Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Biggest Story of 2010

Wikileaks comes close with their startling publication of stolen communications from the State Department, but the Supreme Court knocked this one out of the ballpark!
by Charlie Leck

What's the biggest news story of 2010?
  1. The massive Republican sweep?
  2. Wikileaks big expose on State Department confidential transmissions?
  3. The economic struggle of 2010 and the residential real estate crash?
  4. North Korea's assault on a defenseless little island belonging to South Korea?
None of the above, folks, because, instead, the U.S. Supreme Court stole the show this year, along with swiping democracy as well. The court's 5 to 4 decision on Citizens United left virtually every Supreme Court watcher in absolute shock. The court's conservative majority has ranted for years that the nation's highest court should never be in the business of making law. Ooops! In the Citizens United decision that's just what they did.

In making that decision, the big cheeses, who sit on our most important legal bench, reduced the value of my vote and your vote, too (unless you are a big, fat, filthy rich corporation).

As one article by Jill Abramson* put it several weeks ago, what we've got here is a return to Watergate days when big, anonymous corporate cash carries the day in Washington, D.C..
"To old political hands, wise to the ways of candidates and money, 1972 was a watershed year. Richard M. Nixon's re-election campaign was awash in cash, secretly donated by corporations and individuals.

"Fred Wertheimer, a longtime supporter of campaign finance regulation, was then a lawyer for Common Cause. He vividly recalls the weeks leading up to April 7, 1972, before a new campaign finance law went into effect requiring the disclosure of the names of individual donors. 'Contributors,' he said, 'were literally flying into Washington with satchels of cash.'"
The fat cats don't have to be so secretive anymore. After the catastrophic decision by the Supreme Court, anonymous donors can spread their cash around for our political candidates all they want, buying themselves incredible favors from the men and women who run Washington.
"...the fund-raising practices that earned people convictions in Watergate -- giving direct corporate money to a campaign and doing so secretly -- are back in a different form in 2010."
The different form that Jill Abramson is talking about is that this time around it's all legal, thanks to the Supreme Court of the United States. Big corporations, like Target Corp, and giant banks, like Wells Fargo, can pass along all the cash they want to and remain totally anonymous in most states in the nation.

And don't you believe for a second that it was the people talking in the 2010 election that saw the crushing defeat of the Democratic Party. It wasn't the people, folks; it was big, unconstrained and now legal money that poured into the Republican Party.

That is the biggest and, indeed, the saddest story of 2010. The wacky, conservative members of the Supreme Court screwed the American people. Nothing tops the significance of this story! Nothing!

*Jill Abramson, "Return of the Secret Donors," New York Times, 17 Oct 2010


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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Rush Toward Christmas

It's quiet now, after Thanksgiving Day, and we move on toward the massive shopping season; so I wish you "Bon Apetit!"
by Charlie Leck

I don't have a lot to write about this morning because I have a big design job that has to be FedEx shipped to Paris within an hour or two; however, I came across a photograph in a local magazine over the weekend that I just had to capture here on a blog.

The little restaurant in a nearby town, Terra Waconia in Waconia, Minnesota, has been named by Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine as one of the best 12 new restaurants in the Twin Cities area in 2010. Bravo! What a good choice.

I may be biased. They buy their lamb from Sheepy Hollow, my wife's business, and they are proud to proclaim it on their menu.

The photograph at the head of this blog nearly made me gasp when I saw it. It is a spectacular example of the success my wife's lamb business has had. She produces a lamb product that, I think, is beyond compare. It isn't only I who feels that way, however, for she has a strong and loyal following. This blog may be looked at, I suppose, as a hopeless plug for my wife's business. It isn't, however, for she really can't handle any more sales than she already has.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

I'm Going in Circles!

The snow, and the weather in general, was kind yesterday. All the shouting and flag waving by the weathermen had us dizzy but it all amounted to very little.
by Charlie Leck

We've got a beautiful yard this morning. The weathermen had been predicting something near a weather apocalypse for yesterday or, as one local radio personality puts it, a snownami. Nothing like that materialized. We had a gentle couple of inches of beautiful, white and bright snow and it looks remarkably beautiful this morning.

A little phenomenon occurred in the afternoon while I was shoveling and plowing. It tickled my memory.

Two grandkids were out playing in the snow while I was shoveling. One of the them challenged the other to walk in the falling snow with her eyes closed. The little one did, all the while laughing and giggling uproariously. I noticed something interesting. With her eyes closed, she walked in circles rather than straight. I would never have thought anything of it had it not reminded me of a piece I had heard only in the last day or so on Public Radio. It claimed that people, securely blindfolded can not walk straight, but only in circles.

It had been reported by Robert Krulwich in a conversation with German scientist and researcher, Jan Souman. If you blindfold human beings and set them off, walking, tell them to go straight-away, they’ll walk in circles. Try it on this Thanksgiving weekend, while you have family surrounding you. You’ll find that it’s great fun. Obviously, it will work better if you can get the walker outside, into an area where he/she has more space.

