Friday, April 30, 2010

William M. Remley


In our crazy, zany, wacky and wonderful world of carriages and horses, Bill Remley was the king of the mountain!
by Charlie Leck

After reading the sub-title, I can hear a host of you asking: “Leck, what the heck are you talking about?” Anne and I, my friends, spent about 30+ of our years together collecting lovely, antique, horse-drawn carriages – from little single-seat vehicles to massive coaches that seat twelve passengers at a time and included champagne compartments and ice coolers and crystal pantry – from little, one passenger sleighs to be driven to a pony to massive sleighs that would carry the entire family. The number of people in the nation who dabble in the hobby is small by almost any standard (perhaps a few thousand). Bill Remly, as far as I was concerned, was the master of ceremonies of this enchanting world. I hope things become more clear as you read on.

Bill Remley died on Monday. We just heard about it yesterday. It came like a vicious blow to the celiac plexus. There are certain people in this world who are bigger than life. I haven’t known many of them, but I’m proud as heck to say that I knew Bill Remley.

There are lots of things I personally admired about Bill. One was certainly his voice; for it was a big, sonorous, resonant one. He also had a great laugh. I can close my eyes right here at my desk and see him, a big, voluminous guy, shaking and jiggling as that deep and bellowing laugh roared out of him. More than anything, however, it will be Bill’s unflagging determination to produce the finest carriage driving show in North America that will forever be his legacy. The Walnut Hill Farm Driving Competition is one of the finest and most perfectly produced events – of any kind – that I have ever attended. I had more fun at it than almost anything I’ve ever done in my life. We’ve been Grand Old Patrons of it for many years because Bill Remley asked us to. The show was his baby! He put it together and determined it had to be perfect – perfect for both spectators and participants. He wanted everyone to have a good time and to be completely pleased by the sounds, sights and tastes at Walnut Hill. It is difficult to explain, in words or photos, just how wondrous an event it was. As the expression goes, “you had to be there!”

The great show is described quite well on its web site (in a piece likely written by Bill himself). Here’s a small part of that chronicle:

“Once each year, during the third week in August, the picturesque Pittsford, NY countryside comes alive with the magic and romance of an earlier era - a time when the Horse and Carriage reflected the quality of life and influenced the pace and scope of occupational and social activities. It was a time when the Horse and Carriage were elevated from a simple means of personal conveyance to a portrait of their owner - a social commentary as to profession, personal taste, and character. It was the last decade of the 19th century – the Gilded Age!

I’ll tell you more about Bill in a moment, but, first, permit me to allow my memory to wander.

I remember a great foursome dinner, back in the mid-80s, up in Toronto. Bill and I were there and so was Leslie Kozsely and Sam Freedman. These guys were three of the best talkers and raconteurs I’ve ever known. They were also great drinkers and diners. Our dinner together was like a festival. I never laughed so hard in my life. Nor, had I ever heard so many tall, wonderful, humorous and interesting tales. What great schpiels! I, in comparison, was a mere amateur, so I just sat back and let them soar. You who are now reading this, and knew these three giants of the driving world, can most probably bring to mind the sound of the laughter they could generate.

Sam, master craftsman: one of the finest harness makers the world has ever known!

Leslie, master of horse and carriage: a great driver and trainer of singles, pairs, fours or more!

Bill, showman: the master of ceremonies of the world of horse, carriage and driving!

Oh, how I wish I had a recording of that extraordinary dinner table repartee! It was a freewheeling couple of hours of CAN YOU TOP THIS! And, just when you thought no one could, one of them would.

Sam first, and then Leslie, and now Bill are gone out to the stars, to sit among them as is said in the header to this blog:

“When once our heavn’ly-guided soul shall climb
Then all this earthly grossness quit
Attir’d with stars, we shall for ever sit
Triumphing over Death, and Chance and thee, O Time”
[John Milton: On Time]

Back, thirty years ago, when first I met Mr. William M. Remley, he told me that, on most Saturday evenings, he could be found in his home, in front of the radio, listening to Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion radio show. Whenever, after that, I found myself listening to that same show, which was very, very often, I would always think of big Bill Remley. And now the show itself is giving way to its age. Without Keillor there is no Prairie Home Companion. Keillor himself suffered a stroke in the last year and, I think, it frightened him into letting go a little of all that he had to do. The show is one of the things Keillor will let go. There will be constant replays, Bill, and out there, among all those beautiful, shining, brilliant stars, you may often choose to listen again to Keillor – one master showman to another!

In his real, non-showman life, Bill was a teacher, and, I imagine, he must have been a masterful one. He helped found (naturally) the American Driving Society and was a central ingredient and Honorary Director of the Carriage Association of America.

In his published obituary the author says that Bill “touched the lives of many people and won the hearts of all.” That is not hyperbole – not by any measure at all!

How deeply we will all mourn for him and what sympathy we feel for his wife, Suzanne (to whom he was married for 50 years), and to his children, David and Patricia.

Bill, we up here, near Lake Wobegon, remember you so sweetly, salute you so proudly and ache so painfully at your departure from this grand stage!

“Of comfort no man speak!
Let’s… with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.”
[William Shakespeare: King Richard III]

If you want to taste just a bit of the flavor of the Walnut Hill Farm Driving Competition, I recommend you go to the Skoog Farm Journal (web site) and scroll down through its really lovely photos chronicling the event!




Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Terra-Waconia

Terra-Waconia is a winner, winner, winner!
by Charlie Leck

The first reviews are in on Terra-Waconia, a recently opened restaurant at 140 West Main Street, in downtown Waconia, and those reviews are very, very good. The idea here is farm to table cuisine and they mean farms in the immediate area, not ones on the other side of the state or in bordering states. We’ve heard from some people who really liked it and recommended it to us. So, we tried it and declare it an absolute winner.

