Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Proud Grandpappy

Our three granddaughters: Anna Rose, Caroline Jean and Daphne Rose

What can I say? Wouldn't you like to see some photos of my grandkids?
by Charlie Leck

How I remember those times, over the years, when a proud grandparent cornered me when we were at lunch or dinner together, or even at the handball court, or while sitting at a ballgame, and hauled out a pile of photos of his grandkids. What did I really care?

Now, these days, I have a more sympathetic attitude toward proud grandparents. So I'm hauling out this pile of photos, of my four grandkids, recently taken out in Oregon. You won't be bored, will you? How much easier for you here than if I had you cornered at the grocery store (you can just click and begone with me).


Rowan Gordon on the seacoast, beginning a masterpiece!


Rowan watches Anna interfere with his masterpiece!


"Oh well," Rowan says, "I'll try again on another day!"


Caroline and Anna are about to turn Rowan into a masterpiece!


Caroline has an absolutely winning smile and she uses it well!

An angel is process!


Three girls on the beach, looking for fun!


"To the water!"


Celebrating Rowan's birthday!


On the chilly Pacific coastline in Oregon!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Krugman Sees Third Depression


Award winning economist and NY Times columnist sees G-20 Summit Meeting as very disappointing. Imagine Tom Emmer trying to understand this!
by Charlie Leck

I can perform no better service this morning than to send you to NY Times columnist, Paul Krugman, and his recent comments about the disappointing G-20 Economic Summit. He feels the Summit is doing exactly what it should not and is pushing us toward a third great depression that will see long, long-term unemployment and severe economic times ahead. I strongly suggest you read Krugman's column.

Governments, Krugman explains, "are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending."

Conservatives, following this trend, have a tight grip on American politics right now and they are calling for belt tightening, cuts in spending and no new taxes. You'll see why Krugman thinks that is exactly what should not be done.
"It's almost as if the financial markets understand what policy makers seemingly don't: that while long-term fiscal responsibility is important, slashing spending in the midst of a depression, which deepens that depression and paves the way for deflation, is actually self-defeating.
"So I don't think this is really about Greece, or indeed about any realistic appreciation of the tradeoffs between deficits and jobs. It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times."

The conservative voice appears to be in control right now and and those who vocalize it have no inclination toward "rational analysis."

Try to imagine the Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota, Tom Emmer, even beginning to understand what Krugman is talking about!
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William Butler Yeats


An Irishman, Yeats won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”
by Charlie Leck

I spit into the face of Time
That has transfigured me.

I know what you’re talking about W.B., and I share the sentiment, but what good does it do us when the wind only blows the spat back upon us?

Yeats is certainly one of the worthy poets, deserving of some of our time before we pass on. It might profit you to spend some quiet moments with the poets rather than those “cheating housewives of New York,” or whatever they’re called on that small screened machine in your home.

I won’t go on about poets and poetry again after today. After a few blogs about poetry in the last week, I’ve probably made my point. There’s wondrous stuff out there, so worthy of our time and thought. And there is so little time for wasting!

THE SONG OF WANDERING AENGUS
by W.B. Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Oh, my!

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Sheepy Hollow Gets Nice Mention Again

Trout & Caviar is a faithful promoter of lamb from Sheepy Hollow and we follow that blog religiously!
by Charlie Leck

I carefully follow the blogs of Brett Laidlaw at Trout-Caviar and never miss a single one. I've learned a lot from Brett and picked up some wonderful ideas and recipes from his blogs. I'm very excited that we may see a book from him within the next year. Yippee!

Today's blog at Trout-Caviar is about the wonder of cooking fresh, seasonal food outside. I was enjoying my time at the blog this morning when, very unexpectedly, I came upon some high praise (again) for the lamb that comes from Sheepy Hollow. Of course, that's my dear wife's operation and praise is always greatly appreciated by her after all the hard work she puts in on her farm to produce this product.

Our thanks again to Brett for his wonderful comments.




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Monday, June 28, 2010

Zany Politics


Indeed, politics of the last decade have been absolutely nuts and that's what Myles Spicer writes about in MinnPost!
by Charlie Leck


Myles Spicer's column in today's edition of MinnPost, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in Today's Politics," is definitely worth a read [click here to go to it].

How about some of the wild ideas advanced by politicians of late: (1) Paul Rand's proposal to abolish the Civil Rights Act; (2) Sharon Angle, running against Harry Reid out in Nevada, wants to abolish the U.N., the Department of Education and Medicare -- and she wants to privatize Social Security; and (3) Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, wants us all to apologize to BP for offending it by blaming it for this recent oil spill, which she feels is really President Obama's fault.