“Humans,” said Krulwich,”apparently slip into circles when we can’t see an external focal point, like a mountain top, a sun, a moon. Without a corrective, our insides take over and there’s something inside us that won’t stay straight.”

Research has indicated it has nothing to do with right or left handedness or with any particular part of the brain being more dominant than another. The quest goes on to find a scientific explanation for it.

It appears, the researchers say, that humans need focal points, like the sun or moon, a mountain top or some object on the horizon in order to proceed toward it. And here, all along, I thought it was just I who was so dizzy and loopy.

I just found Krulwich’s National Public Radio blog on this mystery. You may enjoy reading it and seeing his illustrations and video. There is some really intriguing material here.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

The grandkids, growing up so quickly, send email photographs to grandpa and
grandma, keeping us up-to-date. This is one from
early this autumn.

Thanks to Thee from Whom all blessings flow.
by Charlie Leck

It’s early in the morning on the day before Thanksgiving and it’s cold in Minnesota. I awoke this morning with a great sense of anticipation. A couple of the grandkids arrive today.

The weather report, very Minnesota-like, isn’t too chummy! Drizzle will arrive this morning and then temperatures will drop, making it a freezing rain that will eventually turn to snow. A driver’s nightmare, you know – snow on top of ice!

The grandkids, their mom and dad, and their dog, Lucy, are making their way up here from the east, driving northwest across Wisconsin. They spent the night in one of those Wisconsin Dells water-park hotels last night. They’ll drive, I hope, ever so carefully.

We’ve a big weekend planned, so my blog will likely be unattended for the holiday weekend (unless I post a few photographs of the family activities). Dinner for tomorrow is moving along nicely. All the shopping is done. The turkey is in the refrigerator and so is a leg of lamb and a wonderful looking salmon that is curing and almost ready to be sliced paper-thinly as lox. A couple of the kids will be missing, but 66.6666 percent isn’t bad.

No offense to our children, but it’s the grandkids I get excited to see. It’s so much fun to see how they grow and change over several months. Photographs that arrived by email this late summer and early autumn showed such growth and change. Oh, my!

From our Minnesota home to you, wherever you are reading, is sent this wish that you will have a very blessed Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving! Be grateful, but never be satisfied. Our world is in need of so much more care and love.

And to the Great Force that gives us life and all the blessings that come with it, I am humbly grateful and ask only for the time to watch these grandchildren become adults; but, but – don’t get me wrong – Thine own will be done, of course!

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If You Like Food & Cooking

Brett Laidlaw at the Midtown Farmers Market

Just a reading tip for you!
by Charlie Leck

One of my favorite blogs is Trout-Caviar! I've told you about it a dozen times. It's a foodie blog, written by a local guy (Brett Laidlaw), mainly about cooking innovative and fresh, local dishes. I get lots of wonderful tips from Brett. Today's blog, about a unique and creative way to prepare chicken, is really intriguing: Unfussy Fowl!

If you like cooking and wonderful food, make Brett's blog one of your regular reads.


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There is no Mithridate

Alan Simpson – as in former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson – is anxious for the blood bath he says is coming in April.
by Charlie Leck

The Dictionary.com word of the day for me today is MITHRIDATE [“a confection believed to contain an antidote to every poison”].

If you’re an observant reader of my blog, you know of my respect and admiration for Paul Krugman, op-ed columnist for the NY Times. He’s a Nobel Prize winner. He’s trained in economics. He’s a clear and concise writer. He’s very bright.

Krugman also has strong opinions that most people to the right of the center line detest. The problem they need to deal with is that Krugman is or has been proven correct in most cases regarding most of his opinions.

His column yesterday (November 22) nails former Senator Alan Simpson pretty toughly and exactly.

“So here’s what the very serious Mr. Simpson said on Friday: ‘I can’t wait for the blood bath in April. ... When debt limit time comes, they’re going to look around and say, What in the hell do we do now? We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give ’em a piece of meat, real meat, meaning spending cuts.

“‘And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary, he continued.

“Think of Mr. Simpson’s blood lust as one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize.

The term to concentrate on in this column is “political breakdown.”

That a former U.S. Senator, who is considered a sensible moderate, is talking eagerly about a coming political blood bath – well – that pretty much says everything that needs to be said about politics in America right now.

The Republicans are savages! And, they fully intend to savage the Democratic Party. It will lead to an absolute political breakdown.

Too bad! In the end, it will also bring great shame upon the Republican Party. You really should read the 22 November column by Krugman.


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Monday, November 22, 2010


Here’s what a sports fan does in the face of a disastrous year like the one our beloved Minnesota Vikings are experiencing!
by Charlie Leck

Sports fans – and I am one of them – are incredible! If they’re having a bad year with one part of their sports lives, they can metamorphose their sports loyalties faster than a speeding bullet. Up here, the Minnesota Vikings have imploded completely. The coach, an affrightful enigma to begin with, has lost his team and can no longer lead or inspire them. The quarterback, a legend in professional football, has lost his composure and credibility.

What can we do under such adverse conditions? Sublimate! [Divert the energy of one psychological or biological impulse to another more acceptable or aesthetic one!]

