous Woolworth lunch counters, but they couldn’t sit there; they could order take-away food only.

Today, Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, and news commentator (FOX), John Stossel, think that is just and the law banning it never should have been passed. Stossel is calling for its repeal.

Are we going crazy in America? Or, are we just blind to the truths about justice and injustice? Are we willing to defend a constitution with violence, hatred and guns without really understanding it?

"It’s time now to repeal that part of the law,” Stoessel said, “because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won’t ever go to a place that’s racist and I will tell everybody else not to and I’ll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist."

Again, to review history ever so lightly, looking back, the following paragraph from an article written by William D. Snider appeared in the Greensboro (NC) News and Record in May, 1983. Snider, a white man, had been the editor of the antecedents of that newspaper during those Woolworth sit-ins of 1960 in Greensboro.

“It was a matter of trying to do what was possible. In the long run the gallantry of those who sat in and the scope of the injustices touched the consciences of the kings. But the falloff in business, the indications that aroused petitioners simply wouldn’t go away, changed minds too. The doors were thrown open. Soon everyone wondered how they had remained closed so long. Especially the children and grandchildren: “Grand-daddy, do you mean black people couldn’t go in a restaurant and get a cup of coffee?” [Read the entire article by Snider!]

The world is spinning backwards – and that ain’t good!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pawlenty Did Not Govern! He Ruled!

Tim Pawlenty was not a good Governor, but he proved to be a remarkable Ruler, constantly grabbing for power and, when attained, using it ruthlessly. Elmer Anderson and Arne Carlson were my idea of good governors.
by Charlie Leck

It seems to me, the question should always be this: What is good for Minnesota and all Minnesotans?

That’s what should drive a good Governor. With that as a test, a Governor becomes less and less a politician, seeking party approval, but a worthy Governor, seeking what is best for the entire state and its entire population.

The best recent example of the latter kind of Governor (and I offer it up reluctantly because there are so many things about him I did not like) was Republican Arne Carlson. He was a hard-nosed negotiator and a political animal for sure, but he went far beyond this in understanding what had to be done for the sake of the entire state. He was the best Governor I ever witnessed at bringing the legislators of both parties in for both whippings and gentle conversation. Arne seemed, to the casual observer, to shoot from the hip, but I can guaranty, as someone who worked for him for a while, that he never did that. He always thought things through, tested his ideas on people he knew could think well, and then refined his ideas based on that examination. He very often abandoned the politically safe approaches in favor of the best approach for the entire state.

Pawlenty, I believe, was the opposite of the Arne Carlson model. Pawlenty is the consummate politician, driven by political goals and aspirations. His “no new taxes” pledge is one of the most harmful political actions ever to happen to Minnesota. At a time when “some” new taxes were vitally important and could have solved some immense problems, Pawlenty forced legislators down paths that weakened our state and made it less efficient in order to keep an unwise political promise.

Tim Pawlenty ruled with an iron fist. Arne Carlson, in times like these, would have governed. He would never have sacrificed his core and deeply held moderate-conservative positions, but he would have driven parties together instead of apart. Carlson knew that the essence of good politics is compromise, in the finest sense and definition of the word. Compromise could be for the good of the state and not a desperate act of surrender.

When I rate the quality of Minnesota Governors in my life time, it is odd that I come up with two Republicans who reside at the top of the list. My pals in the Democratic Party may wince, but that’s just the way it is – Arne Carlson and Elmer Andeson. They were both Governors who did not attempt to rule. They governed.

Andersen held office from 1961, through all of ’62 and until March 20, 1963. It’s interesting that his father’s name was Arne. Andersen was defeated in his attempt at a second term of office. It takes some separation in time to understand a person’s worthiness and success. Anderson’s contributions as both Governor and after he left office were worthy and valuable for our state. Nowadays, he is both fondly remembered and highly esteemed. He died in November, 2004.