That's only a few of the recent proposals. The Governor of Texas wants to secede from the Union and the Governor of Louisiana first said he wanted the federal government to state out of state affairs and then got upset because the federal government wasn't getting involved enough in the oil spill.

Spicer says it all better than I and I urge you to read his piece. He offers full apologies, of course, to anyone he offends, as do I.

For, I am thinking we should do away with all federal environmental laws; and only states should be allowed to declare war on foreign nations; and anyone elected to the Presidency must be at least 75 years old, male and of purely Arian lineage; and everyone, in every home, should be provided weaponry of a substantial nature to protect themselves from neighbors and the federal government; and all federal taxes should be eliminated except on those making less than $20,000 per year (to encourage people to work harder); and the law against alcohol consumption should be reinstated; and all banks and investment institutions should be completely deregulated; and free speech should be limited to white, Anglo-Saxon protestants (small or capital "P"); and non-heterosexuals should be immediately imprisoned; and whatever else the Tea Party wants should be immediately passed into law (and no constitutional challenges are allowed).

It's a crazy, crazy political time in a wild and whacky nation. Hold on and get ready for the wildest ride you've ever had!

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Supreme Court Needs an Injection of People Power


Elena Kagan confirmation hearings will begin on Monday and Obama would like to see her confirmation before the 4th of July
by Charlie Leck

Minnesota’s two U.S. Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, will vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Klobuchar makes no secret of her desire to see another woman added to the Court. Franken wants to balance the pro-business (or pro-corporation) Court.

I think Obama’s selection is a good one. She should be confirmed; however, the Republicans hold enough strength in the Senate that they could filibuster the nomination if they choose to. Because they have enough PR problems right now, I don’t think they will. Kagan ought to be able to pick up one or two Republican votes (watch Olympia Snow) on her way to taking her seat on the big bench.

Kagan is a solid legal intellectual. She will show it when she begins to answer questions. Senators will actually not be able to keep up to her intellectually; though a few of them will throw out the usual “liberal” and, perhaps even, “radical” tags. Like Obama, Kagan is actually a very moderate liberal and not at all a radical or progressive. In other words, she is a solid centrist or middle-of-the-roader!

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Sometimes a Smile


The girls at Two Pony Gardens can put a smile in your life without even trying!
by Charlie Leck

I hate rushing the days and weeks away! At my age, we want to see time slow down and not speed up. Yet, here I am longing for tomato season, still a few weeks or more off here in Minnesota. Luscious Minnesota tomatoes. I’m starting to see them in my sleep.

I long for the day, probably at the end of July or early in August, when I can drive down that long, long, rutted, narrow roadway that leads into Two Pony Gardens where I can buy the most extraordinary tomatoes I’ve ever tasted – tomatoes of all colors and sizes, with zany, heirloom names.

If the girls are there, when I arrive at Two Pony, all the better; because their smiles are worth as much as their tomatoes. Those two precious things have the biggest, loveliest juiciest smiles a guy could ever see and they brighten my day and make me feel as if I were a young man again.

I’m going to one of their Harvest Dinners on the 10th of July. The girls work like crazy to make these great successes and they generally are (if the weather cooperates).

Two Pony Gardens, for my money, is one of the most wonderful places around and it shouldn’t be missed. If you can’t make it to one of their spectacular dinners, you must be sure to visit their flower gardens and tomato patches.

They’re located just down at the end of that long, long driveway that leads through the thick forest of Minnesota hardwood trees. Drive slowly because it's only one narrow lane.

Or, you can visit them on-line!

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Pay Attention


Let’s pay more attention to the war in Afghanistan!
by Charlie Leck

A Frank Rich column in the NY Times about General Stanley McChrystal’s public criticism of President Obama turns on its heel about half way through and becomes a general lament about the war itself and the characters involved in it.

“The war, supported by a steadily declining minority of Americans, has no chance of regaining public favor unless President Obama can explain why American blood and treasure should be at the mercy of this napping Afghan president. Karzai stole an election, can’t provide a government in or out of a box, and has in recent months threatened to defect to the Taliban and accused American forces of staging rocket attacks on his national peace conference. Until last week, Obama’s only real ally in making his case was public apathy. Next to unemployment and the oil spill, Karzai and Afghanistan were but ticks on our body politic, even as the casualty toll passed 1,000. As a senior McChrystal adviser presciently told Hastings, “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”

“To appreciate how shielded Americans have been from Afghanistan, revisit Rahm Emanuel’s appearance last Sunday morning on “This Week,” just before the McChrystal firestorm erupted. Trying to put a positive spin on the war, the president’s chief of staff said that the Afghans were at long last meeting their army and police quotas. Technically that’s true; the numbers are up. But in that same day’s Washington Post, a correspondent in Kandahar reported that the Afghan forces there are poorly equipped, corrupt, directionless and infiltrated by Taliban sympathizers and spies. Kandahar (pop. 1 million) is supposed to be the site of the next major American offensive.”