Go, Tubby!
Don’t you know we are the Gopher Nation; erhrr, that is the Gopher Basketball Nation; and the maroon and gold Minnesota Gophers struck real gold in Puerto Rico this weekend and won the Tip-Off Championship against some pretty classy teams (West Virginia, North Carolina and Western Kentucky). Now there’s something to roister in and be happy about. When the next ratings come out, the undefeated Gophers will be, at least, in the top 25 teams in the nation; and maybe a lot higher.

And Tubby Smith, the Gopher coach, is one of the classiest and finest men in the nation. He's more than a good coach! He’s a role model for young men to admire and emulate. And what a snappy dresser!

Up here in Minnesota, we are right now (meaning, for the moment) singing the fight song of the University of Minnesota – called the Minnesota Rouser. “Ski-U-Mah!”

Minnesota, hats off to thee!
To thy colors true we shall for ever be,
Firm and strong, united are we.
Rah, rah, rah, for Ski-U-Mah
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Rah, rah for the U of M.

(thrust your fist and pump it in the air during the spelling!)
Minn-sota! Minn-sota! Minn-sota!

So, it’s not the greatest fight song in the world! It’s ours, and we love it! We could have had “On Wisconsin” but, a few generations ago, a committee up here rejected the tune, written by a Minnesotan, in a statewide contest to pick a fight song. Wasn’t good enough! (Now, it’s only one of the greatest fights songs in all of collegiate athletics!) Oh well, sublimate!

If you want to hear the Minnesota Rouser as it's done in real life, here it is...

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just the Two of Us at Terra Waconia

I think this small, hidden-away restaurant in Waconia has become our favorite spot to dine!
by Charlie Leck

Our metropolitan area is filled with spectacular restaurants. It's not difficult to name 40 or 50 really outstanding ones. And I mean really wonderful spots to dine. Yet, right out here in the western part of the metro, just before the you drive into the rich and open farmland of the Minnesota prairies, we've found our favorite place to dine. The little spot is called Terra Waconia. I've written about it here before. It deserves more elaborate praise than I gave it the last time.

Indeed, it is a restaurant of the land and it draws much of its wonderful success and extraordinary flavors from the farms that thrive nearby. The chef at Terra, Craig Sharp, is trying really hard to be extremely local, buying a great deal of his food products from farmers within a particularly immediate range of the restaurant.

"You might say Terra Waconia is a farm-to-table-inspired restaurant—because it’s not quite there. The chèvre, blue cheese, and ramps were local. But when I asked where the beef tenderloin ($28) was from, the chef told me, 'Stock Yards [a commercial supplier], but I’m working on that.'"
And they have worked hard on that. Only a few months after that review, an extremely large percentage of the items served come straight from small producers within a twenty mile radius of the restaurant. For instance, last night one of the items on the blackboard menu (pictured above) featured a wonderful looking flank steak from Ridgeroll Farm, only a dozen or so miles away. I chatted with one of the diners who tried it and he raved about its quality and the creative way it had been prepared and served to him.

In all fairness, in the interest of full disclosure, I should be telling you that my wife is one of those local farmers with whom Craig does business. He was here at our farm (Sheepy Hollow) just this past week, taking a look at the way Anne raises and feeds her sheep. He left with an extremely large bundle of the beautifully butchered loin roasts that we keep here in our freezers for him.

Just the two of us dined there last evening. We should do this more often. It was fun to spend a slow, quiet evening together. I ordered a wonderful bottle of wine that was really quite spectacular -- a 2003 Cote du Rhone Villages, called Valréas (by Domaine du Val des Rois). The entire wine list is solid; but it's not cheap by any means. I excuse that by understanding that one isn't going to want an unsatisfactory wine with the extraordinary offerings that this restaurant serves.

I began with mussels and Anne with the "brussels."

"Mussels and Brussels! That's cute," our very bright and articulate waitress said! She knew the charming blackboard menu backwards and forwards and had tried most of the offerings on it. She warned me that the mussels might be a little different this time, because Craig had prepared them in a smoked chicken broth that he had prepared himself. My wife, snatching some of mine, thought they were spectacular. I, preferring the normal mussels served here, thought they were good, but not great.

Anne's small Brussel Sprouts were caramelized and roasted and absolutely perfectly so. In exchange for some of my mussels, she let me try a few. Wow! They were wonderful. Both of our appetizers were served with a small piece of blackened, grilled French baguette. I'm off bread these days and didn't eat mine. Anne had them both and pronounced them "delicious."

I passed on a salad and Anne asked for the Red's Wild. The ingredients come from a nearby farm owned by a fellow named Red. They include some wild herbs and some spectacular greens. It was the highlight of the evening for Anne. She loved the combination and thought it was dressed magnificently.

I had to go for the Sheepy Hollow Lamb and I was glad I did. It was served on a very attractive, thin dab of puréed squash. The beautiful, thick slices of loin were seared on the outside and left exceedingly rare (the way I like it) at the center. That rare, they were slightly chewy, which is the way I believe lamb is meant to be eaten. Cook it longer and it will get very tender, but it will also lose some of its delightful flavor. They got it just right at Terra. It was served with a Romanesco Cauliflower that I don't think I'd ever had before. It was slightly grilled and tasted wonderful in the light squash sauce.