Lake Minnetonka Magazine gave it a top-notch review, calling in the best local restaurant in the region. They called it a “charmingly quaint place,” that “will give you a fine dining experience done in a small town way.” I don’t think the magazine goes far enough in its praise. When the food is presented to you, you’ll know this is much more than a quaint spot. It reminded me of dining in Provence or Normandy. As in those regions in France, the menu at Terra-Waconia is small so that the chef can concentrate on quality.

We stopped in for a weekday lunch. A waitress pointed to a chalkboard, similar to ones I’ve seen in many small, French restaurants in Alsace, Burgundy and Auvergne, and told us that was the menu. I went for the mussels as a starter and they dazzled even me, a guy who considers himself an expert on that particular dish. The sauce was effectively peppery, with just a touch of bite and amazing flavor. There were crispy green peas and capers in the slightly thick sauce that was the highlight of the lunch. The mussels were followed by a Lola Rosa Salad with bits of crisp, local bacon and a light vinaigrette dressing touched with a mild flavor of local rhubarb. The lettuce selection was scrumptious and the sweet, small, honey tomatoes were a perfect touch.

Last weekend the restaurant served lamb shanks from Sheepy Hollow as a featured item and we chatted with the head chef, Craig Sharp, about them. He told us they were an absolute hit and the most popular item on the weekend’s evening menu. Also from Sheepy Hollow, the restaurant served a lamb live pâté and skewered pieces of mutton on the weekend menu as well.

The rumor is that we are going to be reading a bang-up, positive review in the next issue of Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine.

I promise you, you’ll enjoy a luncheon or dinner stop at Terra-Waconia (952-442-3353)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Canceling Arizona


On my next golf trip to AZ, where I normally drop a few thousand dollars, what kind of documents must I carry in order to prove my legal status?
by Charlie Leck

The above question is one I emailed off to the Governor of Arizona yesterday morning.

I like taking a little golf trip to Arizona every couple of years. I don’t think I will anymore. I’ll limit my winter golf trips to Florida and Southern California from now on.

Can’t you just imagine the scene. I’m out on the Thunderbolt course at the Moonside Mountain Resort, about to hit a simple wedge shot into the difficult 16 green, when the Alien Police start blowing whistles as they’re coming over the fences on the perimeter of the golf course. Loudspeakers blare at all of us, commanding us to stop and stand where we are for the legal alien checkup

The four of us who were golfing together, all friends from Minnesota, froze in place and waited for what might happen next. It took about 45 minutes for this strange procedure to really get going, however. There were reasons for the delay. Several of the alien cops got hung up on the fences as they were coming over. One of them got snagged when his belt slipped over a broken piece of the chain link fence. Another fellow came off the fence and landed on a terribly dangerous Sclerocactus Whipplei. Then there was the problem of proof.

No one had told me that I now needed to carry a birth certificate in Arizona. I had my driver’s license, my Medicare Insurance card, my American Express card, my Hertz Number One Gold card and my Hennepin County Library card, but none of them satisfied the policeman who thumbed through my billfold. One of the hundred dollar bills tempted him a little bit and, when he looked up into my face, I nodded slightly and he gave the idea some thought, but he didn’t bite. When he came across the card that identified me as a member of the extreme left-wing, progressive and liberal American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), I knew I was in trouble. He dropped my billfold, the fist full of plastic cards and my hundred dollar bills right there on the fairway and quickly pulled his pistol from its holster.

“Get ‘em up,” he shouted, “and turn around, spread your legs and lean against that Saguaro Carnegiea Gigantea. At that point, several other policemen ,who noticed the confrontation, stopped frisking my playing partners (all conservative members of the Michele Bachmann Murky Tea Party) and rushed over to assist the policeman who was now frisking me by running his hands up and down my pant legs and patting me in places where I would have preferred not to be patted.

One of the other officers, who had come in as part of the back-up detail and heard the shocking report that I was an ACLU member, suggested an immediate strip search. So, the order was given.

“You don’t mean right here in the middle of the golf course,” I shouted at the officer who had given the command.

“Okay,” the policeman shouted back, “arrest him for resisting proper and legal identity inspection. Let’s get this no-good, friggin’ commie, liberal bastard into a jail cell, where he won’t see the light of day for the rest of his life.”

One of my buddies, who by this time had come over to see what the heck was up with me anyhow, raised a bit of a legal protest. Back in Minneapolis, he’s a corporate lawyer with the Sugarmore Cereal Company.

“Oh, another pinko, I see,” said one of the angry officers.

“No, sir! Not at all,” my buddy replied as he pulled his Murky Tea Party membership card from his billfold and slid a folded hundred dollar bill underneath it. The officer looked at the card, realized the hundred was there, and then smiled and apologized to my buddy.

“Well, that’s fine,” the officer said, handing only the plastic card back to my fellow golfer, “but don’t get in the middle of these commie arrests like this.”

“What do you mean, officer? I mean, about a commie arrest and all?” My friend, the lawyer, was curious.

“Well, sir, he was carrying an ACLU membership card and that’s not permitted here in Arizona.

“A what?” My friend shouted.

“Yes, sir, you heard me right. Maybe you better get your friend here out of the state as quickly as you can.”

“Friend? What friend, officer? I don’t even know the man.”

“Nor do I,” shouted another of our foursome.

My three golfing partners moved on up toward green 16 to resume our outing. Handcuffed, I was stuffed into the back of a police car, blindfolded and driven north to the border and dumped on the side of the road in Big Water, Utah.”

No, sir! No more golfing in Arizona for me!

Senate Rules


Frankly, the day of the filibuster should end. It’s time for a change in the Senate rules.
by Charlie Leck

Enough already!

I’m tired of sending people to Washington to do the people’s work and then sitting back to watch them make fools of themselves because of the archaic rules in the U.S. Senate. Here’s my analogy: It’s like watching Nero fiddle as Rome burns!

On Monday of this week, a bill was introduced in the Senate to reform America’s banking system and to put in effect stronger regulations over the industry. The people of the nation call it a reform of Wall Street by Main Street. I don’t know if it’s the best thing to do. I was anxious to hear the debate about the issue. The Republicans, using the threat of a filibuster, blocked that debate and didn’t let it happen.

