Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ludlow Manor

As you read this, I'm visiting the old Olmsted home in Ludlow, Pennsylvania.
by Charlie Leck

Anne's grandfather built Olmsted Manor after his astonishing success in the business world. He and his wife, Chubby, lived here together before there was wealth and decided they wanted this to always be home. So, though it dwarfs the village, George W ordered it built. Grandpappy also had an astonishing place on Park Avenue in Manhattan, but Ludlow was always considered home.

Mr. Olmsted's grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren are gathering here now for a family reunion.

For now, I'll allow this picture tour of Olmsted Manor to speak for me!


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Friday, July 30, 2010

Nattering Nabobs of Negativity

Go to Lynne Chapman's blog, An Illustrator's Life for Me!

Know anyone like this?
a laugh from Charlie Leck

I'm traveling right now and isolated. There's no computer at hand, so I thought I'd share a laugh with you. You have my promise that a blog like this one will only be posted very infrequently.

A friend sent along this little vignette. This hairdresser reminds me of people I know and you surely know some folks like this, too. Thanks, Richard McConnell, for the good laugh.

This is something to think about when negative people are doing their best to rain on your parade. So remember this story the next time someone who knows nothing and cares less tries to make your life miserable.

A woman was at her hairdresser's getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her husband.. She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded:

"Rome ? Why would anyone want to go there? It's crowded and dirty... You're crazy to go to Rome . So, how are you getting there?"

"We're taking Continental," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"

"Continental?" exclaimed the hairdresser. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they're always late. So, where are you staying in Rome?"

"We'll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome's Tiber River called Teste."

"Don't go any further. I know that place. Everybody thinks it’s gonna be something special and exclusive, but it's really a dump."

"We're going to go to see the Vatican and maybe get to see the Pope."

"That's rich," laughed the hairdresser. You and a million other people trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You're going to need it."

A month later, the woman again came in for a hairdo. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome.

"It was wonderful," explained the woman, "not only were we on time in one of Continental's brand new planes, but it was overbooked, and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot.

And the hotel was great! They'd just finished a $5 million remodeling job, and now it's a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us their owner's suite at no extra charge!"

"Well," muttered the hairdresser, "that's all well and good, but I know you didn't get to see the Pope."

"Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder, and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me.

Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me."

"Oh, really! What'd he say?"

He said: "Who fucked up your hair?"


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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Current Events You Must Know About

If you’ve not heard about these items, you must jump on them now!
by Charlie Leck

All the News that Fits!
our farm’s web site, on the news page, there is a heading: “All the news that fits!” It seemed cute when I posted it. The news fascinates me. I begin almost every day with newspapers. Some of them are in print and some on-line. I’m not happy about a day without newspapers.

Here are some items from the last few days that I found fascinating and that you should know about and that you may want to read about if you haven’t been following them:

Al Franken crossed the line in the U.S. Senate. Thank goodness!
Our U.S. Senator, Al Franken, is receiving a lot of criticism for crossing the line in some comments he made about Senate colleagues. MinnPost, in a column by David Mindeman, said thank goodness he did and invited him to cross the line more often.

Al Franken recently said: "... But I do think that this whole approach of slowing everything down, in many ways I think it's so that, they don't want a jobs bill because they don't want people to get jobs before the election. It's a harsh thing to say, and I don't want to impugn the motives of my colleagues, but I don't get what they're doing otherwise."

Tony Sutton, Minnesota’s GOP Chairman, responded to Al Franken’s remark: “Al Franken's outrageous remarks are beneath a United States senator and we would encourage him to apologize for his baseless suggestion.”

Of course, you decide. As for me, I think Franken nailed it solidly.

Don’t the leaks about our Afghanistan policy remind you of something? That is, if you’re old enough! Just think back to Vietnam and the furor that such leaks caused then. It’s hard to beat a fully informed population. And, the truth is sometimes difficult to handle. Nevertheless, the truth sets us free and helps us make the right decision as voters. Yes, it sometimes helps the enemy, too, and that is the awesome counterbalance that must always be considered. Yet, I’ll just say this: We’ll survive the
Wikileaks, just like we survived the revelation of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War.

Tough – perhaps dirty – ads about Tom Emmer
Alliance for a Better Minnesota will begin running some tough, and perhaps dirty, ads about Tom Emmer. I find them tough, indeed, but not dirty. They tell the truth. This Tom Emmer is a skuzzy guy and his background and character need to be brought out. Minnesota voters need to know about his serious character flaws. You watch the ad they’ll be running and decide for yourself.

France declares War
You may have missed this one unless you’re a careful reader of newspapers.
Il est très important! Make sure you read about France declaring war on Al Qaeda. Here's the story as the Christian Science Monitor reported it.

My personal apology!
Finally, accept my apology for the blog being rather infrequent in the last two weeks. There’s been plenty going on in my life that has prevented me from writing regularly. Things are starting to calm down and will be back to normal next week. I’ll be traveling this weekend and will try to post blogs from the road.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revisiting Rochester (Minnesota)

I got a taste of the Mayo Clinic atmosphere this week and didn’t mind it at all!
by Charlie Leck

“Today, the Mayo Clinic complex is composed of 47 buildings (including the main clinic and two hospitals) and serves more than 240,000 patients each year. The staff of 18,000 employees includes 2,000 physicians and medical researchers.”

