Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sand Hills



I got away for a long weekend, but it was a journey to the Sand Hills of Nebraska that I’ll never forget and that I’ll always feel good about.
by Charlie Leck

While I luxuriated in Nebraska’s beautiful Sand Hills region for a few days, the pace of interesting and significant news seemed extremely furious.

  • The President misspoke about Polish death camps and the embarrassment lingers in Washington and resentment seeps out of Poland.
  • The campaign in the recall election in Wisconsin roars on and fascinates political observers all around the nation.
  • The Donald (not the Duck, but the Trump) baffles everyone (including Mitt Romney) with his continued insistence that the President was probably not born in America.
  • The conflict in Syria has reached a boiling point – perhaps a fever pitch – and something is going to break there (and soon).
  • The financial crisis in Europe casts a large shadow across the continent and threatens to destroy the great economic experiment of the European Union.
  • Here in Minnesota a credit-collection agency is facing tough criticism and questions regarding its practice of badgering patients in a local hospital.


 Oh, the issues about which the crazed blogger can write!

However, I was removed from nearly all of the news down there in the technologically isolated northwestern Nebraska, 70 miles or so below the South Dakota border. There were infrequent wi-fi and poor cell phone connections that wouldn’t allow an examination of the Internet and there were no national newspapers to be found in the scattered little communities – no Starbucks or corner bistros either.

Short of hiring a small private plane that would be capable of landing on short, farmfield landing strips, the transportation of choice is one’s car and a 600 mile drive through western Minnesota, South Dakota and then a dip down into Nebraska – a 10 hour voyage if one presses the accelerator seriously.

I’ve never thought of South Dakota as a very attractive state – with the possible exception of the Black Hills in the far western part of the state. Nor have I ever conceived of Nebraska as a very eye-catching place at all. I spent time in both of them as a young man and perhaps tastes and conceptions change as one gets older and sees things with less demanding and more mature eyes. Our long drive through South Dakota, from the eastern most border, near Brookings, to the little community of Winner, just west of the wide Missouri River and Lake Francis Case, significantly changed my mind about the state. The rolling meadows and plains sparkled under overcast skies; and the subtle shades of greens, yellows and reds looked splendid, rich and mellow. My eyes were popping at the natural beauty and wonder of what I saw as we rolled on. South Dakota seemed so lush and rich. I remembered it as brown and unvaried. The eventual drive down into the Missouri River basin was nearly mesmerizing. There were so many pleasant bursts of color and shadows. Hold on, I told myself, as the car rolled west of the little community of Platte on Highway 44. I’d been here many times when I didn’t understand much of anything and the landscape bored me. Now the meadow-like pastures exploded with dazzling beauty.

The Missouri River flows through the center and heart of South Dakota, right through the community of Pierre (pronounced “peer” out here), the state’s capitol city. Then it continues its journey south and southeast to Yankton (where I went to college) and Vermillion (home of the University of South Dakota and Sioux City (Iowa) and then south to Kansas, forming the eastern-most border of Nebraska. It will flow into the Mighty Mississippi just outside of St. Louis and then flow on down to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Missouri is my favorite river,” one of our fellow-travelers said as we rolled along in the car. I’ve never thought of having a favorite river. I was sympathetic to his opinion, however, as we descended the hills into the river basin.

What a mighty river the Missouri is – and how courageous and strong it looks. What is more stunning than a mighty river? It has carved its own path through the rocks and soils of the land and created its own bed though which it will course for centuries and centuries. I was nearly overcome by the shadows that crept upon the river bluffs and I wondered how I had missed this spectacular picture when I was a young man – how I had not been so taken by it then as I was now.