I’m not talking about blocking a vote, now, please understand that. They are blocking a debate of the issues. Obstructionists! The country has gone mad. Stop already! Stop!

It takes 60 votes to end a filibuster and the Democrats don’t have that. In essence, Democracy is stalled and a majority is not a majority in the eyes of the U.S. Senate.

I hope the voting public holds the Republican Party accountable for the lack of production on the part of the current Congress. It’s the Grand Old Party that has blocked action and production in the years 2009 and 2010. The voters should not forget it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Did You Know?


Crazy! These numbers are crazy!
by Charlie Leck

Did you know that the nation’s four largest banks – Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo – hold assets of more than 7.4 trillion dollars?

That’s about half of our entire GDP (gross domestic product).

What if – just imagine it – what if any one of these banks was to collapse? I think the world-wide economy would be thrown into chaos.

That's why this expression – too big to fail – is thrown around all the time.

How did we allow any bank to get so big? Whatever happened to bank regulation? Whatever were we thinking?

An interesting bill, proposing to break up these big banks, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. It’s called ‘the SAFE Banking Act (S. 3241).

This is an issue to keep your eyes on in the coming weeks and months. The bill also addresses the regulation of derivative investments and will likely not allow banks to deal in them.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An End to Homelessness


If we took on the task, community by community, congregation by congregation, wouldn’t it be possible to end homelessness?
by Charlie Leck

The mail arrived yesterday with its usual mountain of absolute twaddle. [Please note that, in regard to my use of the word twaddle, I searched a thesaurus for nearly 15 minutes in an effort to find a better word than 'crap' because a couple of readers have objected to my use of that word in past blogs.]

My first task when I face this jumble of mail is to sort through it, creating 4 piles. They are labeled: him, her, recycle and kerchink (meaning bills). When I get to the monthly newsletter from our church, I find myself physically stuttering, as my hand, holding the piece, jerks from pile to pile wondering where to drop it among the four stacks. You might be thinking I oughtn’t include the bill pile in this tough decision making process, but, then, you don’t know my church.

Yesterday, I was so indecisive about this matter that I began reading one of the front page articles as my hand jerked from pile to pile. To relieve my jerking, I ended up sitting down on a stool at the kitchen counter so I could read the article and then decide what to do with the document.

“Hmm! Our pastor is dreaming again,” I thought to myself. “Now he wants to end homelessness.”

After shaking my head a bit and reading down a few lines, I thought to myself again.

“Hmm! I guess this issue will go in the bill pile!”

I really love this church. I don’t attend very often and I don’t want to be involved, but I love what the congregation does and how it does it, so I am willing to remain attached via its mailing list and I’m willing to send an amount of money to it every month. The church has a big, versatile and creative staff. About the most common trait of the staff is that they’re all big dreamers. I don’t mean that negatively. I know it can sometimes create problems, but it can also produce some nearly altitudinous goals for a church community.

“Like, come on, dude! You want to end homelessness in our entire State? This is what I’m trying to tell you here, you know, about dreamers! I can see we take on a few blocks or something, Reverend, but to put an end to cold and hungry nights on the streets for thousands of people! It’s so shocking to comprehend that I lose my ability to construct grammatical sentences. Come on!”

Recently the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition gave the head honcho among our pastoral team a big award over there in Saint Paul, in the State Capitol building. They call it the Lawrence D. Gibson Interfaith Social Justice Award. Mr. Gibson, himself, presented the honor.

“He has made it his calling,” Mr. Gibson said of our Senior Pastor, “to end homelessness in Minnesota. He has led local and statewide efforts to this end, motivated congregants to advocate with their elected officials, fostered collaboration among downtown Minneapolis congregations of all faiths and inspired the construction of hundreds of affordable homes.”

Well, I think that’s right nice; but I do not think it manifests an end to homelessness or even approaches such a goal. I sat quietly, in the very early morning hours, thinking about this business.

“Could homeless really be ended within a whole state?”

I tried to contemplate the question. I hoped an answer would seep through my incredulity.

In exasperation, I turned from the front page of the newsletter to the pastor’s message on the second page. There, he wrote:
“...the Currie Avenue Partnership, a collaboration of the faith and business communities of Minneapolis, is approaching its goal of raising $350,000 to hire housing case workers who will help scores of eligible individuals to move out of overcrowded downtown shelters and into adequate housing. Already, seven case workers are on the job and people are leaving the shelters for their own apartments. This includes one man who has been in shelters for five years and a woman who, though she has breast cancer, has been sleeping on the floor at a Salvation Army shelter for three years. In the coming months, more and more shelter users will be set up in their own housing and they’ll have the support of the case workers as they build more independent lives… Our congregation has provided $61,000 toward this effort, setting the pace for other congregations and businesses as well.”
It grew even more peaceful. I could hear some lovely and unidentifiable bird songs breaking into the quiet, quiet morning.

“You want to end homelessness in the state, huh? Hmm!”

“Can you believe it?”

“What if congregations in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples all over the metropolitan region started thinking like this Currie Avenue Partnership? Hmm! What if they found business-people within their congregations to partner up with them? Hmm!”

“What if?”

Over there in the state capitol building, when they gave our Pastor his award, he made a few remarks to the assembled folks. He told his congregation what he tried to say in expressing his thanks for the honor.
“…I shared my belief that it’s congregations, not individuals, who are the true ‘prophets’ of our times. [Ours] is becoming one of those prophetic congregations, and it is my happy circumstance to be serving in your midst as this work emerges. We have much more to learn, more challenges to meet, more risks to take, more visions to embody to fully live out our prophetic calling… but we are on the way toward its fulfillment together.”

“You know," I thought, there in the quiet and peaceful morning, “it is possible to end homelessness. It would only take a small army of us who believe it can be done. What kind of crazy place is this anyway? Last week the paper told us about some local captain of industry who made over 100 million dollars in compensation from his company for just the year 2009. Then that loudmouth, Glen Beck, is out there telling his listeners that they ought to leave any church that teaches social justice.