I have enormous sympathy for President Obama. He came into office with two stupid and essentially unneeded wars going on. He inherited a near fatally wounded economy that needed emergency resuscitation that called for him to do things that he absolutely would have preferred not to do. He also encountered a right-wing political element that had been lying in the weeds, ready for an explosive growth spurt, for years.

Nevertheless, no one made him run. It was his choice, so there’s no crying now over spilt milk. This President has got to put up or shut up. He needs to get on with cleaning up the mess we’re in and figuring out some way to win more seats in this November’s election than most people think he can. Then he has got to challenge the Congress to fix both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, the big lesson America must learn is to stop dabbling in foolish, frequent wars. (1) We can’t afford them and (2) we nearly always mess them up.

Somehow, someone has got to make the general public pay more attention to its government’s foolishness. George W. Bush and his administration dragged us into this mess and it happened before a public that didn’t care to pay attention.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stars, I have seen them fall


A.E. Housman was a worthy poet who makes us think and smile...
by Charlie Leck

Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea
And still the sea is salt.

I told you yesterday about my hour roaming through some of the major poets. It was not all wasted on Hardy (see yesterday’s blog). I found A.E. Housman much to my liking and read several lovely offerings by him. The poem above is, of course, one of his. The following little poem of dialogue between two friends – one moved on to the stars and the other still living – is delightful and gave me a hardy laugh (if you’ll excuse the pun).

Is my team ploughing
That I used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was a man alive?

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.

Oh, my!

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Friday, June 25, 2010

It's Greek to Me


Dining Greek is Great
by Charlie Leck

Last week I found myself out and about in South Minneapolis at lunch time and feeling mighty hungry. I was in the mood for a great lamb shank and ventured over toward a restaurant I'd never tried. It's Greek to Me is at Lyndale Avenue South and Lake Street. Someone had warned me away from it once, but lately I've been hearing good things. Alone, with nowhere to go, it was a great day to give it a try.

I was disappointed not to find a lamb shank on the luncheon menu. I expressed that disappointment to a very polite and attentive waiter and told him I was hoping to have it with some kind of eggplant dish.

"I'll talk to the chef," he said, "and see if he's got any ideas."

In a moment he was back and said the chef would take care of me. There was no talk of price. I relaxed with my book and a nice glass of sparkling water and waited. All around me folks were munching away and chatting about their pleasurable food and service. The aromas in Greek restaurants are normally wonderful and this one was no exception.

In 15 minutes or so, an extraordinary platter was slipped before me and a very nice Greek Salad was placed near it. I was famished and I dove in more quickly than I probably should have. It was spectacular and I knew I would want to write about it; yet, look what I'd done! I had sliced off and chomped down a good size hunk of the shank and scooped up a big helping of the eggplant before I had gotten out my iPhone to take a photograph -- thus the slightly torn-into platter in the photograph above.

The shank was juicy and tender within and well crusted on the outside. The eggplant, baked with several vegetables, was as good as I've ever had. I continued on, taking my time and my waiter looked in on me frequently enough but not too often.

I was delighted, when the check came, to see that my entire dinner had come in under $12. That, it seemed to me, was a real deal. In all, it was a four out of five star lunch. The setting is a little worn and could use a freshening and that's all that keeps me from giving this lovely place the full five stars.

I will, without question return! If you like Greek and haven't tried this place, you should definitely stop in some time. Take a look at the restaurant's web site!

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This post had not been up for even a half-hour before the first comment came into me by email. Mike wrote:
"You remember the shanks at the old President's Cafe on Nicollet Avenue. I know we enjoyed them there together in the late 60s along with a dry martini or two. They were the best I've ever had. How did your Greek place's shanks compare to those? Mike S (still hangin' around in good, old South Minneapolis)"
Mike, how I remember and the shanks at the President were fabulous, but very different than these Greek beauties. The ones at the President were much more in an American style with that heavy, thick gravy. I sure would like to give them a try again. How we miss the wonderful President's Cafe. I miss seeing you, too. Let's get lunch together.

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Favorite Novelist


I vacillate on this; ask me one day and it is Saul Bellow; another day it is Kurt Vonnegut’ and on the odd day it is Ernest Hemingway. In fact, it is Thomas Hardy.
by Charlie Leck

I set aside what part of the morning wasn’t already promised to my wife to read some poetry. My one-and-only has me running around this morning doing this and that’s for her little lamb business. Very frankly, it is one of my least favorite ways to spend my time, but she’s in need of help today and how can I say no to her when she never says no to me.