I first met Arne Carlson when he came to my office on the Southside of Minneapolis in 1967, seeking help in his run for Mayor of Minneapolis. I gave him the courtesy of a long and respectful conversation, even though I had already made up my mind to vote for and support his opponent. It is a remarkable testimony to his character that he never held that against me and, over the years, we grew to be quite close friends. He even put me to work for awhile, when I needed work the most.

Freak occurrences and circumstances of political history, quite accidently and coincidently, led him to the Governor’s office. How lucky we were. He was tough. He was sometimes mean. Yet, he knew when to stand-down and when to fight. He was a master of bringing sides together. We need such leadership again. Carlson, who lives these days in Forest Lake, is always prepared to offer his opinion on issues of government and politics. I always enjoy listening to him. He always seems to be a man among boys. Minnesota needs someone like him again – right now!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Slavery in America – Soul by Soul

By the 1820s, and certainly by the early 30s, the American South had become a full-blown slave society. The domestic and legal trading of slaves became one of the economic engines of southern industry. It’s quite a story.
by Charlie Leck

Foreign slave trade in the United States of America was ended by law in 1808. Domestic slave trade continued to boom. Domestic slave trading continued and the slaves owned in the northern part of the south were encouraged in many way to continue to breed and repopulate the slave culture. The land in the great slave centers in Virginia, Kentucky and the Carolinas, where tobacco had been the king of agricultural endeavor, was beginning to play-out; however, cotton was becoming the new product of choice, with a world-wide demand, in the new and expanding south – into Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Slaves were needed for the quickly developing cotton product and they were shipped there in great numbers.

There were more than 100 slave traders in Charleston (SC) in the 1820s, 30s and 40s. Charleston and Richmond (VA) were the centers of trade in the South, gathering slaves to be shipped further south and southwest. These traders were constantly advertising in southern newspapers: “Negroes wanted!” Many of the ads appended specifics, like: “With good front teeth and sound bodies!”

Hector Davis was one of those big-time slave dealers. In his biggest week, in 1859, his books show he made a $120,000 profit. (What is that in today's dollars?)

From the 1820s, into the early 1860s, a slave child had a 30 percent chance of being sold away from his parents before his 10th birthday.

I’m currently reading a remarkable book by Walter Johnson: Soul by Soul (Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market), published in 1998 by Harvard University Press. It’s an extraordinary book that few will read. I’m pleased that I was somehow led to it.

The story centers itself around a slave market in New Orleans, which, Johnson says, “was throughout the antebellum period unsurpassed in one respect. Not far from the levee was North America’s largest slave market.”

The remarkable, historical story that Johnson tells is an account of separation – the separation of slave families. Husband and wives were separated by slave trades. Fathers were taken from children. Children were taken from mothers and siblings.

“…a world in which hundreds of thousands of slave sales, many of them breaking marriages, most of them dividing families, all of them destroying communities, underwrote the history of the antebellum South.

“The history of the slave trade is as much the story of those left behind as it is the story of those carried away. It is the story of separated lovers and broken families, of widows, widowers, and orphans left in the wake of the trade, only, perhaps, to be sold themselves at some later date.”

The one sense of meaning that the slave in the original south had was one of family and community. It might have been a slave community, but in it there was something of stability and identity. There were lovers, husbands and wives, children, uncles, aunts and community friends and playmates. When the huge slave markets were opened in the 1820s to meet the demand for slaves in the deeper South, most of those families and communities were broken asunder. Slaves became commodities. They were graded, rated and sold; and then they were moved off in chains – coffles – to be sold in places far away from their families and communities.

So many haunting songs came out of the slave communities of the American South. They speak more than of history. Often they speak of the agony of the soul.