Anne had the grilled salmon that was served with a delectable and savory sauce and lentils. It was also left quite rare at the center, while the outside was grilled to a crusty perfection and it was seasoned with a variety of tasty herbs. She claimed her decision to order it was one of her wisest moves in a long time.

One of the delights of the evening was all the spectacular color on our plates. There's a sense of the artistic at this restaurant and we really appreciate it.

We let our eyes wander around the dining room, observing what other diners had tried. The same sense of proportionate color balance seemed to radiate off of every plate. The diners to my immediate right had gone for the rissoto (about which she raved in spectacular adjectives) and the flank steak (which drew equal praise from him). Sheepy Hollow Lamb sold out on this evening, as Craig says it almost always does. The night before he featured thick and juicy loin chops and they were extraordinarily popular.

The desserts are also winners at this surprising restaurant. I'm not allowed them, but Anne had a flourless chocolate torte and she raved about it and only, complying with etiquette, expressed her regret that I couldn't have even a tiny taste.

The folks sitting near us ordered a marvelous looking individual apple pie and a pumpkin soufflé in a caramel sauce. Like all the other dishes, the desserts were masterpieces of presentation. I wanted to wander around the room taking pictures of everyone's chosen courses. I didn't so much constrain myself as I was refrained by my wife's clear threats to murder me if I went around disturbing people who were trying to have a pleasant and private night out.

The only warning I have for you is that you won't find salt shakers on any of the tables at Terra Waconia. I was too embarrassed to ask for any. It's a small enough place that I imagine the chef can hear anything said in the dining room from back there where he works. He such a nice guy that I didn't want to hurt his feeling. I would, however, have liked to add a light sprinkling of salt to my lamb. Next time I'll have a tiny packet or two of salt in my pocket.

If you live in the Twin Cities Metro and haven't tried this delightful restaurant, you're missing something special. Be careful about their hours. They don't serve lunch and they're closed Monday and Tuesday evenings. They're located on West Main Street in the downtown area of Waconia, Minnesota (just off of Highway 5).


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Saturday, November 20, 2010


Ahso! You were turned off by yesterday’s blog. It was too serious, too rambling and I heard from over a dozen of you!
by Charlie Leck

Maybe my retirement as a blogger is drawing closer and closer. A lot of you didn’t get it yesterday and I heard from a number of you about it. Your basic question was: What?

Sorry, I was struggling with the concept of the SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM… You know, the Lawrence of Arbia book!

One reader and fellow blogger, Tony Rugare (his blog changes names nearly as frequently as he makes posts and right now it is Pensieri Casuali) posted a comment yesterday on my highly criticized blog... perhaps it gets to the point better than I did.

"Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide" - Buddha

Or to each his own. We should be a nation of tolerance!

Oh, what the hell? Have yourself a ball with the video below. I found it today on our local and wonderful on-line newspaper, MinnPost. If you’re a Minnesotan and don’t read MinnPost regularly you are really missing some good news reporting and commentary.

Yesterday, they posted this video of a TV news team (WGN-Chicago) going crazy because of some very bad moves by their director. It’s quite a riot! There’s nothing quite like watching live video of a bridge imploding – except missing it and watching the TV anchor team implode instead. I got a great laugh out of this...

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Friday, November 19, 2010

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes!” [James 4:14]
by Charlie Leck

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven pillars.
[Proverbs 9:1]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight!
[Proverbs 9: 10]

Sometimes I just ramble because I'm angry; and sometimes that isn't all bad; and sometimes I just babble because I've gotten old!

I've been vigorously and completely raked over the coals by some of my "Christian" friends out there who don't like some of the things I've been writing lately (such as my blog, Freddie and I). I dared there to say that scripture is heavily mythological. I believe that!

I don’t turn to scripture very often; yet, there are times when I must in order to understand.

The foreign policies of some of the nations of the world seem now to be inciting wars between religions and faiths. It troubles me; for no good shall come from jihād.

It is amazing to me that so much of Muslim scripture and Christian scripture are precisely the same. Both, for instance, read the ancient Book of Proverbs. Are the 7 pillars of wisdom iterated there a foundation for people of both faiths?

There, the writer seems to be saying that “the foundation of the House is the Fear of the Lord!” What that seems to say to one faith, seemingly ought to be saying to the other. Isn’t that correct? What does it mean to fear God? It means, I think, to respect his power and ability to bring you down.

In the Christian scriptures, in the Letter of James (often called the Book of Wisdom) the writer struggles with the concept of wisdom (from Proverbs) and its seven pillars. He seems to indicate that they are…

  1. Purity
  2. Peaceableness
  3. Gentleness
  4. Reasonableness
  5. Mercy and Helpfulness (full of good fruits)
  6. Fairness and Humility (without partiality)
  7. Honesty and Sincerity (without hypocrisy)

James put it like this (from the Revised Standard Version translation):

…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (3:17-18)

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. (4:1-2)

Sometimes I think I understand and then the writer has to go an say something like this…

Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (4)

And then I am stupefied again! Enmity? Hostility or ill will or antagonism toward or with God comes from friendship with the world?