What’s wrong with this picture? A woman with cancer sleeps on the floor of a shelter for over two years? Some guy makes 100 million bucks in a year?

The quiet morning makes me crazy with thoughts. Hmm! That's all!

If you want to look into the work my wonderful church is doing in the fight for social justice, click here to browse around.

If you’d like to read the joint plan of Minneapolis and Hennepin County to end homelessness within the next 10 years, click here


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Shanks to Trout & Caviar

Local Blogger, Brett Laidlaw, produces a consistently outstanding food and cooking blog!
by Charlie Leck

I've recommended the Trout & Caviar Blog to you in the past. This food and cooking blog, produced by Brett Laidlaw, provides lots of inspiration for folks who want to cook local, healthfully and not lose anything of the delight that comes with dining.

Most recently, Laidlaw wrote about cooking lamb shanks for a paschal dinner. We're proud that the shanks were a product of Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm, my wife's wonderful operation that's just down the hill in the hollow. [See the Trout & Caviar Blog about the lamb shanks.] Brett recently shared with a friend a whole butchered lamb from Sheepy Hollow. We're thrilled to have him as a customer.



And now a new restaurant features lamb from Sheepy Hollow
Terra Waconia, a new restaurant about 14 miles south of our farm, is featuring Sheepy Hollow shanks this weekend and we hope to do additional business with them in the future. Look for the dining spot at 140 Main Street in Waconia (952-442-3353).

Apprising Arizona


Is Arizona about to make a terrible mistake?
by Charlie Leck

UPDATE

This morning, the Governor of Arizona signed the bill that is discussed in this blog!
That makes the urgency of you protesting her action quite irrelevant.
It's kind of a sad day for civil liberties in Arizona.
Now we'll see what the courts do with the question of constitutionality!


How many times may I ask you to take action about some moral or political crisis before I begin sounding like some alley cat’s bawl outside your bedroom window? I am frightened that I might commit the error that James Gardner so fervidly wrote about some years ago in National Review magazine:

“…the error of supposing that, because everything indeed is not right with the world, everything must accordingly be wrong with the world; the error of supposing that, because we are plainly not a race of angels, we must perforce be a race of beasts.” [Infinite Jest, National Review, 17 June 1996]

Oh, I implore that you not allow me to make that mistake. I don’t mean to be some kind of moral sense of conscience for you, but, over these last few years, I’ve learned that my readers are sensitive people, concerned with justice and basic human rights. Some of you, who three years ago, would never have dreamed of paying attention to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are now regular contributors to it. There are dozens of you who regularly respond to my requests that you contact your Congressional representatives as matters of urgency arise. For all of this, I cannot thank you enough.

Indeed there is a delicate balance between caterwauling and sounding a sensible warning siren. I seek, of course, to be the latter and want your admonition when you think I have crossed the line toward the former.

Now, I am outside your window once again, meowing about a great injustice I descry in Arizona. This warning came in from Jim Wallis, the pastor and chief cheese at Sojourners (about the only religious organization I pay attention to these days, but see the note at the bottom of the blog). You can read the blogs of Jim Wallis regularly at www.godspolitics.com.

Wallis warns us about an impending legislative action in Arizona that he finds particularly unjust and an invasion of human rights and dignity. The bill has already passed the Arizona Senate and House and now only needs the Governor’s signature. Let me allow Wallace to explain the implications and dangers of the bill as he explained it in his email to me.

“Senate Bill 1070 would require law enforcement officials in the state of Arizona to investigate someone’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be undocumented. I wonder who that would be, and if anybody who doesn’t have brown skin will be investigated. Those without identification papers, even if they are legal, are subject to arrest; so don’t forget your wallet on your way to work if you are Hispanic in Arizona. You can also be arrested if you are stopped and are simply with people who are undocumented — even if they are your family. Parents or children of “mixed-status families” (made up of legal and undocumented, as many immigrant families are out here) could be arrested if they are found together. You can be arrested if you are “transporting or harboring” undocumented people. Some might consider driving immigrant families to and from church to be Christian ministry — but it will now be illegal in Arizona.

“For the first time, all law enforcement officers in the state will be enlisted to hunt down undocumented people, which will clearly distract them from going after truly violent criminals, and will focus them on mostly harmless families whose work supports the economy and who contribute to their communities. And do you think undocumented parents will now go to the police if their daughter is raped or their family becomes a victim of violent crime? Maybe that’s why the state association of police chiefs is against SB 1070.

“This proposed law is not only mean-spirited — it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe. This radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. We all want to live in a nation of laws, and the immigration system in the U.S. is so broken that it is serving no one well. But enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. And enforcement of this law would force us to violate our Christian conscience, which we simply will not do. It makes it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona.

“Before the rally and press event, I visited some immigrant families who work at Neighborhood Ministries, an impressive community organization affiliated with Sojourners’ friends at the Christian Community Development Association. I met a group of women who were frightened by the raids that have been occurring, in which armed men invade their homes and neighborhoods with guns and helicopters. When the rumors of massive raids spread, many of these people flee both their homes and their workplaces, and head for The Church at The Neighborhood Center as the only place they feel safe and secure. But will police invade the churches if they are suspected of “harboring” undocumented people, because it is the law? Will the nurse practitioner I met at their medical clinic serving only uninsured people be arrested for being “with” the children of families who are here illegally as she treats them?

“At the rally, I started with the words of Jesus (which drew cheers from the crowd gathered at the state Capitol), who instructed his disciples to “welcome the stranger,” and said that whatever we do to “the least of these, who are members of my family” we do to him. I think that means that to obey Jesus and his gospel will mean to disobey SB 1070 in Arizona. I looked at the governor’s Executive Tower and promised that many Christians in Arizona won’t comply with this law because the people they will target will be members of our “family” in the body of Christ. And any attack against them is an attack against us, and the One we follow.

“Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles just called this Arizona measure “the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless immigration law.” On CNN, I defended the Cardinal’s comments, which likened the requirement of people always carrying their “papers” to the most oppressive regimes of Nazism and Communism. I wonder whether the tea party movement that rails against government intrusion will rail against this law, or whether those who resist the forced government registration of their guns will resist the forced government requirement that immigrants must always carry their documentation. Will the true conservatives please stand up here? We are all waiting.

“Arizona’s SB 1070 must be named as a social and racial sin, and should be denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation. This is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be. It’s time to stand up to this new strategy of “deportation by attrition,” which I heard for the first time today in Arizona. It is a policy of deliberate political cruelty, and it should be remembered that “attrition” is a term of war. Arizona is deciding whether to wage war on the body of Christ. We should say that if you come after one part of the body, you come after all of us.

+Click here to take action for immigration reform!

1I continue my loyalty also to the United Church of Christ (UCC), which is one of the institutions within the Christian Faith that has not forgotten the command of Jesus that we seek justice for all people and that we serve all people of need. The UCC has made me enormously proud at times when other denominations have acted so stupidly and cowardly.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Short Story


Reading and writing the short story!
by Charlie Leck

I continue to cultivate a keen interest in the modern short story even though there are not a great many writers giving time to the technique in our day. One would actually be hard-pressed to create a very long list of contemporary writers who are publishing significant short stories. Too bad! If you have a fascination with such stories, you might want to look for works by Richard Russo, Chuck Palahniuk, Mark Helprin (The Pacific) and Stephen King (one of King’s works that ranks among my favorites is Stand By Me). There are lots of memoir accounts out there that readers often mistake for short stories because they’re written that way. However, it is difficult to find many top-notch fiction short story writers. The literary web site, East of the Web, does have a sizeable list of writers who are today publishing short stories, but I can't vouch for how good they might be. You may want to take a look.

My Short Stories
I have developed this exciting habit of setting aside three hours for writing every day. This is time in addition to my blog writing. I end up writing memoir accounts and fiction (usually short stories). I’ve published a few of those short stories (shorter ones) here on my blog. I appreciate the kind and helpful reactions I’ve gotten from so many readers.

My latest short story, In Flanders, is now available for those of you who are interested in reading it and making comments to me about it. It is available for you in PDF format (which will also make for easy printing if you wish). It is approximately 23 pages long. Just go here and then select In Flanders.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gun Control Impossible, but We Can Still Do This


Closing the "gun show loophole!"
by Charlie Leck

Through the organization, The Color of Change, I received an interesting message yesterday from the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, the Honorable Cory Booker. The mayor pointed out that in March there were no murders in the City of Newark and that marked the first time in 44 years that an entire month passed without a murder.

My, oh my! It is such a statistic that makes some of my good friends in Western Europe shake their heads and wonder about America. Murders are rare, even in big cities like Paris and Berlin. Look at the difference in annual murder rates between large cities of equal size, like Washington (DC) and Toronto. Washington has about 300 murders each year. Toronto has a dozen.

Those are stark differences and they do unquestionably say a great deal about a culture and a national mentality.

Politically, it is obvious that “gun control” is not the answer. Our founding fathers knew not what a Pandora’s Box they were opening when they included the second amendment to the constitution in our Bill of Rights. Sweeping legislation is not a realistic possibility.

Mayor Booker, however, made some interesting points about some legislative actions that are possible and would help stem this rising tide somewhat. And, here’s what he said about how we can be involved:

“Right now, there is a gap in our nation’s laws. It's called the Gun Show Loophole, and it enables criminals, the mentally ill, and other legally prohibited persons to purchase firearms without a background check. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 30% of illegally trafficked guns are connected to gun shows.

“Even though many gun shows are organized in more rural states, the impact of illegal guns obtained through the Gun Show Loophole is overwhelmingly felt in America’s cities and minority communities. That’s why I’m partnering with ColorOfChange to ask for your help in closing the Gun Show Loophole.

“Please join me in telling Congress to step up and close the Gun Show Loophole. It will protect all of our communities, and it takes just a moment:

http://www.CloseTheLoophole.org/ColorOfChange

“This week also marks the 11th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School, where twelve students and a teacher were murdered.3

“The killers got their guns because of the Gun Show Loophole, and politicians immediately swore they would take action to close it.

“But eleven years later, nothing has changed. The loophole is still open and more than 12,000 Americans are victims of gun murder every year.4 Minority communities often feel the brunt of this violence -- African-American men, for example, are 9 times more likely than white men to be murdered with guns.

“I'm a proud member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- a coalition of more than 500 mayors who believe in common-sense gun laws. We are doing what we can to reduce the number of illegal guns on the streets of our communities.

“Just as it's a priority for us, closing the Gun Show Loophole should be a top priority for our representatives in Congress, and they need to hear your voice.

“Please add your name to the petition and help protect innocent people from gun violence:

http://www.CloseTheLoophole.org/ColorOfChange

“To win this fight, you and I need to speak out and make a call for action that is long overdue.

“Thank you for getting involved in this crucial issue for our community..."

This seems like a little thing to do. You’ll probably start getting regular emails from Color of Change if you do it, but you can always hit their little “unsubscribe” button if you don’t want those and the organization will discontinue them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beauty on a Wall, Wisdom in a Pen


Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is visiting our community soon!
by Charlie Leck

The founder of the Art of Living Foundation, a philosopher and wise man, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is visiting our community tomorrow and I intend to be among those who will meet him and listen to his interesting comments. He is most famous for his techniques regarding stress relief. The following quotations are from his book, Celebrating Silence.

"Knowledge is a burden if it does not set you free."

"Question: God is all abundant, all full and we are connected to God. Then why are we in debt? Why do some have and some do not?"