No more children stole from me
No more, no more
No more children stole from me
Many thousand gone

No more slavery chains for me
No more, no more
No more slavery chains for me
Many thousand gone

I recommend Soul by Soul, by Walter Johnson, to you -- especially if you enjoy reading Civil War or Antebellum History.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill

Obama’s announcement that he would allow some off-shore drilling to commence again, caused some shock wave among many Americans; but little did we know that such an environmental disaster, as the one we are now fighting in the gulf, would take place within days of the President’s decision.
by Charlie Leck

Yearning for something to read whilst, alone, I ate a salad for lunch today, I picked up my wife’s most recent issue of Christian Science Magazine. I’ve so often wondered why she bothers to subscribe to it, but never have I really looked it over. Wow! I found it jammed-packed with interesting articles written, unlike the NY Times Magazine, in a crisp and easy to read manner. It’s perfect lunch time reading.

That first paragraph is irrelevant to where I’m going.

Over lunch, I read about the remaining affects of the Alaskan oil spill (Exxon Valdez) that took place more than two decades ago. Significant pockets of oil still remain along a 1200 mile stretch of the Alaskan coast.

"Two decades after the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground and ripped open its cargo tanks, the spill still marks Alaska's environment. Pockets of fresh crude are buried in beaches scattered around Prince William Sound and segments outside it, in isolated spots along more the 1200 miles of coastline that received oil in 1989." [Yereth Rosen, Christian Science Monitor Magazine, Vol. 102, Issue 25]

No one can really measure the damage that was caused by that oil spill. There’s plenty of evidence that many Killer Whales were destroyed by the spill, but no one really knows how many. Alaska’s rocky and rugged coast line is very dissimilar to that of a place like Louisiana. In some ways, that saved Alaska much of the agony that is going to be felt by people and wild life on the northern coast of the gulf. Louisiana’s coastline is flat, low and defenseless and the oil mercilessly keeps advancing toward it. The oil moves toward one of America’s most important and most beautiful wild-life refuge areas. As well, seventy-five percent of the shrimp consumed in America comes from that gulf fishing area.

The amount of oil being released into the sea down there in the gulf may make the Prince William, Alaskan spill seem like child’s play. 11 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea just off Alaska. Already, 8 million gallons have gushed into the gulf and plenty more is expected before a complete fix is in place.

The damage that will be done to the Louisiana coast will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Naturally, oil company lobbyists are trying to get Congress to pass a bill that will limit their liability. Other oil companies, linked with BP in a group insurance arrangement, will help pay some of the costs of this spill. No matter, it will be easy for the oil companies to make up for their loses – it’s called a hike in gasoline prices. Both individual Americans and our economy better get prepared for such hikes. They’re coming soon to a gas station near you.

I hope President Obama rethinks the idea of allowing an expansion of off-shore drilling for oil companies. All this is more evidence that makes it clear we must push and push and push toward alternative energy sources that will reduce our dependence on oil.

There was a marvelous cartoon in my lunch-time edition of the Christian Science Monitor Magazine. It showed some residents along a coastline looking out to sea at a number of wind turbines that had been damaged by a storm. “The wind-spill will reach the shoreline any time now,” one of the observers is saying.


Obama as the Anti-Christ

I’m just left shaking my head!
by Charlie Leck

Here’s a very interesting and somewhat disturbing article I read on MinnPost last evening. I think, as an American, you ought to read it and think about it. This is how the way the article opens…

A study has found that subtle (and often unconscious) negative racial attitudes toward African-Americans may have made white voters more susceptible to criticisms of Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign — and may continue to prejudice their evaluation of his presidency today.

"In fact, such negative racial attitudes may even explain the popularity of one of the most ridiculous claims about President Obama — that he is the Anti-Christ.”
click here to read the entire MinnPost article]

If you’ve got the time and fortitude you might also want to read the actual study out of the University of Colorado. Here’s where you can purchase a copy of the study! You’ll need to pay approximately $32 to download it. I’m not willing to do that because I expect we’ll see more and more thorough analysis of the study in the next several days.