What in the world is he talking about? Perhaps the friendliness he is talking about is more understandable today as coziness or intimacy. One gets too cozy with worldliness when one gives up those 7 virtues that James explained (listed above).

So many of my friends argue with me, claiming that America is a “Christian nation;” but then I recall those seven pillars of wisdom that James explains and I want to compare them with our nation’s character traits.

Am I missing something? Are we a Christian nation? Is someone out there crazy; or what?

Don't mind me, I'm just prattling.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great-Grandmother, Mary Doubrava, arrives in America

As if I can look back in time… I can see my great-grandmother with such certain clarity!
by Charlie Leck

My maternal great grandmother’s name, before she married my great-grandfather, was Mary Doubrava. She was born in 1864 in Bohemia – now generally referred to as Czechoslovakia – 146 years ago. Her mother, Marie (my great-great grandmother, was twenty-one years old when she gave birth to Mary.

I was born in 1940. Mary Doubrava would have been 76 years old when I was born – an old woman who had given birth to two boys and two girls.

Mary Doubrava
What do I know about great-grandmother? You want me to answer – “nothing!” Yet, I contend that I can see her in my parents’ apartment, on St. Anne’s Avenue in the Bronx, as she looked down at me on the day of my birth and shook her head and gathered her thoughts.

Ježíš Schmallyá! A Bohunk, indeed,” she said. “A real bohunk! Look at his nose!”

Mary Doubrava had come to America with her parents, John and Marie, in about 1880, as a 16 year old girl. My, what a beauty she was. Thinking about her beauty, leaves me nearly breathless. She was a tall and slender girl, with attentive and remarkable breasts. Her legs were very long and strong looking and so were her arms. She had straight black hair, cut exquisitely short, with bangs neatly cut across the center of her forehead. Her nose was slightly pugged, but delightfully small and delicate. It was her eyes that made her so attractive. They were the color of dark chocolate and they were large, confident and penetrating. Everything about her seemed in perfect proportion. Her skin was delicate looking and radiantly white; however that first time I saw her, on the ship's deck, her cheeks and forehead bore a hint of pinkness from the time spent outdoors in the sun and wind while crossing the sea.

The moment I saw her, I knew it was she. She paused on the deck, in front of the ramp that led down from the ship to the dock, and she looked out upon the faces of those waiting for family and friends to disembark. She saw my face in the crowd and her eyes bore into me and her large mouth and lips formed a ravishing smile of charming happiness. She seemed to wait for the way in front of her to clear and then she came down the long gangway in front of her parents, carrying only one small suitcase, with a large purse that hung on a long strap that lay across her shoulder. Her parents, both 47, were wide-eyed and nervous as they followed her. John Doubrava was struggling with two large suitcases while his stunningly beautiful wife – as dazzling as a princess – carried only her small purse.

Among those who greeted the Doubrava family upon its arrival were members of their families and many friends who had earlier arrived in America. As soon as John, Marie and Mary appeared at the top of the gangway, great cheers and loud clapping rose up from this gathering of hopeful people who waited on the dock.

My great-grandfather, Anton Svejda, was among the gathered greeters. He was a young man, two years older than Mary Doubrava. His father, Francis, owned a delivery and moving service that amounted to a single horse and wagon. John Doubrava was an old friend, and so Francis volunteered his son’s services to move the family's luggage and steamer trunk from the piers on 14th Street over to the east side of lower Manhattan and Little Bohemia.

Anton was overwhelmed by Mary’s beauty when he saw her descending the gangway. He had never seen such a smile or eyes that glistened so brightly. His heart pounded and he was nearly overcome with longing and hopefulness.

I stood far away, but I could see the handsome young man in the crowd and I could see the look of wonder in his eyes. He was a strong lad, with powerful shoulders, arms and hands. His body, with a broad, tight chest and powerful legs, looked as if it could have been sculpted by an Italian renaissance artist. Like Mary, he, too, had dark hair and deep, brown eyes. His nose was prominent and powerful and his jaw was square.

Anton held back while many in the crowd rushed forward to gather Marie, John and Mary in their arms, welcoming them to the land of such promise. He waited patiently, glancing only occasionally toward the street to make sure that his horse was still secure and undisturbed by the shouting and the whistling that came from the vessels on the river. Soon Mikolas Vavelas came to him with the claim check for the steamer trunk.

“Mr. Doubrava tied wide, yellow ribbons on the handles at each end of the trunk, Anton – to make it easier for you to identify it. You’ll need to have this claim document to retrieve it, son.”

Anton knew the routine. He’d been sent here by his father, to perform duties just like this, a number of times. He headed for the baggage claim area to look for the trunk. The line of people claiming their property seemed longer than any he had seen before and the process moved ever so much more slowly than other times that he had come here. Yet, when he cleared the baggage checks and lugged the big trunk, across his strong back, toward the street, he could see her waiting patiently near the horse and wagon. She was chatting with some other pretty, young girls and Mikolas was there, patting the old, gray horse and talking with John Doubrava.