This is some town!
As a young business man, I came here to call on clients and customers quite frequently. For old time’s sake I had to stop in at Michael’s Restaurant right in downtown, on Broadway. This place has always been regarded as the best dining joint in town and one of the great steak houses in the nation. Until recently they always had a 32 ounce t-bone on the menu. I carried my note pad with me and started jotting this blog post as I sat at the bar talking about Rochester and the Mayo Clinic to a couple of fine locals who sat there with me.

With some time to kill before visiting the clinic, I also stopped in at Hanny’s Men’s Wear on First Avenue, just a block from my hotel. I “shot the bull” with the store manager and reminisced about the old days when I worked in a Hanny’s store in South Dakota. The Rochester store was owned by Harold and Marvin Hannenberger back in the days when I visited Rochester often. I had worked as a sales clerk for their brother, Duane, who owned three stores in South Dakota (Yankton, Vermillion and Mitchell). Tom Brokaw was a sales clerk at that time also and so was Bill Whistler, a football legend out of the University of South Dakota and, then, a tight-end in the Canadian Football League. There was always great competition between the three of us to be the leading sales producer each week. The Hanny’s brand has hung there in Rochester for over 60 years and is still partially owned by the family. They sell to a lot of the patients who visit the clinic. They come in to shop during their in-between or waiting times – just as I did on this warm summer day.

But this town is mostly, and nearly entirely, known for its medical treatment facilities and for the medical research done here. One gets an odd feeling, wandering around town, seeing so many shops selling things like wigs and prosthetic devices. There are so many breast replacement gimmicks and gadgets for women. Will the day ever come when we can put those shops out of business?

Thousands visit this place every day and that makes for a gold mine for the hotel and restaurant industry here. I stayed in a Marriott Hotel (my preferred hotel choice when I travel) and this one wasn't up to the usual Marriott standards at all. I had never stayed in a Marriott so poorly run.

Yet, it is the clinic – the world famous Mayo Clinic – that dominates everything here.

On my way back from making a required deposit in the Urology Department, I wandered by a meditation chapel that made me curious. I stepped up to its glass doors and they swooshed open for me. I was pleased to see it was a very secular place, beautifully done and peacefully quiet. It was decorated mostly in stained-glass that bore no symbolism. There was only one message in the place and it was done in bronze on the wall facing the entrance doors.

“We must not forget that happiness is a state of mind, not necessarily of body, and that life is what each person believes it to be. The sick man needs faith, faith in his physician, but there comes a time when faith in a higher power may be necessary to sustain his morale.” [Doctor William J. Mayo]

I’m sitting down at a table in a crowded cafeteria, with my note pad in front of me – waiting again. The next appointment is nearly an hour away. Around me, at table after table, are primarily older people, with a young person, looking out of place, mixed in only here and there and very occasionally. Most of these elderly are friendly enough, but they’ve frightened looks in their eyes – that deer in the headlights look. Wives are accompanying husbands, or husbands wives, seeking answers, solutions, game-plans. Each of the folk was, like I, once young and vigorous, limber, impatient and filled with dreams of the future. Now they lean closer, across the table, toward their mates, so they can hear what’s being said to them.

Nearly every person here has been sent by a doctor who has thrown up his own hands and admitted someone with more expertise ought to be consulted.

A fellow at the next table has come a long distance, from nearly halfway across the nation. He and his wife drove because they hate to fly these days. He shudders and says he won't fly again.

“It used to be fun. Now it’s a disaster. Too crowded! Too slow! Too unfriendly. So I just drive and enjoy the countryside. I take my time and take different routes each time I come up here – three or four times a year. Cancer, you know. I see a specialist. Hematology! A woman, don’t you know! It’s a good place. They've kept me alive.”

It’s a story, I’m betting, being uttered in one way or another all across the big dining room.

I must go now. A doctor awaits me and I have a long walk through corridors and subway halls, and a ride on a rising elevator, to get to his office.

I’ll tell you more about the Mayo Clinic in coming days. It is an institution that makes Minnesotans proud. I remember coming down here once, with my wife, to visit with Dinwoody, a dear, old friend up from Kentucky. That will be part of a future story.


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Targeting Target

Target Corp gave Tom Emmer $150,000 and it really irks me!
by Charlie Leck

Let’s put it this way – bluntly! We spend a lot of money at Target. I won’t go into numbers, but it’s a lot. We buy all the grandkids significant gift cards there for their birthdays and special occasions. When we receive a notice that a family member – even a tangential one – is going to graduate, we send a Target gift card. We do an awful lot of our Christmas shopping there and also purchase many gift cards for stockings and special gifts. In addition, we shop there for our own needs on a very frequent basis. Just two weeks ago, I purchased a flat screen television there.

Here’s notice to Mr. Steinhafel, the CEO of Target Corp. You, sir, are now on probation. Know, by this notice, that we are now boycotting you and your stores and will find other outlets to supply our gift cards and general shopping needs.