"Know that humiliation does not weaken you -- it strengthens you. When you have a sense of belongingness, you cannot feel humiliated. The more egotistic you are, the more humiliation you feel. When you are childlike and have a greater sense of kinship, you do not feel humiliated. Similarly when you are committed to truth and not to your ego, you do not feel humiliated."

"Legendary is the love that withstands rejection. It will be free of anger and ego."

"Wake up and see your life is too short. The realization that life is short will bring dynamism to your life -- unwanted things and distractions will fall away. When you must act or make an effort, know that life is short. Time is running out."

Shankar was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tarryl Clark versus Michele Bachmann


Friends of fairness, all around the country, we need your help up here in Minnesota!
by Charlie Leck

I was very distressed to read in our local paper that Michele Bachmann is raising campaign funds by the barrel-full and (here’s the troubling part) 63 percent of those funds are coming in from other states. In the last three months, Bachmann has raised $800,000. As of now, she has a campaign booty of 1.3 million.

It’s frightening to think how that money will be spent. How many sleazy, distorted and outlandish ads can you get away with in today's political climate? The answer of course is as many as you can pay for!

Frankly, to beat Bachman, we’re going to need to turn to other states to step up and match the kind of funds that the Republicans are sending in from all around the country – and especially from the south.

So, my friends who read this blog, I’ll put it straight to you. Please contribute to the campaign of Terryl Clark. You can do so by visiting her web site. I’ve listened to Ms. Clark. I’ve read about her. I’ve studied her positions. She’d make a great congresswoman. Please help us out up here – no matter where you’re from.

Michele Bachman is the same woman who, during her last campaign, talked on MSNBC about Obama’s “anti-American” views. She recanted those statements, but now speaks of herself as looking like Nostradamus for having said that about the President. She can’t have it both ways? Or can she?

Please, wherever you’re from, if you have a progressive bone in your body, send Terryl Clark some money to assist her campaign.

Friends Vanish


It is complicated, this final turn and the run down the home stretch!
by Charlie Leck

It is here, in the turn that leads us into the home stretch, that the race gets complicated. Those ahead are squeezed in close to the rail and running like there is no tomorrow, fighting for the lead. To get into contention from an inferior position requires a fight up through the crowd ahead because there isn't left in me enough speed, energy or breath to go wide and pass the mob. So, I settle into a pace that will keep me near the pack, waiting for this turn to give way to the straight, final furlong that leads down past the grandstand filled with the cheering, scapegrace gamesters. Perhaps then I can move up a place or two and avoid the embarrassment of finishing in the antipodal position.
"As for his soul, well, he'd been having rather a bad time with it lately. A man whose friends are vanishing every day must learn to nuzzle death in order to keep his sanity -- didn't a kind of affection always take root in proximity?...

"In a vast and shifting universe, where stars glitter and die in endless night, one may choose to accept coincidence of every sort." [Alan Furst: Dark Star]
So!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Surprise Quiz!


Please answer the following questions!
by Charlie Leck

Sit tight! No hitting the back button on your internet browser! Today, I am asking you to take the following pop-quiz. It amounts to four questions. Please answer each very briefly. Actually, each of them can be answered in two words or less. Your grades will be posted here on Friday.

What is more dangerous to American society and the health of our nation than ignorance?

How many of our founding fathers – the inventors of our Republic – felt it was vital that citizens should be well informed?

What has happened to the great nations and empires in history when their ruling elite became selfishly wealthy and lost concern for common citizens?

Who was it, beside Congresswoman Michele Bachman of Minnesota, who said of the starving masses that were begging for bread, “Let them eat cake!”?

Thank you!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Michele Backman Fails Idiot Examination


She’d also get scorched on the polygraph machine!
by Charlie Leck

Two things should be required of one who wishes to serve in the United States Congress
(1) One should be required to pass a general intelligence test that provides proof one is not an idiot.
(2) One should be required to swear an oath than one will not lie to one’s constituents.

Such simple requirements would have saved Minnesota from the pain and embarrassment that comes with having Michele Bachmann represent one of our Congressional Districts.

Recently, Congresswoman Bachmann has claimed that the federal government has take over 51 percent the private economy. A few nights ago, Bachmann said the following on CNN:

“The story in our country has been the federal government takeover of private industry. The federal government literally, in 18 months’ time, has taken either direct ownership of control of 51 percent of the private economy. Eighteen months ago, 100 percent of the private economy was private. But today, the federal government literally owns banks, the largest insurance company in the United States. The federal government owns over half of all home mortgages today in the United States – Chrysler, GM, the student loan industry and now health care.”

Now a lot of you, because you are very intelligent, won’t believe that a real Congressional Representative of the United States actually said that. So, I am forced to provide the video clip from the interview on CNN where she did say just that.

In fact, our nation does not own any banks. Now, there is the Federal Reserve, but that’s been around since early in the 1900s, so she can’t mean that. When we provided some bailout money to several banks we did acquire some stock ownership in some of them, but none exceeded 8 percent control – hardly ownership. All but one of those major banks repaid the bailout money (with interest) and reacquired any stock ownership the nation had in them.

The federal government does not in fact own any of the private economy. That portion of the economy is called private because it is not under the control of the public (or government). Did Mrs. Bachman take any civics classes when she was in school.

Is it honest to say that the U.S. government now owns the health care industry? Please see my startling blog of three days ago: Health Care Industry Gone Crazy!

Representative Bachman is not only an idiot. She is also a liar. She fails both of my requirement tests. Kick her out of Congress.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Alan Furst


I am in my Alan Furst period right now and I’m enjoying it immensely.
by Charlie Leck

The mystery genre intrigues me. I find the good mystery thriller captivating. The spy novel, within this category is, perhaps, my favorite. The accurate historical spy novel takes all of these to a higher level by including an extraordinary opportunity to learn. When this format is written exceptionally well you have struck the proverbial gold of the reading pile.

I wrote glowingly for you about Alan Furst back on January 20 and told you I was on a quest to read all his offerings to date. I’ve nearly completed the task and need to check back in to tell you the effort is I everything I hoped it would be.