Here’s the Abstract that introduces the study:

This study investigated the impact of subtle racial priming on the persuasive impact of criticisms of Barack Obama in the month prior to the 2008 presidential election. To prime Black or White race, participants wrote a paragraph about a student with a typical Black or White name. They then read editorials that accused Obama of being unpatriotic or being the Anti-Christ, or that listed his positions on major issues. Participants responded to both criticisms with diminished preferences for and more negative beliefs about Obama, but only when African-American race was primed. Interestingly, the Anti-Christ criticism increased preferences and positive beliefs about Obama in the absence of racial priming, suggesting this criticism may have lacked credibility under neutral conditions.

I’ll be watching the major papers and blogs about information contained in this study and will pass on anything I learn to you, my readers.

This is not a laughing matter with many people. There are real believers out there and they keep spreading the word within fundamentalist Christian circles that President Obama is the antichrist. Here’s a statement on a web site called Countdown to Armageddon – see if it doesn’t sound sculpted to fit….

“The Antichrist – also described in the Bible as the ‘son of perdition’ and the ‘beast!’ Like Hitler, who was one of history’s antichrist archetypes, he will have great charisma and speaking ability, ‘a mouth speaking great things.’ The antichrist will rise to power on a wave of world euphoria, as he temporarily saves the world from its desperate economic, military and political problems with a brilliant 7 year plan for world peace, economic stability and religious freedom.”

Wow! That’s crazy stuff and it is designed intentionally and exactly to fit President Obama. It's a crazy world we live in.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Primary Day

The eyes of all politicos are on 3 states today, to see what the trends are!
by Charlie Leck

Clues will come from Today’s voting in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. We’ll get a glimpse of the impact President Obama’s first year and a half has had on the electorate; but progressives should not panic over these clues. I think we’ll gain markers that will point us in the direction we need to go to get the best results out of November’s election.

I see a trend toward a division in the conservative vote. It’s very evident up here in Minnesota. A lot of people who don’t identify with political parties are turned off by all the hateful fighting among politicians. Many of these people also cannot identify with the Tea Party. I think our state, in November, will elect an independent candidate for governor who doesn’t connect with either of the traditional parties or the Tea Party.

The same kind of thing is happening in Wisconsin. It’s time to start watching trends in other states as well.

Kentucky will provide some clues about the real vote getting power of the Tea Party movement. Good results there for the tea people could send a shiver of fear through politicians and political organizers all across the nation. One caveat to remember about Kentucky, however, is that the Tea Party guy, Rand Paul, son of Texan, Ron Paul, has had both his father’s name and plenty of money to work with; so a victory for him may be an anomaly and may not really tell us much about future elections.

There are also some odd and restrictive primary election regulations at work in Kentucky that may not allow us to see the full strength of the Tea Party. In order to vote in the primaries there, one had to be registered with his/her party by last December 31st. So, Paul will not be able to pull as many independent voters to his side as might like to vote for him; nor will either candidate get many dissatisfied Democrats out to vote.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What to do on a beautiful Sunday Afternoon

I opted for the TV and my big comfortable chair, with frequent trips to the kitchen to check on dinner!
by Charlie Leck

You've got to start with this: The day before yesterday (Saturday) I pulled a miserable lower lat muscle while I was trying to play golf. It happened on the very first swing of the day. Of course, I did no stretching before I took that first whack at the ball. Because I was in a foursome that was competing in a friendly little event, and because I had a guest with me at my golf club, who I wanted to have a really good time, I played the round anyway. It was a tough day and I, naturally, played very poorly and in pretty significant pain. The other three guys in my group played so well without me that we still tied for first place.

So, then, on an absolutely elegant and sunny Sunday morning, I made some decisions about resting the back and trying to get it better. The ice and then heat treatments of the night before had helped, but I didn't want to do anything foolish to again injure the thing. The Twins and Yankees were on TV and that would make for a good afternoon.

In the morning, I took a batch of lamb, which I'd had marinading for a day, out of the refrigerator and began the process of cooking it all up. It was a complicated recipe that called for three hours of braising in a low oven, so I got started well before the game and used a variety of different cuts as a kind of lab test of which parts of the lamb would do best in this process.