Your large gift to the campaign of Tom Emmer, Republican candidate for governor is just too sickening for me to handle. It sticks in my craw. Urggh, I can’t get it out!

This Emmer character is not a good man, Mr. Steinhafel. He’s a neighbor out here. We know him. We know how he’s stiffed other neighbors and not paid his bills and gotten around it with legal mumbo-jumbo. This Emmer guy stands out on the fringe of political thinking in this state. He comes nowhere near the center of American or Minnesota politics.

The news is telling us that many of your employees are really angry about this political donation. That may be true, but you really had better think twice or thrice about your shoppers and their feelings. We, here in Minnesota, have friends all over the nation and we have, as you are well aware, means of communicating with them quickly and in large, large numbers.

For instance, Mr. Steinhafel, this blog will be read by thousands of people around the nation and many of them – most of them – nearly all of them – will be sympathetic to my rant about your absurd political contribution to the campaign of an idiot for governor. I am prepared to ask all of them to boycott your stores if you don’t withdraw that contribution and ask to have it returned.

Some of that is my money!
Remember, sir, a percentage of that contribution is my money and I’m damned mad about it. A percentage of that contribution is the money of my friends and they’re steaming about it, too.


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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Family Reunion

The Olmsted clan will gather at Ludlow Manor!
by Charlie Leck

It’s a lovely spot, this Ludlow, Pennsylvania. It’s about 35 miles north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in western Pennsylvania. It’s right on the eastern fringes of the Allegheny National Forest. The home my wife’s grandfather, Robert Olmsted, built there is nothing but fabulous.

Many years ago, the family gave the beautiful manor house and the property to the Methodist Church as a retreat center. It’s well used, but they do reserve time for the family to gather there on occasion. The last time we did this was in 1984. Now, we’ll do it again.

We do this in order to remember my wife’s maternal family. Her grandfather was a power in industry in the late 19th and early 20th century. It enabled him to build an extraordinary home in an unlikely spot in Pennsylvania. A few photos will explain the luxury in which they lived.

Times have changed!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Art of Teaching

Rich McConnell, class of 1958, Roxbury High School, Succasunna, NJ

Nothing – that is, no position – in America is more important than that of the teacher!
by Charlie Leck

A few weeks ago, in response to my blog about Great Teachers, one of my high school classmates and best friends in those days, sent me some thoughts about teachers and teaching. I found them both thoughtful and amusing and have waited for a good day to share them with you. This is that day. These remarks come to you from Richard J. McConnell (South Carolina).

1. During Senior Week at Rutgers, all the soon-to-be graduates were invited to a luncheon at the Rutgers’ Commons (cafeteria). The guest speaker was a faculty member, Dr. Houston Peterson, a philosopher of some high regard. As part of his presentation, he told us of the deathbed speech of Henry Clay. Henry Clay, according to Dr. Peterson, was surrounded by family and friends and decried that he had “wasted his life”. Those in the room were quick to tell him that he had been a great senator, Secretary of State, and statesman. Clay replied: “Perhaps, but I should have been a teacher and helped others to be great.” This resonated with me then, as it does now, and probably does with you as well, as a teacher.

2. This next story I believe to be true, but it could be apocryphal. Dr. Mason Gross was President of Rutgers during my time there. He was another highly-regarded philosopher, having studied under Alfred North Whitehead. Unfortunately, he’s perhaps best known for his stint as the resident expert on the old TV show “Two for the Money.” Dr. Gross sat at this big desk, stacked with reference tomes, and, when called upon, would validate contestants’ answers.

Anyway, to continue, as Rutgers’ President he still taught one course/year – a Senior’s Philosophy seminar, much sought after by graduating Philosophy majors. Our registration process, back in the late 50’s was very archaic, consisting of a room full of card tables covered with boxes of 80-column punched cards. Each box was labeled with the course name, number, and section number (for lecture courses). Dr. Gross’s course only had 20 seats available, and by some scheduling fluke one of the Senior Rutgers’ football players, and Phys. Ed major managed to pull one of the 20 cards. He bragged to all of his fraternity brothers that he was going to be President Gross’s class. The bragging ceased, however, when he received a note from Dr. Gross’s secretary indicating that he was to have a private meeting with the President, before classes started. This was Mason’s practice, since he always had Philosophy majors at his seminar, and he liked to discuss, individually, with each of his students, what they planned to do with their degree, after graduation.

When the time came for the dreaded meeting, the Phys. Ed major entered Gross’s office and blurted out: “I want to tell you right now, I don’t know nothing about Pluto and Socrates!” Gross, with nary a pause, replied: “Young man, over the millennia philosophers have been searching for what are called ‘self-evident” truths. You I believe have just uttered one.”

3. Another true story, that I read a number of years ago, was one of a serious of essays I’d read, by an another whose name I am desperately trying to recall. The theme of the essay was a teacher’s responsibility to continue his/her learning process in order to present that latest information to students. He goes on to tell this illustrative story of a mid-west Geology professor, who gave the same lecture year-after-year, word-for word. This was boring stuff, indeed, exacerbated by the fact that the professor had a pronounced lisp:

As the story goes the professor was droning on with his lecture, and said: “Every day the Mithathippi deposith 10,000th at the delta.” For the first time ever, a student, in the front row, raised his hand, to ask a question: “Excuse me, Professor, but is that tons or cubic yards?” The professor then referred to his ancient lecture notes, and the replied: “It doesn’t thay!"