The sun was getting low in the eastern sky, so we should have stopped the car to take photographs of the coursing river, but we were travelers bound for an evening’s rest closer to Nebraska. So, the car rolled on, crossing the river and climbing to the flat plains beyond it to the west. Along the highway we passed an area where a vast herd of Bison roamed over the meadows and the sight left me awestruck and thinking about the numbers of the mighty animals that must have once roved here. These are not wild animals, mind you, but they are part of a commercial herd being raised for eventual slaughter and butchering. Only a very small number of wild bison remain and animal conservation agencies and foundations continue to work on the project of restoring thousands of these creatures to the wilderness. Yet, even in these farm pastures along Highway 44, they are quite a sight for the traveler to see and they moved me deeply.

Risen in the morning, refreshed, we left Winner, South Dakota and dropped south on Highway 83 to Valentine (the Heart City) and then down Highway 97 into the Sand Hills of Nebraska, where we ended our journey near the little village of Mullen. This is cattle country and thousands of Black Angus and White Faced steers and cows, trailing calves with them, roam the sandy meadowlands here.

Had I been in control of the wheel and brake pedal, I would have stopped countless times to photograph the bison and the cattle roaming over the spectacular patches of grass and sand; however, our captain was more concerned with ports in the little towns where he could photograph county courthouses and older buildings that showed off date of construction markings. The stops bored me silly. I was more interested in the meadowlands and the birds and animals that lived upon them – and in the old, creaking windmills that scattered out upon the countryside, drawing precious water into huge tubs that refreshed and sated the thirst of the cattle herds.

As I looked around at the isolation of the surroundings, I wondered how an extraordinary and famous golf club could exist here. For years I’d read about Sand Hills Golf Club and now we were in the Dismal River region and very close to it. I need to admit that I felt a pumping excitement inside my body. I’ve had the good fortune to play some of America’s most famous golf layouts (from Cyrpress Point and Pebble Beach in Carmel and the Olympic Club in San Francisco, to Pine Valley and Baltusrol in New Jersey – and the Old Course in Saint Andrews, Seminole and Jupiter Island in Florida, Oak Hill and Rochester Country Club in upstate New York, Pinehurst Number Two in North Carolina.

Yet, I’ve been wondering for years about the Nebraska golf course designed by, and built under the supervision of, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. It opened in 1994. How could a golf course rated so highly by all golf authorities and experts exist in such an isolated and unpopulated place? It simply left me in awe when my eyes first fixed on it and roamed over it. I’ll say it flat out: I have never walked upon a golf course anywhere in America that left me so moved and awed. It was as inspiring as the Old Course itself and I could, if my old body would allow it, play upon this Nebraska golf course every day for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. Cyprus Point and Pine Valley were marvelous, peaceful places, too; but the business and busyness of the world found little ways to intrude upon your golf time even at those two lovely places. Nowhere on the course does that happen at Sand Hills. Below you can find a video report on CBS Sunday Morning about the extraordinary club. It features a little tour of the features of the course with Jim Kidd, who was the golf professional there at the time and is now the General Manager of the golf course [Windsong Farm Golf Club] right next to our property here in Minnesota. Jim Kidd is one of the finest gentlemen a fellow could ever meet and one of the most incredible representatives of this sport in all of America. He has sterling credentials and an inspiring reputation. It’s also inspiring to watch him play the game. If you love golf, you’ll really like this video and it will be a good way to meet Jim Kidd and Sand Hills Golf Club.


We stayed at the club, in little cottages right next to the small, friendly and precious Dismal River (a description of the little river is appended below). Dining was perfect here and so was all the help – from the young ladies who greeted us at the door when we drove up, to the waitresses in the dining room, to the massive and kind starter near the first tee (with the most awesome mustache I have ever seen) and to our terrific and talented forecaddie out on the golf course. Two and a half trips around the golf course filled me with a peaceful joy that is difficult for the non-golfer to understand; but those of you who love the game will get completely what I’m saying. I cannot thank enough the neighbors here, who are members at Sand Hill, for making my visit possible and so perfect. Thank you neighbors – thank you so very much. Everything about the trip – nearly everything – was so very perfect and I am now a big, big fan of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska.