It took me about two hours to pull everything together and I finally started the braising process just as the ball game was beginning. Perfect timing. The braising would end about with the conclusion of the ball game and then I'd devote myself to the other hour or so the recipe called for finishing things up with a crisping process.

In the end, the dinner was supposed to be a magnificent sight and just perfect for a photograph. And as I watched the game, the aromas from the kitchen began wafting their way through the entire house. It was rather magical and tantalizing. What a perfectly wonderful smell.

It was a great ballgame that the Twins won in a very dramatic fashion. That left me happy and my back was feeling great.

The game over, I took the big braising pot from the oven and checked my lamb, prepared to do the crisping routine that would finish it off. The intent was to take the small pieces of lamb, still on the bone, and put them in a very hot oil to quickly crisp them up for finger eating; however, the braising had been so thorough that the meat was all separated from the bone. What to do? Just serve it the way it was or go ahead and crisp up just the meat. A fantastic sauce, very new to me, was heating up on one of the burners and I began crisping pieces of meat on another. It didn't work! The meat just sort of broke completely apart and dissipated into nothingness. I stopped that approach immediately and decided to just go with what I had.

My wife came up from the farm, tired and hungry, just as I was spooning the sauce over a pile of lamb that really could not be identified by cut or variety. I sprinkled some chopped, fresh mint over the entire concoction and then added some chopped cilantro and basil as well.

You know, it turned out to be a spectacular dinner. The sauce, which was loaded with fresh herbs, butter, Harissa and lime juice, saved the day. It penetrated all those boneless, broken up bits of meat and flavored them perfectly. I served it all with a platter of raw, fresh, chopped vegetables in an Asian sauce, along with some nice, fresh slices of avocado.

It was a meal big enough for six, but the two of us sat together and munched away with enthusiasm. It wasn't pretty, believe me (see photo in the header), but it was terribly, terribly tasty. Sometimes you win even when you lose.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taxes101, Taxes201, Taxes301

As a politician, John James sucks; but he is a creative thinker who wants to mend Minnesota’s sticky financial chaos.
by Charlie Leck

It’s not an enjoyable thing to do on a Sunday morning, but I invite fellow Minnesotans to take a serious, non-political look at the economic situation in Minnesota and at our state’s fiscal footing.
It is a fact that our state’s legislators and our Governor are at loggerheads about how to balance our coming fiscal year’s budget (a constitutional requirement).

Charging in with help is John James, riding on a questionable looking gray mare with aging legs, a dusty, mousy looking coat and a bowed back-line. “Hi O’ Smokey, away!”

I know John James. He is a very good, good man. He is also bright and he loves his home state. He is a student of taxes and has plenty he could teach any of us about the subject. His problem is that he just can’t get very many people to take him seriously, but that’s not for a lack of trying.

John’s problem is that he is one of the most non-political characters you’ll ever meet. That probably makes him attractive to you, as it does to me and a wide-ranging and kaleidoscopic number of his friends. However, this doesn’t get him far in trying to influence a large body of legislators or a Governor who can’t place him anywhere on the political spectrum because he actually doesn’t fit into any of their little slots of definition, power or influence.

So he takes his case to the general public; but he comes riding in on the same dull and mottled horse that looks no more attractive to us than it did to the politicians.

Nevertheless, if you want to take a serious and intellectual course on taxes and state finances, John James has now created a web site that offers his very bright and creative views. He calls it Sensible Tax & Fiscal Systems (STAF). John will take you as deeply into this subject matter and possible solutions to our state revenue problems as you want to go. And, if this is a subject for you, you won’t go away sorry you delved into it. Begin with John’s basic explanation of Minnesota’s Tax & Fiscal Systems and their current, sorry condition– what John calls “the big picture.”

There are plenty of places on John’s web site to go mulling around. You can eventually, if you have the stamina, end up at his three proposals to solve the problem (or perhaps it is one proposal in three different gulps): John James Light, John James Medium, or John James Jumbo or Bold.