I didn't ask Rich about posting these comments on my blog. I hope he doesn’t mind. And, I hope you got a chuckle or two out of them.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The American Constitution and Matters of Faith
by Charlie Leck

At 51 Park Place, in Manhattan, a group of loving, kind and generous Muslims want to build an Islamic Community Center. They want to show those of the world who continue to visit Ground Zero, only two blocks away, that the true Islamic world seeks peace and cooperation and is not at war with America. It will be an extraordinary center, with facilities for learning and sharing, play and recreation, and a small space for contemplation and prayer (something that is at the heart of Islam).

Who would think it would create an intense and broad protest?

Oddly, it has. Politicians, conservative news organizations and private citizens are protesting and claiming it would be an affront to those who died at Ground Zero on 9-11. In fact, as a gesture of love and peace, it is intended to be quite the opposite. The kind and brilliant man behind it, Feisal Abdul Rauf, hopes to draw people together in a common search for ways to cooperate in establishing universal peace and understanding.

The Mayor of New York City makes the most sense in this matter and reminds us of a tenant at the heart of the U.S. Constitution (about which we have written a lot lately).

“Government should never — never — be in the business of telling people how they should pray, or where they can pray,… We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here and praying the way they want to pray.”

I can only say, “Amen, Mayor Bloomberg.”

And to Mr. Rauf I can only say: “Go for it. We need to be brought together and not driven apart. We cannot war with Islam. Such would destroy our national soul and it would quite please Osama bin Laden that we are showing that our Constitution really means nothing.

Radical fundamentalism in religion is dangerous. It is dangerous among Christians who believe their faith is the only way and the only truth. It is dangerous among those of the Islamic faith or any other faith. It leads to strange thinking and to violence. It leads to envy, intolerance and hatred. I see it in many of my Christian friends who so ignorantly and unthinkingly believe that they are saved and people of other faiths are occluded by God.

What the world needs, from people all faiths, is tolerance and brotherly love. It is the only way to dig ourselves out of the very ugly hole in which we find ourselves.


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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The U.S. Constitution and the Supermajority

Does the U.S. Constitution work?
by Charlie Leck

A few days ago I introduced you to some of Andy Driscoll’s thinking about the U.S. Constitution. As I expected, a few of you found it rather radical. [To read Driscoll’s comments, click here!] For the record, I don’t think his thinking is radical, but I do believe the concept of rewriting the Constitution of the United States of America is a bit unrealistic; THOUGH I AGREE THAT IT OUGHT TO BE DONE.

The following two paragraphs were at the heart of the Driscoll essay about America becoming ungovernable, and I will repeat them here:

The United States is far more like the dying Rome than most of us would care to admit, but the wide disparities in the provision of those basics is pulling us down into an uncivilized muck of a country, our ability to govern ourselves completely out of control - and for many millions of us, abandoning the power that true democracy should bestow:

Electoral defections from such democratic means to quietly revolt against the desecration of our stated principles leaves us no alternative but to accept the national cultural deterioration as inevitable, and thus, we leave to irrational, but powerful, few the power to set the agenda for our cities, our counties and towns, our states, and, eventually, our country from behind the scenes, as they have for some decades now, slowly, but surely.

What impedes government these days, to point to specifics, are the archaic rules of the U.S. Senate. Essentially, either party can stop the will of the majority by invoking the nonsensical “Rule of 60” or the filibuster. This rule crushes what is at the heart of our Constitution and what forms the soul of Democracy – the rule of the majority.

The minority party in the Senate can refuse to end debate on any agenda item, so that a vote might be taken, and the entire Senate is held hostage unless it can muster 60 votes to end such debate and call for a vote.

The filibuster is not established by the Constitution, but by a quirky rule of the Senate – a rule that I believe is counter to the Constitution and should be tested before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the interest of full disclosure, there have been times when I was glad to see Democrats filibuster when the Republicans held the majority; however, I always felt it was both stupid and silly and I was embarrassed by such an abuse of minority power.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a “supermajority” on only a few specific occasions in the Senate: (1) when overriding a Presidential veto; (2) confirming treaties; (3) removing a president or other leaders who have been impeached by the house.

The framers of the Constitution did not impose such a supermajority requirement to end debate in the Senate.

The filibuster rule is just a part of Senate tradition – and an antiquated tradition it is. Historically, it was used during the 19th century to protect the states that held slaves. Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison opposed such a limitation on the rule of the majority. Hamilton, in his Federalist Paper (22) warned that “the sense of the majority should prevail.” Instead, in our current U.S. Senate, a disruptive minority can force its will on the wishes of the majority and strangle to death important, and even crucial, legislation.

The Senate rule can be changed!
It is possible to change the rules in the Senate and it is high-time for it to happen. All of us should be urging our Senators to stop fooling around with the will of the people and trash the rule that allows legislation to be filibustered. There may come a day when we will regret not having such minority power, but fair is fair!