I, too, now have a favorite river and it shall always be…

The Dismal River
[from Buffalo Bill, the Dismal River and the Nebraska Sand Hills, by Dean G. Kratz]
The Dismal River is a spring fed short stream that flows quietly and peacefully through the Nebraska Sand Hills. Its pace and its depth is always the same. It never overflows and it never dries up. Amazingly, it is one of the most consistent rivers in the world…
The Dismal River is one of those “clear, steady streams” that “seeped out in little veinings,” and “headed southeasterly for the Platte.” It became somewhat prominent during the Indian Wars because of the Battle of Dismal River, but today it is rarely visited and seldom viewed. It is seen and known only to the occasional canoeist, the townspeople of Dunning, Nebraska, where it empties into the Loup, and the travelers on Highway 97 (very few), who cross the river on the way to and from Mullen, Nebraska and beyond. The people who see it most are golfers: the guests at the Sand Hills Golf Club where the Dismal meanders unpretentiously behind the Club’s cottages and those at the Dismal River Club where the deck from the clubhouse looks down on the Dismal River Valley,…



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Monday, May 28, 2012

A Tale of Twin Cities



Saving a threatened business community here in the Twin Cities became a primary goal of some very creative people and I salute their resourcefulness and determination.
by Charlie Leck

Here’s the situation!
For my readers from other parts of the country, let me explain a little bit about the geography of the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) in Minnesota. I’ll begin this way. It’s about 11 driving miles from Target Field (our major league baseball park) in downtown Minneapolis to the Excel Center (our National Hockey League arena) in downtown St. Paul. That pretty much takes you from downtown to downtown.

Somewhere in between is the mighty Mississippi River. This rolling river is often thought of as the boundary between the two cities. It’s not really, except in a very small section of the city – like from about the East Lake Street bridge where it crosses the river to Marshall Street in St. Paul, and then on to the south edge of Minneapolis. Otherwise, the big river divides the neighborhoods of Minneapolis (S.E. and N.E. from N. and S.) as it flows from the northwest to the southeast of the city.

The pink line on the map above represents the
area where Minneapolis and St. Paul are divided
by the Mississippi River (from Fort Snelling on
the south to just above Lake Street on the north).
There are 21 lakes within the city limits of
Minneapolis.

At this time, one can take a bus between the two cities and, if you can catch an express bus, that’s not too bad. Several years ago, the transportation geniuses decided it would be swell to put a light rail transportation line between the two cities – from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul (our state’s capitol city). The cost was staggering, but, back then, under the George W. Bush administration, when the economy was booming, the government was spending money freely and easily and we won a large federal grant to help us pay for the project. Hooray!

In late 2010, with all the contracts let out, the building of the line began. The experts knew that the construction was going to cause a lot of problems for small businesses and for the industrial and residential neighborhoods through which the new line was going to pass. However, these experts thought the situation could be eased by careful planning and the tempers of residents and business owners could be soothed by some smooth and fast talking.

Well, over the last year, as the construction crews tore up one of the main traffic arteries between the two cities, University Avenue, the small businesses along that route saw traffic and their business begin to dry up. Afterall, it was difficult to get to the little, international restaurants and markets, the coffee shops, the laundramats and dry cleaners, the print shops and the little theaters.

The question has become: How can the situation be ameliorated? If the little businesses could hold on through this construction cycle, they will have a golden opportunity to be more successful when the project is completed late in 2014. New housing will grow along the line and that means thousands of new people will be within the market range of these little businesses.