Well, I still carved out an hour and I decided to spend it with THE MAJOR POETS: ENGLISH & AMERICAN [Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1956]. How about Thomas Hardy’s poems? He certainly is one of the most important of all English novelists. It’s difficult, I suppose, to put him up there with Dickens, but I have. I lean back in my chair and think about it – patiently and contemplatively. Who, in the English language, ever wrote a better novel than Hardy? Dickens! In my mind, that is the only possibility!

Here’s the answer to the question suggested in the title of this blog: Thomas Hardy. What a story teller! The best in British literature? The best in the English language? Only Dickens comes close! Hugo in French? Perhaps better! Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in Russian? Perhaps!

But, on this day when I want to read a little poetry, I read Thomas Hardy. Oh, my goodness! I am sorry. The genius who wrote TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES, THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, and THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, pretty much sucked as a poet. I have a wonderful volume of his poetry on my bookshelf. It’s a rare volume and worth a dollar or two. Nevertheless, I read some of his works in the above mentioned volume. They suck.

Here is NUETRAL TONES (considered one of his best)… judge or yourself…

We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leave lay on the starving sod;
-- they had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
On which lost the more by our love

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your fade, and the God-curst sun, and a tree
And a pond edged with grayish leaves

Read it any way you want. Squeeze it, stretch it, massage it! Whatever you do, it is a lousy poem. One of the great prose writers of all time simply stunk when it came to poetry.

That’s okay! My favorite novel of all time – ALL TIME – is Tess of the D’Ubervilles. And right behind it is The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Oh, my!

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Did Emmer Really Study Law?


Tom Emmer isn’t an intellectual. We all know that! But, does he even have smarts enough to lead a state with the intellectual reputation of Minnesota?
by Charlie Leck

It seems to me that some of the folks over at the William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, must be cringing these days as they hear Tom Emmer speak about constitutional matters.

Some of Tom Emmer’s recent remarks about our U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution raise questions about his civics and legal IQ. A friend sent me an email yesterday suggesting that “whatever law school granted Tom Emmer his law degree seems clearly to have been remarkably ineffective in its instruction.”

Mr. Emmer is vacillating a great deal in some of his recent remarks about the United States constitution. And now he wonders why we even have a Minnesota constitution when the U.S. document seems to take precedent over it anyway.

These may have been good questions in law school, or pre-law studies, but they should be “settled law” in Tom Emmer’s mind by now.

“Apparently, he (Tom Emmer) believes these laws were created by some alien, extraterrestrial force, rather than by fellow citizens who – difficult as this might be for Emmer and his supporters to believe –just don’t agree with his viewpoint. Even more distressing to the radical fringe, the people who don’t agree with that viewpoint are in the majority, and the whole framework of American society is based on majority rule. We have civil rights laws to try to ensure that minorities are not trampled by what is called, correctly, I think, the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ but nonetheless, majority rule is the law of the land.

“If laws can be ignored because you don’t like them, modern society, the work of millions of people over many centuries, collapses, and we’re back to deciding issues at knifepoint, or by who is bigger and stronger and more vicious.

“Mr. Emmer says,… ‘the states shouldn’t be waiting for the courts to decide…’ but that’s what the courts are for, Mr. Emmer – to decide questions of legal interpretation and constitutionality. This most recent proposal, even more blatantly than the earlier proposal from which he appears to be backing away now, disqualifies Mr. Emmer from holding statewide office.

“Mr. Emmer is either so completely ignorant of the U.S. Constitution that he should probably be disbarred, or – as seems more likely – he’s cynically advancing ‘straw man’ arguments that will fire up his Ayn Rand-worshipping supporters, but ultimately leave them disappointed because the answer to his last question is twofold:

“He asked: ‘If the federal government can pass laws effective over all 50 states, why do we even have state constitutions?’”

Well, again, it’s a question Mr. Emmer should have settled for himself in law school, if not before, but here is how my friend answered it.

1. The very same 10th Amendment that Mr. Emmer and his supporters keep pointing to.

2. More than two centuries of legal precedent – the importance of which even an incompetent lawyer should be aware.

Because there’s a good deal of redundancy in the 50 state constitutions, there’s a veneer of plausibility to Emmer’s not-very-serious rhetorical question, but each state, when established, had its own unique social and economic conditions, and felt the need for its own constitution – following the example of the original 13, as some of them did in establishing their legal codes.