Voice your opinion to your U.S. Senator! That’s what democracy is all about.


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Monday, July 19, 2010

Oh, no! That can’t be!

A headline on MinnPost today: “Franken-Coleman Senate recount flap over felon votes shows GOP playing fast and loose with facts!”
by Charlie Leck

Unfortunately, Minnesota resembles the rest of the nation when it comes to politics these days. I can remember when Minnesota politics seemed to be head and shoulders above the nation when it came to fairness and openness. Not anymore! The whole extreme right angst and anger in Minnesota has brought with it a sense of emergency and a willingness to play dirty in order to win. A good deal of the Republican Party now resembles the same thugs and slime that are active nationally.

The most recent example shows the Republican Party in Minnesota unable to let go of 2008 U.S. Senate election won, after numerous recounts, by Al Franken. Now the GOP has claimed that their surveys have shown that many of the votes cast in that election were by ineligible felons.

Two things to note here: (1) Among those felons who did illegally vote, there is no way of telling for whom they voted; and (2) investigators who have received the surveys from the GOP have found that most of their data is inaccurate or just plain incorrect. A recent story is MinnPost attempts to untangle the mess and declares that Republicans are “playing fast and loose with the facts.”

As Gomer Pyle use to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”

Even though a couple of panels of judges and Norm Coleman’s own attorney have said publically that there wasn’t any “widespread fraud in the election,” the conservative organization, Minnesota Majority, keeps claiming that there was wide spread fraud in the election count process. The Republican Party has called for a statewide investigation even though most legal-eagles think the Minnesota Majority report is deeply flawed. That report claims that 341 felons illegally voted. Franken won by 312 votes. The conceited Republican take is that over 92 percent of those felonious votes were by Democrats. We all only need look at some of the rich crooks who have been hauled off to prison in the last couple of years to know that just ain’t true.

But, on top of that, investigators have found that a great deal of the information in the Minnesota Majority report is just not true. Nevertheless, the FOX News organizations found the report appealing and plastered it all over the airwaves.

Real Republicans, especially those leaders of the Party up until the Richard Nixon election, are probably turning over in their graves. The current Republican Party prefers down and dirty to open and honest debate.


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Saturday, July 17, 2010

America Upon Her Knees!

“…America, where poverty is at its worst and wealth has become king.”
Charlie Leck, introducing and responding to comments by Andy Driscoll and John Milton

Andy Driscoll, Producer and Host of Truth to Tell (on KFAI local radio) and John Milton, writer and former Minnesota State Senator, have recently written and distributed some rather provocative comments. I would share these with you, not because I agree completely with them, but, because they are worthy of your thoughtful consideration.

Driscoll, first, considers the topic of our nation’s inability to govern itself because of both its huge population and its vast geographic size. He also points out that our founding fathers established this nation and its system of governance because they were in a point and time in history (sitz im leben) that required far different actions than would likely be necessary today.

Please give careful thought to what Driscoll says!

This country is ungovernable for many reasons, many of which are embodied in the current political construct and atmosphere, both structural, that is, and by the Senate Club's design.

Aside from the fact that we are nation of 331 million souls - an ungovernable enough number in its own right – the framers placed "democracy" as the last on a list of desirable options when they created the Constitutional presidency instead of adopting the more responsible and accountable parliamentary model. The so called "balance of power" issue was an overreaction to a monarchical model, but it has also paralyzed for 250 years the flow of innovative public policy initiatives that would define us as the compassionate society many envisioned in that weakest of all documents - the Constitution.

Allowed to run amok, capitalism makes this country ungovernable as well. Without a deeply entrenched social contract for maintaining the most fundamental rights of human beings living in a collective political enclave – far more than the ephemeral "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" or at least interpreting those words in the broadest of contexts - we have deferred to the economic power brought on through government by corporate control. As such, we now tend to believe that, despite the fact that we get the government we deserve by failing to vote or hold our elected officials' feet to the fire - constantly - we deny or delay massive chunks of humanity the fundamental pillars of human survival: food, shelter, clothing, health care, clean air and water, and an education that fulfills the needs of both human and societal to maintain the species and provide for itself. Socialist constructs elsewhere in the world have understood these fundamentals for centuries, even when internal upheaval appears to threaten them. They would never think to abandon the basic responsibility of organized societies that their individuals members are neither denied those basics, nor become a greater burden through that denial that the cost to the organism is greater than if it had provided for all in the first place.

Such is the vaunted United States of America where poverty is at its worst and wealth has become king.

Speaking of size, the US is at least partially ungovernable because of its vast geography, where the lack of proximity to almost all of one's fellow countrymen and women and the half dozen major regions have developed into cultures and political organisms unto themselves, many of whom, with the compliance of federal legislation and the courts, have been allowed to defy the Constitutional tenets that created them, but remain almost unreachable given their entrenched subcultures of racist, violent and corrupt local entities and elected officials.