I think Furst is a genius. Certainly he is the master of the historical spy novel. He is a masterful writer and I cannot recommend him any more highly than I do. If this variety is of interest to you, do not fail to read his work. His second book, Dark Star, is among the best I have ever read.

His ability to describe and bring characters to life is extraordinary. I’ll end this brief blog today with this example of his description of a character in Dark Star and another paragraph from that novel.

“Baumann was tall and spare, with thin, colorless lips and the face, ascetic, humorless, of a medieval prince or monastic scholar. His skin was white, as though wind or sun have never touched it. Perhaps fifty, he was hairless from forehead to crown, which drew attention to his eyes, cold and green, the eyes of a man who saw what others did not, yet did not choose to say what he saw.”

And, the quality of the following paragraph is not uncommon in his writing.

“What he remembered later was not that he had fought bravely, he had simply decided that life mattered more than anything else in the world and had contrived to cling to it. In those year he had seen heroes, and how they went about their work, how they did what had to be done, and he knew he was not one of them.”

Indeed, Alan Furst is a remarkably good writer and I recommend him to you.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Our National Trinity


Baseball, Apple Pie, the Flag and, oh yes, Motherhood!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve been writing a bit about baseball lately. One of my old friends is a faithful reader of my blog, but he really wants me to stop writing about baseball. Basically, he asks: Who cares? Or to put it a bit more profanely: Who gives a damn?

He writes: “I know baseball is supposed to be somewhat intellectual by its nature...but the people who play it are often thugish fools...while most of the people in the stands are foolish thugs...”

Now this is a guy who has criticized (now publically) one of the elements of the great American trinity! Next he will be telling me that he doesn’t like apple pie either!

As Forest Gump used to say: “Let me say this about that!”

Baseball is grand, especially when it’s played properly, with enthusiasm and on green, green grass under God’s magnificent sky.

We’ve got a professional ball team up here in Minnesota and its last couple of managers (over more than20 years now) have made a point of teaching our ball players the true fundamentals of the game. In years past we’ve had some enormous success with our teams even though we weren’t the most talented team in the major leagues. We won the World Series in both 1987 and 1991 by understanding and playing fundamentally sound baseball.

Now, in 2010, I am here to tell you that the baseball world had better watch the Minnesota Twins because we not only have a team drilled in the proper fundamentals, but we are also a damned good team with a lot of talent both offensively and defensively. The great caveat, of course, is that we need our guys to stay health and be lucky enough to avoid serious injuries. If we do, we’ll see you in the playoffs folks and we’ll be there to win. We will not be satisfied with consolation prizes.

A couple of days ago one of the Boston Red Sox players striped a line drive base hit to right field. Now, the generally accepted etiquette of baseball is that, when I guy like that gets a bang-bang solid hit, the other team gently retrieves the ball and returns it to the pitcher. Yet, on this afternoon the Red Sox player sort of sauntered up toward first base after nailing the line drive. The Twins right fielder saw the touch of casualness on the part of the opponent and raced to retrieve the ball that had hit the turf in front of him and fired a strike, as if he were a second baseman, right into the waiting mitt of the first baseman. At the very last second, the Red Sox player saw the embarrassing situation and raced like hell to the bag, just beating the throw from the outfield by a fraction. Notice I have not used the opposing players name here because I don’t want to embarrass him.

From the time we are little kids, we are taught to hustle up the line when we get a base hit because anything can happen to the ball and any defender is capable of screwing up and allowing you to make more out of it than seemed at first obvious. We were also taught that we were never to be thrown out at first base on a ball we hit safely into the outfield. Nothing in baseball, I think, would be more embarrassing.

Now, take the opposite example from the game I attended today. One of the Twins’ players, Nick Punto, lined a drive into the outfield. Punto race up to first base and, as he approached the bag, he saw that the Red Sox outfielder was being very casual about getting to the ball, to field it. Punto turned on the jets, rounded the bag and raced down to second, stretching a simple single into a surprising double.

After the game, the Red Sox outfielder expressed some anger about being shown up by Punto even when the Twins were already ahead by eight runs in the game. It is something ball players are not supposed to do. Sorry sir, when a team is trained to react to certain situations in certain ways, they do so more like a machine than as a thinking human being who doesn’t want to embarrass the player on the other side.

Watch out, baseball! The Twins are cranking it up a notch!

This is information for my friend who was mentioned in the opening of this blog. When a team is strong up the middle – and you, of course, know that that means in center field, at short stop and second base, and at catcher – they are a team to fear. The Twins are damned strong up the middle.

I had a fabulous time at the Twins game today. Parked my car miles and miles from the stadium, boarded an express bus that dropped me across the street from the main entrance plaza and the sun was shining brightly and the place was packed with adoring fans and peanuts and crackerjacks were flowing abundantly.

I was a delighted, little kid again – watching kids play the game the right way.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Health Care Industry Gone Crazy


Now look! I’m not sayin’ – I’m just sayin’
by Charlie Leck

I’m not going to go on and on about this. I’ll be brief and get right to the point. You ask and answer the key questions on your own.

I’m writing about the health care industry that fills the campaign treasuries of just about every Republican Congressional candidate in the country.

In 2009, Stephen Hemsley, the President and Chief Executive Officer of United Health Group, Inc., based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, received total compensation of $101,959,866. Yup! There’s no typo there and no extra digits. We’re talkin’ over 100 million dollars.

Do you have any questions?

Hey, those of you in the Tea Party, are you paying attention?

Get this! He’ll probably pay less in federal income taxes than his secretary.

Do you think Health Care is broken?

Where is all that money coming from?

Oops! Sorry! I said you could ask the questions.

Back in 2006, William McGuire held the same position in the same company. He took down 127 million dollars in that year. He got over 90 million the year before.