Granted, Mr. Emmer, if elected, would surround himself with advisers who could make up for his lack of intellect, but it would still remain embarrassing to have him “out front” as our state’s leading representative to the national and international public. Unless the Republican Party keeps the wraps all over Emmer during the campaign, I think the general, thinking public will get to know him as a man who is not up to this job.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let’s Just Say I Scooped Them


The Twin Cities StarTribune broke a story yesterday about Tom Emmer, but I gave it to you weeks ago!
by Charlie Leck

The local paper broke a story today about Tom Emmer’s questionable legal and financial dealings out here in his hometown. The most significant part of the story is about Emmer’s unwillingness to pay a bill he owes based on his claim that it was something ordered by his wife and not him. I made a big deal about this matter weeks ago in a blog, Palin Dabbles in Minnesota Politics. I think that means I scooped our local paper by weeks – by weeks, mind you.

If it sounds like I’m boasting, I am.

If voters can't see through the thin veil that Tom Emmer casts over this money owed, they are really being naive.

Mr. Emmer, it's a guy who rises every day and goes out the door trying to make a buck, supporting his family and paying his own bills. Pay the guy, Mr. Emmer. Pay the guy! You're a dead-beat, Mr. Emmer, and you should be ashamed.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Inevitability of Time

Before my eyes my grandchildren relentlessly grow and change from babies, to children, to young people.
by Charlie Leck

A photograph arrives by email and it takes my breath away – not only the loveliness of it, but the truth with which it slams me! There is no slowing things. They insist! They will take their places and they march inexorably toward them.



Caroline Jean and Anna Rose Deiters



Daphne Rose Miles

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Great Teachers I Have Known


The question has been raised: What makes a great teacher? I can only point to some great teachers I knew and, maybe, to a bad one or two.
by Charlie Leck

The local paper ran a feature this past week about what makes a great teacher. It was all pretty good stuff, but not the kind of thing that is going to find a host of new and worthy teachers to instruct our kids.

This, it appears to me, is a significant problem today. I’m not very confident that instruction in educational method will reap a bounteous crop. It hasn’t up to now and that’s not about to change. What our schools need are great teachers. There are too few of them.

There’s been enormous resistance on the part of teachers’ unions up here to the idea of bringing in talented people from the private and public sphere (of life) to teach in our schools. These unions are playing blind-side tackle for their teachers, protecting them from getting slammed to the ground by an outside linebacker. Too bad!

I can think of five awfully good teachers I had during my life, each of whom had a life changing impact on my life. They are all gone now, out among the stars, and I can’t go back to say thank you. Somewhere along the line, I wish I had.

u

Mrs. Williamson was my teacher in third or fourth grade. It’s difficult to remember a detail like that from fifty years ago. I can remember her kind face and bright eyes, however, and how excited for me she would get when I “got” something. Sure, we were only working on non-complex things like our times-tables and the first elements of English grammar, but there were still discoveries to be made. Mrs. Williamson blew up in excitement when one of those discernments was made. Her attitude was contagious and rubbed off on her students. We not only enjoyed the discoveries ourselves, but we enjoyed the enthusiastic way she shared her happiness with us over our accomplishments.

In fourth or fifth grade I ran into a teacher of quite the opposite nature – almost exactly the opposite. I remember going through a period of confusion about some math principle that all my fellow students had seemed to grasp easily. It was odd for me, because up to that time I had considered myself one of the best of students in my classes. Suddenly I fell a step behind. This fellow – a short guy, with dark hair and a dark, thin mustache – wasn’t there to pick me up or catch me up. I simply fell behind and I remember how devastated I was over it. Slowly, over that year, being one step behind became two, three or four steps and I was categorized. For the next 9 or 10 years, I felt the wound and I was handicapped by it. When algebra and geometry came along, I was always a few steps behind, fighting to catch up, aching inside and always ready, in total discouragement, to give up.

I was strongly ego driven as a kid. I had a hearty need to be liked and well thought of. My failings in science and math made me push myself in other areas. So, I put the accelerator down on things like English, writing, history and, queerly, typing. That’s when I met two of the finest teachers in the whole wide world.

u

Miss. Haven was my history teacher. To this day I would rather pick up a history book than any other subject matter. It’s ‘cause of her. She loved her subject and she knew it cold. She taught it like she loved it and she made it come alive. It wasn’t just "here’s what happened and now remember it." It was a great story of humanity and the way we are impacted by events and forces that took place even hundreds and hundreds of years ago. She made us see that there was a real and living connection between the actual moment Patrick Henry stood and proclaimed that he wanted liberty or death and our own moment as we sat listening in the classroom.