Gentrification
Will the change result in gentrification – that is, the replacement of the middle/lower income base that lives along the corridor now by higher income types who might not be attracted to these businesses? It’s a danger, but a known danger that planners are trying to watch out for and control

“An area of greatest concern for Central Corridor neighborhoods has been the fear that once the trains begun running, gentrification will ignite as speculators buy properties for high-end housing and for retail developments affordable only to national chains. Poorer residents will be forced to leave as the avenue becomes, perhaps, a more trendy and inviting thoroughfare in both cities, not the fascinating urban mosaic of different cultures and income levels it has been for decades.”
                          [Frank Jossi in Capitol Life in The Capitol Report]

Back in 2008, three major, local foundations (the McKnight Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the St. Paul Foundation) put together and funded a new organization called the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC). The collaborative is deeply involved in projects surrounding affordable housing, local economic conditions and transit oriented places and businesses. Our region learned from the mistakes of other communities that did similar projects and we’re trying to stay a step ahead of disaster here.

CCFC provides money for local groups who have interests in widely disparate fields – like the arts and the survival of housing and small business during construction. The collaborative also tries to referee disputes that arise among huge (the University of Minnesota) and tiny (Asian restaurant owners) institutions along the line. For example, the collaborative worked with the Metropolitan Transit Commission to get three stations added to the planned route in response to citizen and business requests.

More importantly, CCFC is trying to make its own funds reap profits in terms of growing the economy of the neighborhoods through which the trains will pass. The foundation grants have been used to develop over 26 million dollars in additional investment by government agencies and other foundations. Funds have been used to help current businesses market themselves and assure consumers that it is safe and convenient to venture into the construction area. Neighborhood events and celebrations have been sponsored and these succeeded in luring curious people back to the avenue. The opening and closing of businesses along the corridor has been carefully tracked.

The funders’ collaborative is doing heroic work. They are pumping a life stream into the community during this very trying construction period. Other major cities all over America are watching how the Twin Cities is doing this crucial work; that is, keeping a community alive while it is virtually torn to pieces by a vast and extensive construction project that covers an 11 mile corridor.

Sometime in the summer of 2014 the project should be completed and it will be great fun for so many people to move so conveniently along University Avenue. The crucial question is whether we have managed to keep alive the hundreds of little, family owned businesses that are struggling so during this construction period.

The Metropolitan Council, in charge of the region’s transportation system, estimates that the project will be 75 percent complete by the end of this year (2012).

Some highlights for those interested
(This will probably only interest local readers.) The western terminus of the new line will be at the Target Field station, where the Twins play, and will connect passengers to the North Star Line (large rail) that presently runs northwest through those suburban areas and on toward St. Cloud (currently terminating in the community of Big Lake).
The new transit line will head out of Minneapolis and make stops at the Nicollet Mall, the Government Plaza (City Hall and the County Government Center), and at the sight of the new Vikings stadium that will open in 2016. At that point travelers could transfer to the Hiawatha line that goes south to the airport and to the Mall of America. The new rail line then goes into the West Bank community of the University of Minnesota and crosses over to the East Bank of the University with a stop there and at Stadium Village (where the University football stadium, hockey arenas and basketball arena are). There are great benefits that come with having the stops at both the new Vikings stadium and the Stadium Village at the University. This will alleviate parking problems at both sites and enable fans to arrive at the stadium after parking at much more remote locations. These stadium areas will also then be easy to reach by train from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

At that point it moves on to University Avenue and heads toward St. Paul with a stop at the Minneapolis Prospect Park Station. In St. Paul, the train will stop at the following streets that cross University Avenue: Raymond (connecting to the current AmTrak Station) Fairview, Snelling, Hamline, Lexington, Victoria, Dale, Western, and then Rice Street (and the State Capitol Building). There the line will head down Robert Street toward downtown St. Paul, stopping at 14th Street, then move over to Cedar Street with stops at 10th Street, 4th Street and finally at the St. Paul Union Depot (the hope is that one day AmTrak will move its terminal to the Union Depot).

This is one of the largest urban construction projects ever undertaken in Minnesota and managing it carefully and protecting the interests of people who live and work along the corridor has been incredibly important. To this point the Metropolitan Council gets a B+ grade and CCFC gets an A+ for its extraordinary work. Hold on all you people who own businesses and property along the corridor because a brighter day is coming.