If you don’t think this is crazy, I’m afraid you’re crazy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anna Walentynowicz


In case you missed this on the inside of your newspapers!
by Charlie Leck

Among Polish leaders and dignitaries who died in the airline crash in Russia this past Saturday was Anna Walentynowicz. Take yourself back to 1980 and the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. A crane operator, who also happened to be a labor leader who was severely disliked by government management, was fired. This action touched off a labor strike that led to the founding of Solidarity, which, in turn, led to the crash of Communism in Poland. The crane operator was Anna Walentynowicz. She was in her early 50s back in those days, only a few months away from retirement. That means she died Saturday in her early 80s.

The labor leader who so valiantly supported Mrs. Walentynowicz after her firing was Lech Walesa. Mr. Walesa would later go on to become Poland’s President.

In Poland, and in anti-communism lore, Mrs. Walentynowicz is often compared with our own Rosa Parks. If you, however, remember the movie Norma Rae, it is probably more accurate to compare her to Crystal Lee Sutton, the North Carolina labor leader who inspired that character and the film.

Mrs. Walentynowicz was orphaned during World War II and, at the age of 10, was forced to begin working as a maid. She began working in the Gdansk shipyards in 1950. She was an activist in pro-labor and anti-communism work from a very young age. In 1978, this gallant and courageous woman wrote, in an underground newspaper, about the spending excesses of her communist supervisors. It was only one of the sins that led to her firing.

May she rest in peace!

[Source: NY Times Obituary]


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I’m Still a Kid at the Ballpark


The Twins officially opened Target Field yesterday and it took my breath away!
by Charlie Leck

I’ll tell you the truth so I won’t be able to change the story in 7 or 8 years and claim I was at the opening game at Target Field, to watch the Twins beat the Boston Red Sox. I was not at the opening game. It’s okay with me. My wife wanted me to go downtown and do business with a scalper and pay whatever it took to get me in. She knew just how excited I was about the opening of this new ballpark.

I read little quotations in the paper this morning that came from fans who were at the opening game. A good many of them said they had tears in their eyes. So many explained how proud they were that we now had a ballpark we could call our own.

Count me one of the sentimental slobs, but I felt the same emotions as I watched the opening pitches of the game on television yesterday. I had tears in my eyes.

I had a great visit to the stadium over a week ago. I told you in this blog that I have never seen, nor did I ever believe I would see, a ballpark as beautiful as Target Field.

The political fight to get this ballpark built was a difficult one. More than one politician’s career came to an end because he/she supported building this place. I wonder now if we could even find any of the voters who stood so staunchly opposed to building this little piece of heaven. It’s revitalizing a big corner of downtown and it will bring thousands and thousands of visitors (spenders) into Minneapolis – people who would not have otherwise come here.

I’ve got tickets for about a dozen games this year – a couple of them in May when the hated White Sox are in town. I can’t wait. People from other baseball towns can’t possibly understand the strong emotions we have up here about our new ballpark. They don’t understand us when we scream in joy that our team will be playing ball under the open sky and on real grass.

Naturally, it was a sold-out game yesterday and, probably, all 81 of the home games this year will be sold out. You could have interviewed any of the Twins fans at yesterday’s game and you would have gotten the same, positive and glowing reaction. This is a great ballpark. This is a great place to gather with other fans to “root, root, root for the home team – and if they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”

I wish my old man was around so I could tell him about every square inch of this glorious ballpark. He took me to my first ball game at the incredible Polo Grounds in New York City. I’ll never forget how the sight of the green, green grass took my breath away. It’s 60 years later, Pop, but the same thing happened when I walked into Target Field.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Big Bomb


Nuclear Weapons in Our Own Time
by Charlie Leck

I have a few readers out there who go back with me to Chester P.S. and our bomb shelter exercises. Other readers remember going through the same dang thing.

Our little school was about 50 miles from New York City and there was genuine concern about the Rooskies getting a big A-weapon delivered into New York. So, a significant number of homes in our area included specially constructed bomb shelters equipped with water, food and toileting provisions. We all laugh about it now, but the fear was very real back then.

The exercises at our particular school, however, were no more than totally worthless. While a member of one grade level, I remember sheltering in the basement dining room that had small windows up by the ceiling and an egress doorway out to our ground level playground. In another grade, our class was assigned to assemble in the boiler room. It would have been a wonderful place to be if an atomic attack caused the boiler system to explode.

What brings these memories back to mind this morning? Answer = an email that arrived recently from the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding Nuclear Weapons & Global Security.

The email sent me to a web page loaded with significant information about the current state of nuclear weapons in the world today (or as George W use to say, “nukuler weapons!”).

For example, do you know that there are a total of approximately (and it’s very close to exact) 25,441 big bang weapons around the world. That nation which hates us one moment and loves us the next, Russia, has over 15,000 of those. That’s not too comforting. Our own nation has about 9,500. That only leaves about 1,000 of the little buggers for seven (7) other nations.

France has 300
China has 240
The UK has 200
Israel has 80
Pakistan has 80
India has 50

Crazy, unstable and fidgety North Korea has somewhere between 5 and 15.

How does the song go? “It’s a great big, wonderful world we live in!” Oh, indeed it is. Iran is trying to get in the little arms race. That makes Israel extremely nervous and causes its trigger finger to itch. Can you imagine what a nation that believes in total retaliation for attacks waged on it could do with those 80 weapons?

So, our very own President has arrived at an agreement with Russia to seriously downsize the amount of big-boom weapons each of us holds. As the “Concerned Scientists” say on their web page, “It’s a modest, first step…”

Here’s the problem and here’s why I’m writing this today. The treaty that Russia and the U.S. has signed, now has to be ratified by our Senate. The Tea Party has already begun a campaign against such a reduction in arms and both Ms. Palin and our own Mrs. Bachmann have been riling up the Tea Party members against the treaty.

You need to go on record with your U.S. Senator, urging him/her to support this important, modest treaty. You can find many reasons why you should do so on the web page of the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding Nuclear Weapons & Global Security.

I’m asking you nicely: Please ask your U.S. Senator to support this treaty between Russia and the United States.