“He didn’t speak just then,” I can imagine her saying, “but he speaks for us today, even at this moment when our boys are ready to fight for our freedom wherever and when they must.”

Miss Haven was a big woman – not fat, but big – and her students had a certain amount of respect for both her size and her brilliance. She knew her subject cold. I think that’s one of the important things about teachers. I just imagine a kid will see through a teacher who doesn’t really know his subject.

Miss Williamson and Miss Haven knew how to praise a student and build him up – giving him confidence and courage. I had so many teachers who were committed to tearing kids down and making sure they understood their positions on the ladder of life. They all pretty much stunk at teaching – that is, at what they got out of their students. Gym teachers and athletic coaches were often a lot like that. My PhysEd teacher all through high school was a sarcastic and bitter man. I’m not sure, but I don’t think the sports guys were sold on their own positions in life and not completely proud of what they were doing.

u

Mrs. Call was my English teacher in high school. Perhaps it is more correct to say that she was one of them, but I don’t remember any other. Her name was Mae. She was a good friend of my mother. She and her husband, Bob, would often have dinner or a “night out” with my parents. In school, Mae Call took good care of me and kept me afloat when I felt I was drowning. She encouraged me in so many ways and it was because of her that I got very involved in oral readings, speech, debate and drama. Everytime that I was nearly running on empty in the confidence and ego department, Mae would save me by making me the star of a play or the leader in a public speaking contest.

I remember so clearly, in my first week of college classes, in an introduction to American literature class, the instructor asked me stand and read a short poem by Emily Dickinson that we’d been assigned to study. I rose and read it out…

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
and Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
At wrestling in a ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ‘tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward Eternity.

After I returned to my desk, the professor went back to her podium and looked down at me and said softly: “My, that is one of the finest voices I have ever heard.”

I blushed, of course, and looked down at my desktop, but I thought of Mae and her blessed, patient tutoring. How many times, when I was sinking and didn’t think I could swim anymore, did dear Mae have me up to her house for special tutoring and help? I wonder what would have happened to me in life had it not been for this dear, good and devoted teacher.

u

In college I encountered Dr. Harry Savage. Professor Savage was, I think, other than a fellow who regularly bought newspapers in my father’s general store, the first real academician and genius I ever met. He taught history. While he taught history, he taught his students about life and the romance and glory of greatness.

When Harry Savage took you on a mind-voyage back to the age Greece, for example, it was an extraordinary journey. We could hear the sonorous voice of Aeschylus himself, reading one of his own, great tragedies to us and the lecture room echoed and rang with excitement and the pulse of Doctor Savage’s grand tones.

His strength all thunder-shattered; and he lies
A helpless, powerless carcase, near the strait
Of the great sea, fast pressed beneath the roots
Of ancient Ætna, where on highest peak
Hephæstos sits and smites his iron red-hot,
From whence hereafter streams of fire shall burst,
Devouring with fierce jaws the golden plains
Of fruitful, fair Sikelia. Such the wrath
That Typhon shall belch forth with bursts of storm,
Hot, breathing fire, and unapproachable,
Though burnt and charred by thunderbolts of Zeus.
Not inexperienced art thou, nor dost need
My teaching: save thyself, as thou know’st how;
And I will drink my fortune to the dregs,
Till from His wrath the mind of Zeus shall rest.

He taught history, Harry Savage did, and I took Greek History, English History, European History and World War One and Two History courses from him. Indeed, they were great classes, but it was Doctor Savage who made me hungry to read Dickens, and the Brownings, and Milton… and on and on and on.

Old Doctor Savage (for he was very old when I studied under him) virtually changed my life. Somehow I didn’t feel the impact until I was nearly in my forties, but he infects me today and permeates my thinking in every way; and I ache to hear his voice again even though it is long, long silenced.

u

Finally, only a short word about one more teacher – one who really revolutionized my life. He taught me two of the most important things that I have carried with me constantly and use regularly in skillful manners (thanks to him).

Tom Campbell was a graduate school instructor. One of his greatest skills was that he could read a book with exceptional skill, tearing it apart and putting it back together again, perceiving things about it that I hadn’t the first idea about. He taught those skills to anyone who wanted to learn about them. They weren’t part of a course, but they were usually short tutorials in the cafeteria, over coffee and a piece of pie.

“Here’s how you approach a book,” he would say and then detail the manner in which he worked. He taught me there were presuppositions that every author had in his mind when he began. Every writer of a book came from somewhere and had plenty of ideas, thoughts and opinions before he began. If one reads carefully, one can pick up those little facts and figures early in the book. Then one drove to capture and detail the thesis of the book. He’d always detail a thesis so carefully and thoroughly, point to its establishment in various places, again almost always early in the book. Then would come argument, where the author would defend his thesis. Tom Campbell taught me how to look for the important kernels that were thesis defense and to worry less about the extraneous ramblings.