This is where Lincoln went awry. Maintaining the union at any cost was not necessarily the best thing to do, if, in allowing defections by separate political and economic societies, there sprang up smaller nations or nation-states with a more governable and manageable geographic proximity and common approaches. Despite the risk that slavery as then practiced would continue for a time in the Confederacy, it could not, as an institution, continue for very long afterward, crushed by its own weight and the power of economic forces that would stop doing business under such conditions. One state or group of states or another would recognize that, like European countries have, the survival of a society requires cooperation and not oppression, and that, in the long run, equality of provision of those basic services best serves a nation as a whole and concedes to no one person the power to control the flow of those services by private means.

The United States is far more like the dying Rome than most of us would care to admit, but the wide disparities in the provision of those basics is pulling us down into an uncivilized muck of a country, our ability to govern ourselves completely out of control - and for many millions of us, abandoning the power that true democracy should bestow:

Electoral defections from such democratic means to quietly revolt against the desecration of our stated principles leaves us no alternative but to accept the national cultural deterioration as inevitable, and thus, we leave to irrational, but powerful, few the power to set the agenda for our cities, our counties and towns, our states, and, eventually, our country from behind the scenes, as they have for some decades now, slowly, but surely.

We may not be able to immediately cut this country up into more desirable and governable nation-states, but we determine for ourselves best who runs our local units of governance by ceasing to believe they are the least important entities of our live, but the most important, no matter what the media may tell you affirmatively (editorializing) or subliminally by omission of coverages of those offices so critical in determining our daily quality of life. Here is where we can and must hold our leaders accountable and responsible - and stop deferring to others our own responsibility for our own governance.

It's been attributed to several people - Alexis de Toqueville or Karl Marx or that curmudgeonly journalist, H.L. Mencken, but, as implied by John Milton in his far shorter essay below: "We get the government we deserve." Nothing is truer in a democracy.

Andy Driscoll, Producer/Host

John Milton's comments below are much briefer and pointed, placing the blame for our failing Congress and, I would guess, our stammering Executive Branch and embarrassing Supreme Court, directly on the shoulders of we who cast the votes for them and those who appointed the members of the Court. I suppose I am prepared to accept that blame; though I would do so with a number of caveats. The people, you know, are at the mercy of the political system and constitutional construct about which Driscoll writes in his piece above. To move that system in a different direction, it is like I, aging and weak, trying to stop a rolling Burlington Northern/Santa Fe locomotive and safely altering its direction without doing damage to it. One can accept only so much blame and criticism without demanding that the loud mouths, who criticize, put up some alternative suggestions that have a reasonable chance of success. Milton is much like a current State Senator, John Marty, who is always moralizing and declaring righteous goals but never provides any methods that would realistically succeed in achieving those goals.

Milton, for instance, and as I remember, would have preferred, in 2008, that we vote for John Edwards to lead the nation. Ahem! Or, ahem? Is that how we would have avoided the problem he describes below?

On Jun 28, 2010, at 10:30 AM, John Milton wrote:

In the Gulf disaster, many of us pretend immunity by blasting British Petroleum or the feds, when in fact the responsibility for perpetuating our addiction to oil is ours. Once again, when the U.S. Senate refuses to extend unemployment benefits for lack of 60 votes, we can pretend to be offended, but once again we must hold ourselves accountable. We elected the senators, and, especially those of us who celebrated a Democratic majority in that body in 2006 and 2008, we need to look in the mirror.

Why? Because the Democratic majority in the Senate has the power – and the votes – to bypass the requirement of 60 votes. The Senate majority – by just 51 votes (out of the 58 in the caucus) – can end debate on any issue and pass any bill by a simple majority, as envisioned in the Constitution.*

Some Democratic senators – notably Levin, Harkin, and Leahy – have urged the leadership to eliminate the rule of 60, but both sides of the aisle seem transfixed by the notion that this so-called "protection of the minority" is in the best interest of the American people. Obviously, it is not.

So those of us who celebrated in 2006 and 2008 must take credit for supporting a Senate Democratic leadership that would rather stumble ahead with an ungovernable system.

Small comfort: at least our country seems to be more governable than Somalia.

-- JWM

*See "The Constitutional Option," by Martin B. Gold & Dimple Gupta in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 28

I won't say more. Our responses should come in our political considerations and actions. For one, we must stand up and demand our U.S. Senators work to end "the rule of 60." (Remember, however, there might be times, under hawkish and ultra-conservative administrations, when it might come in handy!)


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Friday, July 16, 2010

A Visit to Minnesota

Patti and his family are here (Oui, ici!) and we are all having a lovely time.
by Charlie Leck

Serious blogging will resume next week sometime. In the meantime I can only share nice pictures of a beautiful family.

Meditating by the Lake

Toes in the Lake

Armand at the end of an Evening

Andre and Charlie


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Viva la France

Company arrives from France today! My blog will be quiet!
by Charlie Leck

It is at a time like this that I wish I had a blogging partner, who could keep Ad Astra up and running when I can't.

Patti and his family arrive today. They live about an hour outside of Paris. They are visiting the United States for the summer and will pull in this afternoon in an RV they rented to get them around the states. They are traveling from the east coast (New York and New Jersey) all the way out to California.