“Ah, ha! Such good work, Anton! And so quickly, too.” Mikolas shouted cheerily to Anton as he broke from the dense crowd of people with the big trunk still secure on his back. He heard what John Doubrava then said to Mikolas.

“A powerful young man to haul such a heavy load upon his shoulders.” He clapped politely as Anton approached and others in the small crowd joined him. Mary turned away from her girl friends to see what had caused the ovation and she saw Anton approaching the wagon. Their eyes met and she smiled broadly at him. It was at that precise moment that he fell in love with her – before the two had ever said a word to each other.

When the suitcases and steamer trunks were loaded securely in the back of the wagon, Mikolas suggested that there would be room on the driver’s seat for the two Doubrava ladies, Marie and Mary, and that he and John Doubrava and the others would walk back to the little, freshly cleaned and painted apartment on 4th Street that awaited the newly arrived family.

Mikolas waited until Anton had untied the horses and climbed up onto the seat before he began to help the ladies climb up next to the driver. Anton sat to the left and there was barely room for the two ladies to fit on the seat next to him. Mary came first and squeezed tightly against Anton. Marie found just enough room and snuggled in next to her daughter. Anton could feel the marvelous heat of the girl’s body against his. He found it very pleasurable, but also embarrassing. He kept his eyes straight ahead and damned his face for burning so and likely turning slightly reddish.

“Gablasha,” Mikolas shouted to Anton in their native tongue. “Meusta vey!” [Go! Be careful!]

I watched as Anton flicked the reins on the old horse’s hind flanks and the wagon creaked as it moved away from the pier. Anton turned east on 14th Street and the gelding slowly clomped his way forward, trailing the members of the family and friends who walked ahead of them. The mother saw something off to their right and laughed and pointed it out to Mary. They both laughed gaily. Anton couldn’t see what had drawn their attention.

It was nearly half an hour before they reached 1st Avenue and turned south. At 10th Street, Anton turned the horse and wagon east again and drove carefully over to Avenue A and the northwest corner of Tompkins Square. There, he turned south again and pointed off to his left at the big park. He spoke to the passengers in Bohemian.

“This is the center of Little Bohemia. The park is always busy on nice days, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. There is always entertainment, like singing and dancing and acrobats and fools.”

Mary and Marie looked over at the park. What they really noticed was that it was surrounded by dense housing. Apartment buildings that were three and four stories tall were packed along every street and avenue. On the street level there were shops and café restaurants and beer halls. They had come from a small village in Bohemia – perhaps of 400 people – and New York was overwhelming to them, but also exciting. They felt as if they had embarked upon a great and important adventure.

They passed by the park and soon arrived at 4th Street and turned east again. Anton moved the horse and wagon far to the right, near the curb and saw the crowd of friends waiting for them. John Doubrava waved to his wife and daughter as the wagon pulled up in front of their new home. Again, there was clapping, shouting and cheering. The smile on John Doubrava's face was broad and real. He was very excited about showing his ladies where they would settle and make an American home. He reached up and took his wife’s hand and helped her navigate her way to the street. As that was happening, Mary turned to Anton and touched his arm softly. She spoke in perfect English.

“Thank you so much. And please thank your father, too. Tell him I look forward to meeting him.” She bowed her head slightly toward the young man and then turned to her father and took his hand.

Anton tried to say something in reply but his tongue seemed not to be working. He looked at the girl’s lovely figure as she bent, seeking a way to climb down from the old carriage. He could imagine Mary’s taunt and curvaceous figure beneath the layers of material that made up her long dress. The girl bent forward, seeking her father’s helping hand. Anton had to look away because his pulse pounded wildly.

“Goodbye, Anton,” the girl said from the ground, looking back up at him, as if teasing him into saying something – anything! He turned and looked back at her.

“Perhaps you could take me for a walk sometime," she said, "and show me around Little Bohemia.”

“Da,” Anton managed to force out. “Ano to bylo pěnkné!” [Yes, that would be nice!]

The girl smiled and nodded and then took her mother's hand and walked away. John Doubrava smiled up at Anton, as if approving.”

“Přivedu zavazadla spolu, Mr. Doubrava” [I’ll bring the trunks along.]

“Děk, Anton. Děkuji,” John Doubrava said, extending his hand up to the boy and then moving off after his women. [Thanks, Anton. Thank you!]

The smitten young man climbed down from the wagon and handed the reins to the horse to his cousin, Vaclav Borcla.

“Hold the old boy, Vaclav, while I get the trunk and travel cases out of the wagon and up to the Doubravas' apartment.” Vaclav took the lines from Anton and winked at him.

“See the girl? Isn’t she a knock-out!” Vaclav used his best English to ask the question and he did his best to accent it like a proper, New York, American boy.

Anton looked at him calmly. He frowned mysteriously, as if he didn’t understand what Vaclav was talking about and then answered him in perfect English.

“What girl?”

Vaclav looked at him skeptically and then they both laughed.