I must say, finally, that Tom Campbell, in the classroom, also taught me about community organization and how to define “community” and he showed me that any community can be organized around what it perceives to be important and driven toward goals and purposes. He showed me examples of how it had been done toward evil and costly goals, but also how it could be done toward positive and meaningful purposes. I have used the skills frequently and, often, successfully.

Doctor Thomas Campbell was one of those good and special people in this world who die much, much too young. He was the greatest teacher with whom I ever studied. Among human beings, he was the greatest I ever knew.

u

Enough! I don’t know if I’ve said anything important about teaching, how to teach, or being a good teacher; I’ve only told you about great teachers I have known. There were so many other very good ones.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Tooty-Fruity for Governor


The center in America Politics is to be highly regarded and protected!
by Charlie Leck

It seems to me that there is now a strong element of society that wants to rush toward electing lame-brains to public office. Minnesota, to my ever-lasting shame, is not an exception to this rule.

The new rule seems to be that we should vote for the one who screams the loudest expressions of outrage and hatred – and generates the most buffoonish appearance of anger, with shaking fists, fiery eyes, twisted mouth and bellows-like cheeks. I see crowds of Minnesota citizens applauding such monsters and sending them support money. These people do so even though they don’t understand the utter lack of depth and ability that these candidates have.

There are two strong examples in Minnesota: (1) Tom Emmer, who is running for Governor of the State and (2) Michelle Bachmann, the incumbent member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota’s 6th district, who is running for reelection. They are two of the biggest, most outrageous air-heads to whom I have ever listened.

I learned some politics from two of Minnesota’s best when I got to spend some close-up and personal time with them in the late 60s and through most of the 70s. One was a Republican and one was a Democrat. They began with the rule of “what’s best!” They wanted what was best for the people of our state and for the health of the state as a whole. It was from there that political strategies and positioning began. Most frequently these guys came to a position that placed them pretty close to the center of the left-right political spectrum. In other words, about as many people agreed with them as disagreed with them. Most importantly, in real public debate and discussion it was possible to move a portion of those who did not agreed into the column of those who supported them.

It had to do with the great center of American politics and governance. Into this balancing position most of us fit; and most would actually step from one side of the line to another depending on the issue.

A nation and, I think, a State cannot be successfully governed in an atmosphere of hatred and rage. The most extreme example of this, of course, was the period leading up to the great American Civil War and during the period of Reconstruction after that war. It is, perhaps, the only time in our history when the political center did not hold and more citizens were out on the extremes than in the middle. It’s been such a pleasure for me to go back, over the last 3 months, and look at this period of our history in pretty significant depth. I tried to view it from a political perspective and particularly watch those political leaders who tried to keep the center intact; however the strong feelings of the South, toward their states’ right to preserve a productive slave economy, and the fervor of the North against slavery (the abolitionist movement), which northerners believed had to end with immediacy, drove nearly all voters away from any compromising center position (if there was one).

Abraham Lincoln and other extraordinary centrist politicians of the time, like William Seward, worked tirelessly to preserve that center. As we know, it didn’t hold and the nation was plunged into its saddest period of destruction – and almost into ruin.

The other period of our history during which the center was in great danger came in the 1960s, when the nation was torn and racked by controversies over both the war in Vietnam and the explosion of the Civil Rights movement in both the South and the North. One of the most extraordinary and emotional moments of my life came while I was listening to Bobby Kennedy’s speech on the night of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Kennedy, witnessing the violence and burning in Washington, D.C., quoted Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The sixties, in my view, ended on that day in May of 1970 when members of the Army National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State University, killing a number of them. The nation wretched and good people began dragging themselves back toward the center in an effort to return to sanity.

Politics 0f 2010
And now there are people of extremes who try to draw us from the center to the edges of political thinking. Strength in America has always been at the center. As in physical fitness, it begins at the core of the body and it must be cared for and kept strong. Minnesota and all of America must guard against the dangers exhibited by this current movement of extremism that is both hard to describe and define, but which is labeled the “Tea Party.”

Even those of us who tend to meander away from the core and move leftward, are hungry for a return to the center.

What prompts today’s blog?
Today’s blog is a response to a proposal by gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer to institute as a state amendment to our constitution a requirement of a two-thirds majority consenting vote of our state’s legislature before any federal law would “apply” to our state. If such an amendment were ratified it would be an act of anti-federal proportion unobserved since those historic events that led up to the Civil War.

I don’t believe Mr. Emmer has the intellectual capacity to understand what he is proposing and how extreme it is.