When he spent a summer with us, working on our farm, Patti was just a boy. It must have been 30 years ago. Now he has a beautiful wife and lovely children of his own. (Watch for photos over the next several days).

We are excited about their arrival and we're ready to spend some time with them and, then, also with my own grandchildren who will arrive on Friday. So I'll be consumed with family activities for the next four or five days and you may hear very little from me at this blog spot. You can count on some photographs, however.


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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Has his literary importance disappeared completely?
by Charlie Leck

Last week I wrote about Hemingway and one of his short stories. Writing that stuff propelled me to the Hemingway shelves here in my library and I decided to read again a few more of his short stories.

Damn, Hemingway didn’t seem to be a very good man. He had some tough attitudes about people who weren’t like him and also about women. I don’t think I would have liked him very much. I’ll tell you, though, he sure could write. I don’t suppose short stories get much better than The Snows of Kilimanjaro or The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber. I think it’s been thirty years since I read them last. They were just as good this time.

Some years ago, I wrote about the 50 or so most important books in my life; that is, those books that had a life altering impact on me and not necessarily the best books I’ve read. I hope you can hear the difference in that, which really isn’t very subtle. I included on the list, two books by Ernest Hemingway: (1) The Old Man and the Sea; and (2) A Moveable Feast. A charming, elderly Pastor, at the little Lutheran Church up here on the corner, read that piece and took quite strong exception to it and complained loudly to me. He came over and had a cup of coffee with me and ranted and raved for some time about the stupidity of my selections. I was a more patient guy back then and somewhat respectful of the clergy, so I allowed him to go on and on. When he finished, I asked for a few moments to present my case.

The Old Man and the Sea was a life-changing book for me – terribly impactful. I think it was published in about 1952 or 1953, when I was 11 or 12 years old. Because it was really a novella, my mother immediately recognized it as a book that I could accomplish easily and take some pride in reading. She had already begun her decline in a losing battle with disease back in those days and she spent a great deal of her time in bed. She begged me to read the book, which had been reviewed so favorably and acclaimed all across the land, to her. Over a couple of days I did that. As she lay in bed, I sat next to her on a stiff, hard backed chair and read aloud to her.

I had never read anything so wonderful. It was a grown-up’s book, but I had read it as a child; yet I understood it with clarity and I reacted emotionally and spiritually to the story, identifying and emphasizing with both the great fish and the old man. The book made me a reader and pushed me to read so many of Hemingway’s other works, until I had read them all and could only wait for others to be released.

Over the next few years, I spent many, many hours by my mother’s bedside, reading good and bad books to her. I honed my verbal and interpretive skills that way and developed a voice that stood me quite well over the years that followed.

In 1960, or 1961, my dearest and closest relative in our entire family, a cousin, who had gone off to study in Paris, gave me a copy of A Moveable Feast – more precisely, Paris is a Moveable Feast. It made me fall in love with Paris years before I would see it. In 1966, I spent four or five days in Paris with people who didn’t understand it and wouldn't try to appreciate it. It was a great, great disappointment in my life that they did not like it or comprehend it. Over the years, I went back to visit a number of times. The city became a second home and I lived there for several months in 1978. There is no city as extraordinary and magnificent as Paris. And, when you leave Paris, after falling in love with it, you take it with you and it is a part of your soul and being for the rest of your life – a truly “moveable feast.”

There is no grander city in the world than the City of Lights. No city walks like Paris. No city has presentations of art like Paris. No city has grander architecture than Paris. No city has food like Paris. Dance! Opera! Theatre!

And then, there is Harry’s American Bar – one of Hemingway’s hangouts when he needed an American fix!

I must return, one more time in my life, to walk the streets of Paris – a safe and clean and deliriously beautiful place to walk. I love both sides of the river and I love the river itself. I love the churches and chapels and cathedrals. I love the Louvre and the little museums on the side streets. I love the railroad stations, the glamor of the great shops along le rue de Fauberg Saint Honoré, the Metro, the bars, the sidewalk cafes and the grand restaurants.

Hemingway introduced me to Paris in a most important way. He transmitted his love of the great city from his heart to mine.

Yet, Pastor Ahlstrom’s argument rang true to many people in America. Hemingway had revealed himself as a chauvinist and, perhaps, as a racist. Because of his character weaknesses, he had no standing among most American from 1965 and onward. Yet, I knew how powerful his writing was – how truly and forcefully he told a story. He was in my blood and I could not abandon him.

A daughter, who teaches collegiate level literature, cannot bring herself to recommend Hemingway to her students because of his social attitudes. That’s too bad. A reader’s life is not complete until he/she has read The Old Man and the Sea. And, then, there’s the question: Should a writer’s ability and achievements be measured against his social opinions and racial attitudes? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I tend to think it is “no.”

Enough! I sense that Hemingway’s moment is gone. It is over! I don’t pull my hair out over that. I only feel sad that readers may not know The Old Man and the Sea.


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunday Kind of Thinking

The kind of thoughts the elderly have are with me frequently of late.
by Charlie Leck

If I didn’t live here in the countryside, in this quite incredible place, with treetops all about me, where the sun peeks in at the zenith of the day, where, when the wind kicks up, the treetops look like the waving, rolling ocean, I would live in the heart of the downtown section of the city, in a condominium, high up in the building, where I could look out over the vibrancy of American urban life.