If you have any influence with Minnesota’s political leadership, beg them to take the course and give John James some thought.

As John says on his web site, “Republicans and Democrats, stop fighting! Let’s get something done for Minnesota!”

I can support John’s claim that his proposals are not left, right, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat or even Independent. They are for serious thinkers who want to get this problem, which is bound to get worse if it isn’t seriously attacked, solved.
“Minnesota’s state-local fiscal system is no longer sensible in multiple respects, which is hardly surprising in light of the state’s seemingly endless fiscal crisis.”
I’ve given John James some time because I know and respect him. He’s not seeking personal gain or profit. He’s genuinely concerned and looking for serious state leaders who are willing to look at some new and creative ways of attacking the problem.

John is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Harvard Law School. He served as the Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue from 1987 to 1991. He is currently a practicing attorney and he serves on a number of boards for non-profit organizations.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lamb Riblets

lamb riblets from one of San Francisco's highly regarded
neighborhood restaurant, Nopa

One of the least expensive cuts from the lamb, is a cut we can't sell because we haven't been able to tell people how to cook them. That's all changed!
by Charlie Leck

Riblets ain't easy to cook! That's as emphatically as I can say it. I've struggled with recipes, trying to learn how to do them. I shared my struggle with a friend the other night and he went looking around on the internet and found a recipe that he thought would work. It was at the CHOW web site, which I've often visited. The Nopa, a very highly regarded neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco serves them as a bar snack and they're among the most popular in the restaurant. Here's Nopa's recipe.

Well, my wife has been begging me to find a way to prepare these riblets -- she sells them for only 2 bucks a pound and still can't move them because she can't tell people how to cook them. That's history! She can now give them this recipe and can guaranty folks that it works.

I was alone for dinner tonight. My wife was having dinner out with one of the daughters and then heading for Orchestra Hall and an evening of symphony music. So, I gave them a try. Good? I'm afraid there were none left to let her sample when she got home. Spectacular!

If you're reading this somewhere out of range of my wife's domain, you'll have to ask your butcher to special cut these and he may charge you for it. Don't pay much, however, because this is a part of the lamb that is normally wasted. We charge $2 per lb for these little ribs. Then, give the recipe a try. It's really quite easy to do them and there are plenty of things you can substitute for seasonings and herbs you don't have around. You'll be amazed at how wonderful the little munchies are.

I've discovered that CHOW is a wonderful place to go to find clever and creative recipes for cooking lamb. If you haven't tried it, do.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Poetry Kind of Morning

Understanding Poetry
by Charlie Leck

I never really understood poetry – at least most poems – until I gave up trying to understand it. Or, put better,…

I never really understood poetry –
at least most poems –
until I gave up trying

I remember once reading a poem, which I am certain was by Billy Collins, a past poet laureate of the United States, that described a poem, tied to a chair, tortured by some villains seeking to find out from the poor thing what it really meant.

These days I enjoy poetry more. I simply read along with it, slowly and calmly, waiting patiently for gentle and beautiful breezes to blow across my understanding, leaving me stunned by a sentence or a phrase.

“We’re all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,..”
[Tony Hoagland]*

I don’t remember the rest of Hoagland’s poem, but that line has stuck in my mind for a decade or so. Nice! True!

There is something about reading a poem
That changes everything in its moment

That opens something that ambles along inside me
Challenging slopes too steep and ledges too dangerous

That leads me down through the peril
To the mesmerizing, peaceful meadowlands below

There are some days, like this dim, grayish and damp one, when I feel the compelling urge to go to the shelves where the books of poetry are set aside. I pull out familiar volumes and leaf through them. I search for lines that unruffled me on other occasions.

After Hearing Robert Bly Read a line
From a Poem by James Wright

Emotions skitter down my back
My brain melts into tears;
My God! This verse I cannot wade,
There is no bottom here.
[Arthur Mampel**]

That nails it pretty well – I mean, that feeling I get when I encounter something said so extremely well and beautifully in a poem or in prose that may as well be poetry. I simply yield to it rather than try to understand it.