If you have read this far, I hope you recognized the above as fiction – as only my hopeless imaginings about how my Great-Grandfather Svejda might have met the beautiful, young Bohemian girl, Mary Doubrava.
And, if you did read this far, your reward follows. Here are some extraordinary photographs from the archives of the Library of Congress. The one at the head of this blog is my favorite of all those I looked through in the last few days. As you look at these, keep in mind that the Ellis Island facility pictured here did not open until 1892, quite a few years after the last of my ancestral family had arrived in America. The Statue of Liberty facility did not open until 1886 and all of my family arrived before that as well.


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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Freddie and I

The world is economically, politically and religiously shaky at best, but a good friendship can help one through the tangle!
by Charlie Leck

A small package arrived in the mail. It had Freddie’s return address stamp on it. It turned out to be a book he’d read, called Freddie and Me, and he said it made him think of me; so, after he’d read it, he wanted me to go through it too because he knows I like good golf books a great deal. Actually, I have the book in my library and I had already read it.

In fact, however, the book was only camouflage for the real reason Freddie was communicating. Included with the book was a copy of an article by Rush Limbaugh called My Conversation with Dinesh D’Souza. Oh, my!

Freddie urged me to read it.

“Let me know what you think of this,” Freddie wrote. “He does not slam Obama, but seems to think it threw [sic] – so you, being ‘a brilliant scholar’ are the only one I know I would enjoy your ideas on it.”

Of course, I gave the piece a read even though it was difficult to get by one of D’Souza first comments in reply to Limbaugh’s simple, opening question: “Hi, Dinesh. How are you, sir?”

“Rush, I’m a huge fan. I’m delighted to be talking to you.”

Never mind that Mr. D’Souza is the President of King’s College in New York City and a frequent author, anyone who is a “huge fan” of Rush Limbaugh must be kind of feeble-brained.

Freddie and his wife, Mary, are incredible. They are freakishly religious and generally blinded by a simple and utterly silly faith that excludes all other reasonable explanations about life and values. It’s the kind of dangerous stuff that causes a great deal of intra-religious hatred. Mary is forever sending me emails about Christianity, the Bible and/or salvation and the only way to that salvation. These emails make me quiver with disbelief or laughter. At first, when her emails started arriving, I’d spend far too much time fact-checking Mary’s tall tales and then responding to her about the distortions and utter “untruths” that they contained. Sometime ago, I gave up. But, today another arrived.

It announced to me that NASA is out to prove “the truth of the Bible… that what has been called ‘myth’ in the Bible is true? She sent it, I am sure, to dozens of other “undisclosed recipients.” The original message appears to have been from Mr. Harold Hill, the President of the Curtis Engine Company… [The following, I know, is long, but read it just for the wildness of its claims and its attempt to factually, but incorrectly, connect it to NASA]

'I think one of the most amazing things that God has done for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at Green Belt, Maryland ...

“They were checking out where the positions of the sun, moon, and planets would be 100 years and 1,000 years from now. We have to know this so we won't send up a satellite and have it bump into something later on in its orbits.

“We have to lay out the orbits in terms of the life of the satellite and where the planets will be so the whole thing will not bog down.

“They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries, and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong with either the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards.

“They called in the service department to check it out, and they said, 'What's wrong?' Well, they found there is a day missing in space in elapsed time.

“They scratched their heads and tore their hair out. There was no answer.

“Finally a Christian man on the team said, 'You know, one time I was in Sunday School, and they talked about the sun standing still.' While they didn't believe him, they didn't have an answer either, so they said, 'Show us, '

“He got a Bible and went to the book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for any one with 'common sense.'

“There they found the Lord saying to Joshua,

“'Fear them not, I have delivered them into thy hand; there shall not a man of them stand before Thee.'

“Joshua was concerned because he was surrounded by the enemy! And if darkness fell, they would overpower them. So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still! That's right.... 'The sun stood still and the moon stayed and lasted not to go down about a whole day!'
(Joshua 10:12-13)

“The astronauts and scientists said, there is the missing day! They checked the computers going back into the time it was written and found it was close but not close enough. The elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua's day was
23 hours and 20 minutes.. Not a whole day.

“They read the Bible, and there it was about [approximately] a day. These little words in the Bible are important, but they were still in trouble because if you cannot account for 40 minutes, you'll still be in trouble 1000 years from now.

“Forty minutes had to be found because it can be multiplied many times over in orbits. As the Christian employee thought about it, he remembered somewhere in the Bible where it said the sun went BACKWARDS.

“The scientists told him he was out of his mind, but they got out the Book and read these words in 2 Kings that told of the following story: Hezekiah, on his death bed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die. Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said 'Do you want the sun to go ahead 10 degrees?'

“Hezekiah said, 'It is nothing for the sun to go ahead 10 degrees, but let the shadow return backward 10 degrees.' Isaiah spoke to the Lord, and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees BACKWARD! Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes!'

“Twenty-three hours and 20 minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in Second Kings make the missing day in the universe! Isn't it amazing? [References: Joshua 10:8, 12-13 and 2 Kings 20:9-11.