Why then the Union, Mr. Emmer?
So then, our state should be a state that doesn’t provide full and just human rights to all? Don’t laugh! It could happen. A proposal like Mr. Emmer’s, if passed and allowed by the courts, could alter the landscape of our state forever and make it difficult to protect individual human rights.

“Under Emmer’s amendment, Minnesotans would not be bound by any national law passed by Congress and signed by the president unless Minnesota expressly ‘opted in’ to the federal law. And opting in would require clearing a high hurdle. Each house of the Minnesota Legislature would have to approve the national law – each by two-thirds vote.

“…Emmer styles himself a ‘constitutional conservative,’ but his proposal is neither constitutional nor conservative. In fact, it runs head-on into the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that federal laws ‘shall be the supreme Law of the Land,’ notwithstanding anything in a state’s constitution or laws to the contrary. When Minnesota became a state in 1858, it signed on to this form of Union.

“…His idea that no national law is valid until a state opts in goes well beyond even John C. Calhoun’s discredited pre-Civil War theory of nullification. Calhoun believed that a state had the right to opt out of any national law that the state deemed unconstitutional. Emmer would presume that any national law is invalid unless and until a legislative supermajority and the governor agree with it.

“Most Americans thought this issue was resolved by the Civil War, which determined that liberty and union are ‘one and inseparable.’”
[
David Lillehaug in the Twin Cites Star Tribune, 20 June 2010]

The problem here is that I don’t think Tom Emmer understands or can understand!

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Old Man

I hardly knew you, Pop!
by Charlie Leck

The reason I write this blog is that I had a father who had a father who had a father – and I didn’t know them. It has frequently haunted me.

I don’t want that to be the case for my grandchildren and their children. So far, I‘ve written 3 book length documents that try to tell the story of my soul. It’s not so much about the mundane, everyday story of my life. It’s about what’s burrowed deeply inside me; for that’s the meat and matter of life that really makes us what we are.

Thanks to my brother, Frank, I’ve left behind a rather complete photograph album that depicts me from tininess to old age.

It’s not that I’m anything special. I know the contrary is true. I just so often wonder about my father’s family and no one has ever really had the answers for me. And I’ve had no luck with ancestral research services.

My father’s people came from Germany to the U.S.. The generally excepted tale says that they were workers in the ship building yards of Bremerhaven and in the early or mid 19th century they came to America. I’ve searched all the ship manifests for the New York City ports, where they set up homes, and haven’t found anything.


It’s compelling that there is a village in Germany that goes by the name of Leck. It’s north of Hamburg and intriguingly close to the border of Denmark. The village lies quite close to the North Atlantic, too, and some of its sea ports. The islands of Westerland and Syit-Ost are out there in the sea, just off the coast. Drive 10 miles north and one is in Danish land – 20 miles northeast is the border of Sweden – and less that 40 miles east is the Baltic Sea.

The small town became something of an important geographic region during World War II. A German air base was built there. Residents feared it would bring bombardments, but the village was only bombed once. Now it is a U.S. Air Force Base (one, of course, of hundreds around the world).

My oldest brother, who I must admit seems to be correct on matters like this, says it means little – this business of a German town named Leck. My gut keeps telling me something else and some kind of force seems to draw me there and the Hotel Nordfriesland, in Leck, looks a comfortable enough place to spend a few days. A German fellow I met on a golf course in California said that he lives near Leck and it is a matter of history that the ship building industry drew rural people from that agricultural area toward Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven. Could the parents of my old man have come from there?

Now I read that a 1771 law was passed in Schleswig requiring people throughout the region to take a surname (lastname) that would become a legal identifier. Most people of common standing simply had a single name by which they were known, such as Charles of Schleswig. Charles now had to take a name for himself. Perhaps it became Schleswig. Or, after the animals he raised, such as Charles Schaf (sheep). Or after the place where he lived, like Charles Sumpf (swamp). Or, he may have chosen to use the name of the Schleswig village in which he lived, such as Charles Leck.

Father was very Danish-looking with his light skin and blonde hair and his deep blue eyes. It was a look more than German – it was of the Scandian lands. It all makes sense to me, even if not to my brother, when one adds it all up – the name of the community near Denmark, its proximity to the sea and eventual ship-building city of Bremerhaven.

Even if I went to Leck and found that I am totally incorrect, would one call such a trip a waste of time? Hardly! Northern Germany! Denmark! Sweden! I think it’s in the cards.

Thoughts on a Father’s Day. That’s all this is. No more!

My good wishes to all you fathers out there! To my father, up there among the stars: “I’m thinking of you!”




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