A fellow found my blog quite by accidental circumstance recently. He wrote that "One has to stop and check out a site which contains a Milton quote at the top of the page."

Many years ago, as a young and foolish man, I wanted to be a writer of prose who occasionally dabbled in poetry. It is quite as silly as a boy dreaming about being a Yankee slugger some day. Such high ground is reserved for the few. One day, back then, I discovered Yvengy Yevtushenko, the Russian poet, and wondered how beautifully he must have sounded in his own, Russian language. Some of his poems were compellingly simple to understand, such as the one below. Others required an understanding of some Russian history and some appreciation for the Russian language. So, I went through his volume of work, satisfied to understand what I could understand and to enjoy that and not worry about the other. I'll leave you with this simple Yevtushenko poem.

We are sitting at an airport
in Copenhagen drinking a lot of coffee.
It was most elegant there, and comfortable,
and refined to the point of lassitude.
Then suddenly he appeared- that old man-
in a plain green parka with a hood,
his face deep tanned by salt and wind-
loomed up rather than appeared.
He walked, furrowing through a crowd of tourists,
as if he’d just been sailing a boat,
and like the sea foam his beard,
whitening it, fringed his face.
With grim victorious determination
he walked, generating a big wave,
that swept through the modernized antique,
through every sort of antiqued modernity.
And pulling open the coarse collar of his shirt,
he, rejecting a vermouth and a pernod,
ordered a glass of Russian vodka at the bar
and pushed back the tonic with his hand: 'No! '
With rough-hewn hands, all scarred and dented,
in boots that made a mighty clatter,
in trousers indescribably stained and greasy,
he looked more spruce
than anything nearby.
The earth seemed to bend beneath him-
so heavily did he tread upon it.
And one of us said to me with a smile:
'Just look! The very spit of Hemingway! '
Expressed in each brief gesture, he strode off
with a fisherman’s ponderous gait,
all out of granite crudely hewn,
strode as men stride through gunfire,
through the ages,
He strode as if stooping in a trench;
strode shoving chairs and men aside...
He resembled
Hemingway so much!
Later I learned
it was, indeed, Hemingway!
Yvengy Yevtushenko
Translated by George Reave

*from Donkey Gospel, Tony Hoagland, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1998
Silk Over Wood, Arthur Mampel, International Theological & Philosophical Library Press, London, 1981

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Open Culture

Do you have favorite web sites? Here's some tips on using the web wisely!
by Charlie Leck

A lite moment before we begin...
If you've taken my advice and gone to Open Culture on the wonderful, world-wide web, then you've already seen this terrific video about encouraging more people to take the stairs rather than the escalator. Man, I loved it.

If you don't see the You Tube graphic above, you can get to it by clicking here!

I rose early this morning, after getting home late last night from the Twin-White Sox baseball game, and found myself going to Open Culture before I turned to my email. That's something!

When I did turn to my email, I found a couple of responses to my blog of yesterday, from people who don't agree with me. They claim that the Internet is actually creating a whole new generate of imbeciles or malaperts. (Naturally, I had to go check on the definition of a malapert -- and found it was the word of the day for yesterday. Someone is trying to fooooool me!) To those people, who don't think the Internet is going to help us educate our kids, I replied by sending them to this lecture by Don Tapscott, the Author of Grown Up Digital. It's a lecture I found a few days ago on Open Culture. It was cataloged on an impressive site that accumulates "smart (free) videos," called Big Ideas.

Open Culture can send you to hundreds of other productive, educational and cultural (free) videos.

It has gotten so spending time in front of your computer can be much more valuable than time in front of a TV (the operational word here is, of course, "can" or, more truthfully, "might" be).