I’m looking at sharp contrasts. Give me the quiet, solitary countryside – or give me downtown, with inner-city density and its noise and opportunities all about me. I don’t want anything in between.

I’ve got things I want to do in these last years of my lifetime. It would be okay if they end here, in this remarkable, rolling countryside – creeks, ponds, lakes, wetlands, meadows – and I wouldn’t mind a bit. Yet, lately, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with these final years.

I want to see Oklahoma. I’ve never been there. I understand it’s stark and flat and uninspiring. Let me decide for myself.

I want to see Alaska. I’m told it is overwhelming and incomprehensible in a moment or in a lifetime; and it’s too much for a camera lens. I want to see it.

Then I will have seen, or been in, all fifty states. Maine, Oregon, Washington, Northern California and Wisconsin are my favorite states. New York, San Francisco and Chicago are my favorite cities in America. Paris, Toronto and New York are my choice for world-wide cities.

On the coast of Oregon, I want to look at the great golf courses at Bandon Dunes. I don’t need, necessarily, to play them (they are walking courses), but I’d like to see them.

I want to go back to the northwest quadrant of Germany, to spend a week there looking for any records about the father’s side of my family. I’ll visit Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Flensburg and the little village of Leck. I’ll look for birth, death and marriage records. Why? To leave them for someone else who might want to know someday.

Doesn’t everyone want to know? I so envy my wife. She can trace her roots, family by family by family, all the way back to the first Olmsteds and Wakefields to come to America. I can't even get past my grandparents on either side of the family. I keep trying, searching and hoping I'll find some clues.

I don’t want to go to Yemen. I read a long, thorough and excellent report about Yemen in the New York Times Magazine section from this Sunday. It was written by Robert F. Worth and its conclusion was that Yemen might be the next Afghanistan.

“Officially, American policy in Yemen is twofold: using airstrikes and raids to help the Yemeni military knock out Al Qaeda cells, while increasing development and humanitarian aid to address the root causes of radicalism. In late June, the White House announced it was more than tripling its humanitarian assistance, to $42.5 million. But the numbers are still small given Yemen's need. And diplomats concede that they have not figured out how to address the central issues of poor governance, corruption and the economy.

Yemen is obsessed with Qat – a national drug that is part of the culture. It consumes the mind and the efforts of the nation but produces nothing. It takes huge amounts of water to grow it and it grows everywhere. Ninety percent of the men chew qat regularly and fifty percent of the women use it too. This You Tube video explains it all and you see the bulges of it in the mouths of the Yemen men while they go about their daily activities, drugged and incapable of thinking and guiding their own lives. Children take up the ways and manners of their parents and begin chewing qat very early in their lives. Meanwhile, the nation is fast running out of water and has little oil resources left. What shall happen to a nation like this? It will become a hot-bed of terrorist recruiting.

I try to think of other things.

I’ve lost 35 pounds in the last couple of months. I want to lose another 35 pounds by the end of the year and then another 35 by this time next year. That gives you some idea about how overweight I allowed myself get. I want to fix it. I’m working at it.

You know, in their 70s, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan and B.B. King (actually in his 80s) are still performing before audiences. Al Pacino is performing at Shakespeare in the Park in New York City right now, doing Merchants of Venice. I told a daughter, who lives near Central Park, to be sure to go to the performance. She said she couldn’t get tickets without making a $350 donation to the non-profit that runs Shakespeare in the Park. I told her: “For God’s sake, make the contribution!” Have you watched any of the videos of Pacino in this role? He does it in a strong NY accent. Wonderful! Extraordinary! The reviews have been overwhelmingly good. My wife said: “Let’s fly out there to see it.” I told her it only runs through August, and asked when we should go. Of course, she’s too busy!

This is a NY Times video of a scene in which Pacino dominates.

Average life expectancy these days is 78. My sister died at 78. I’ll turn 70 in September. I’d give a lot to make it to 78 – even a deal with Mephistopheles.

“Stay active,” everyone advises me.

Doesn’t writing and reading count? Doesn’t keeping my mind as sharp as possible gain credits?

No, walking for miles and miles and pumping iron is what they want me to do – “swim, too, if you can get access to a pool.”

I want to walk down the Champs Elyse again. I want to dine in a lovely restaurant in Provence. I want to see Greece and Turkey. I want to see Prague also.

Perhaps I should forget Germany, the Champs Elyse and the coast of Oregon. Shouldn’t I, instead, go to Port-au-Prince to do what I can? What a tragedy! Why haven’t we addressed the needs there better? Of course, we have the gulf to worry about and our own people! What could I do there?

These are thoughts on a Sunday. I jot them down. I hate thinking of future Afghanistans. Why do our men need to go there to be maimed or to die? I watched The Hurt Locker last night. I can see why it won so many awards, but it is not a pleasant thing to watch in the evening when you are alone, thinking.

I’m going to the Mayo Clinic in a couple of weeks. I have some things I need to talk to them about.


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