Honest to God!
If our National Aeronautics and Space Administration is spending time on matters like this, I want to protest. Many of Mary’s emails to me are about wasteful government spending on matters like feeding the poor and providing health service to the ill. Of course, we are not wasting time if NASA is trying to prove factual some beautiful myths from books of Joshua and Kings.

Now, a very quick check on the powerful Snopes.com program reveals the claim by Mr. Harold Hill is totally bogus. Here’s what Snopes says

NASA’s Public Affairs Office at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, issued a rather sympathetic press release (if you read the entire document) that denied NASA’s computers would be or had been used for such a project. (It said, among other things…)

“[This center] has no knowledge of the use of its computers supposed by Mr. Harold Hill and attributed to our scientists. Goddard does not apply its computers to the task of projecting thousands of years into the future or past, as this would be irrelevant to the operational lifetime of satellites, which rarely exceeds a dozen years.

“[Harold Hill] worked briefly at Goddard early in the 1960s as a plant engineer, a position which would not place him in direct contact with our computer facilities or teams engaged in orbital computations.”

Oh, my! Why not just allow the Bible to be what it is and don’t try to make it into a historical document. The Great Book is a proclamation of faith and a guide-book for the faithful. It is meant to mix mythology (which is not a bad word) with history. That’s grand enough. We don’t need to be worried about whether the non-faithful believe it to be “factual” because it is not meant to be. It is a book that points to greater truths than facts (that’s what mythology is) – it points to the very soul of the Being of all Beings – to God herself!

I don’t want this blog to get too complicated and I don’t want you (my readers) to misunderstand what I’m trying to say here today. There is an awful lot of “crap” out there that people, just off the top of their heads, when they hear it, accept as fact. This last political campaign is proof enough of that. I could cite dozens of examples (and I know I don’t need to) but one example should suffice; that is, this comment of Congressman Darrell Issa, who will be the new Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee:

“President Obama is one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.”

Of course, the Congressman provided no examples of such corruption and, of course, no evidence of any kind.

It has become the fashion to speak this way in America today. Make things up to justify your case! Just listen to the crazy, incredible things Congresswoman Michele Bachmann says. Just a few days ago she claimed that President Obama's trip to Asia was costing more than 200 million dollars a day. That's been widely debunked by several fact-checking agencies and with facts from the White House. She won't relent and keeps on making the claim even though she has no data, sources or facts to back it up. This kind of crap just isn't right!

Invent wild stories to defend your faith! Create lies to win in politics. Don’t worry that they aren’t true!

All of which brings me back to Mr. D’Souza and his extraordinary conversation with the big bag of wind, Rush Limbaugh, about his book Roots of Obama’s Rage. If you are willing to read the entire conversation carefully, you get the hang of Mr. D’Souza extraordinary evasive way of using the English language. He calls the President a “socialist” but with careful qualifications – “That’s partly right!”

D’Souza claims Obama’s ideology comes from his father – an “anti-colonialist who grew up in Kenya when Kenya was fighting for independence from the British.”

Amazing! Is D’Souza claiming the fight for independence and freedom from British colonialism was wrong? Does he really claim that Obama spent much more time with his father than a few fleeting months when he was very young?

Yet, D’Souza, calls this “a remarkable insight into the specific things that Obama is doing in the Oval Office.”

My goodness, are these really the thoughts and conclusions of an academic? Or are they just the sales pitch of a man who needs an outrageous thesis in order to sell a book?

D’Souza actually has the temerity to build a case that Obama is a foreigner because he “arrived on the American mainland at the age of 17.” He admits that Obama grew up in Hawaii, as if that was some strange, un-American land that taught anti-Americanism and socialism to its people.

Again and again, D’Souza returns to the fact (and I will stipulate it as true) that Obama’s father was an anti-colonialist. Imagine! So was George Washington! So were all those who put their hands to signing the great “Declaration of Independence.”

D’Souza is outrageous in his claims and persistently jumps to conclusions. If he is an academic, God help academia. God help King’s College!

“See, traditional Democrats want to redistribute wealth in this country. Obama wants to go further in realigning America’s wealth and position in the world globally. So not only does he want America and the West to become poorer, he wants to enrich the formerly colonized countries. That’s why he has had a moratorium, for example, on oil drilling in America…..”

And on and on and on… without citations or references… without any proofs except his own gut-feelings… and with numerous errors! For instance, was the “moratorium on oil drilling in America” really Obama’s? Of course not! Who lifted it to allow more research, exploration and drilling? Obama!

Yet, it is the fashion in America today to just believe such trash without critically thinking about it and wondering about the proofs for such irrational and bizarre statements.

NASA is out to prove the “truth of the Bible.” Oh, my God!

America is consumed by a strange sickness in this day and many of its people are willing to believe any lie if it will support their own fantasies and hopes.

I certainly hope we make it through this to a better and more hopeful day.

Thanks, Freddie, for sending along the book. I’ll get it back to you quickly. I'm glad we're friends even though the world is crazy right now with hatred and lies.

Tell Mary to please proof-check her outrageous emails.


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