If you want the Internet to be a productive tool for you and your work and interests, you have to build up a page full of those links you will regularly check out. I keep such a page for my wife and me that pops up every time we tune our computers into the Internet. Sure it includes some fun web sites and practical places -- like the Minnesota Twins Homepage, Snopes.Com (to fact check flagrant emails and rumors), the United States Postal Service, Google Maps, and Weather.Com -- and our banker's home page and those of the companies we regularly buy from and consult about professional matters -- but the concentration is on those places on the Internet where we can spend educational and culturally enlightening time. I'm talking about web sites like the following links that I've collected over the last few years...

You, naturally, should build your own list and put them right there on your desktop where you can get at them easily and, through habit, use them regularly. With tools like this at hand, you will suddenly discover that the Internet is the most potent utility in your home.

Well, I've got to go now because it's time for my Yale University course on the history of the civil war and the reconstruction... (by the way, for that course, I am reading E. L. Doctorow's book, The March... you might remember that Doctorow wrote the spectacular book, Ragtime, and this one, though non-fiction, reads just as well... it's a very, very good account of Sherman's march to the sea during the Civil War).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sometimes I Tremble

The Incredible Internet that I’ve Known!
by Charlie Leck

“Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” That's part of the lyrics of an old, old African-American spiritual that I loved to hear as a child. I remember how I shook when Mrs. Beiser stood there in the choir loft of our old First Congregational Church and sang it so sincerely, as Miss Howell played the old, pipe organ for her. I think at least half the congregation trembled with me. Remembering that moment this afternoon, I clanked into my Internet search engine the words: “Tremble, tremble, tremble!” And up came a page with video and audio that allowed a pianist to play the old, old tune and a choir to moan out the words of the spiritual to me.

The thought I had as I typed out those words was not about religion, faith or the death of Jesus, however. I was thinking more about the Internet and how it sometimes so amazes me that I can actually feel myself trembling from the awesomeness of what I find when I go there.

Here’s my thesis for today: The Internet has given freedom to the world and its peoples in such a way that no one preceding the Internet ever experienced such freedom or ever dreamed they would!

Look! Here’s a specific example.

I am, at this time in my life, taking a course at Yale University – well, not exactly at Yale University, but certainly from Yale University. Now if you think that I ever dreamed twenty years ago that this would be possible for me, you are smoking something illegal. But, yes, I am really doing it.

And, it isn’t costing me a dime.

I’m taking History 119: The Civil War and Reconstruction. It’s taught by Professor David Blight. I’ve got the printed syllabus and I’ve order the books that are required reading. I just finished listening to and watching the first lecture, “Why Does the Civil War Era Have a Hold on American Historical Studies?

There are 27 lectures in this course, each lasting about 50 minutes. After the series of lectures, there will be a final examination.

After listening to the first lecture today, I am as jacked up as I can be. Think of it! Damn it, just think of it. I learn from the best! I can listen to the same lecturer those lucky kids at Yale get to listen to. I can take my own notes and I can read along with them as they work through their syllabus.

If this doesn’t make you tremble, you are some young person who takes too many things for granted. I wish my extraordinary old history professor from college was still alive, so I could call him and tell him about this.

“Doctor Savage, you wouldn’t believe what I did today and how excited and happy it made me!”

No, certainly, Harry Savage, in his time, would never have believed such a thing could ever happen.

Here’s how it happened!
I was playing around on my new iPhone today, downloading a few iApps. This is all “in” lingo that some of you old folks out there might not get. Anyway, I happened on an app called Open Culture and began reading about it. It immediately seemed to me that this idea might work better on a computer than on an iPhone, so I went to That was the start of something big. On this web site you can download free audio books and podcasts, take free courses from universities all across America, take foreign language lessons and take business, science and law classes --- and just dozens and dozens of other wonderful things that boggle an old man’s mind.

There’s more to do on than even a young man could take advantage of in a life time.

I’m telling you – and I ain’t just a’ kiddin’ – that the whole world of studies and learning is open to us today and the wonder of it just makes me tremble, tremble, tremble.

If you want to see my class sessions at Yale (History 119) you can see the list here and watch any of them you’d like to.

If you want to see the Syllabus for the class, just click here.