Here the pink line shows the route of the light rail between the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The system will open sometime in 2014. Another line connects downtown Minneapolis with the International Airport and the Mall of America. A top at the Viking's new stadium (2016) will be on both lines. There will be three University of Minnesota stops on the new line and that will greatly aid students and spectators for University sports events.


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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach



This novel by Chad Harbach has caused a national stir among literary experts and has won praise of the sort a first-time offering rarely does.
by Charlie Leck

“The ability to throw a baseball was an alchemical thing, a superhero’s secret power. You could never quite tell who possessed it.”
                                [The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach]

“Well, it’s not really a baseball book,” my friend said, “though it might seem like it at first.”

As I closed it, I knew he was incorrect. This is a book about errors. It is a baseball book. There just happens to be a lot of other stuff going on also – and much of it happens to be about sex – and self-doubt – and fear of the truth – and breaking out – and dying with a broken heart. However, essentially, this is a book about baseball and how the game can jerk you around and make you half crazy with happiness in one quick moment and have you crumbling with fear and self-doubt in another.

I don’t know how many novels I’ve read in my life that seemed to be holding a mirror up for me, so that I might see myself more clearly. Only a few! This one did, but I don’t want to talk about that. I just want to forget it. Take it as a warning! I’ll get on with something else….

The Protagonist
Who is the leading character – the hero or heroine – the main person in Harbach’s book? Take your choice. The author builds a number of characters and the story is told from the mind and perspective of first this one and then that one and/or even another one. Skrimmer? Schwartz? Pella? Owen? Dr. Affenlight?

But, there’s always baseball hanging around in the background, acting as the glue that keeps the story together. Certainly, most of the story is away from the ball park, but the complexities of the game often get translated into the complications of even those characters who understand nothing about the game and how it’s played.

As Dr. Affenlight, the President of Westish College in Wisconsin, reflects near the conclusion of the book (sounding as if he could be thinking about a baseball game, though he wasn’t)…

“Most likely the string of errors was perfectly looped, without any ends at all. There were no whys in a person’s life, and very few hows. In the end, in search of useful wisdom, you could only come back to the most hackneyed concepts, like kindness, forbearance, infinite patience. Solomon and Lincoln: This too shall pass. Damn right it will. Or Chekhov: Nothing passes. Equally true.”
                                [The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach]

The ballplayer, in a moment of now or never, thinks of himself as the center of the universe…

“Each of us, deep down, believes that the whole world issues from his own precious body, like images projected from a tiny slide onto an earth sized screen. And then, deep down, each of us knows he’s wrong.”
                                [The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach]

And on the ball field friendships can be formed that last forever and are cautiously cared for; and trust can be cultivated and grown strong and true.

“...a soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love.”
                                [The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach]

Well, perhaps, to the uninitiated, this is not a baseball book. What then is it about? Friendship? Team mates? Love? Trust? Enduring? Overcoming? Forgiving? To those of us who have been lucky enough to meet, face to face, the Great Spirit of the Game and to be humbled by it, we know! We know! This is a baseball book.

And, what a wonderful book it is – whatever it is about. The immensely talented writer, John Irving said of it…

“It’s pure fun, easy to read, as if the other Fielding had a hand in it – as if Tom Jones were about baseball and college life.” [John Irving]

I read the book in two sittings. I literally found it difficult to put down. I penciled it up a lot and put many exclamation marks in the margins to indicate wonderful sentences. When I finally closed the book, I sat way back in this very chair and realized that the character of Henry Skrimshander had become just as much a part of my life and memories as had Holden Caulfield so many years ago. I guess that’s as highly as I can praise a novel.



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Friday, May 25, 2012

A Simple Truth, Plainly Spoken


Why do we always want to complicate things that, in fact, are very, very simple?
by Charlie Leck

Maureen Dowd wrote plainly in the NY Times this week, in a column she called Father Doesn’t Know Best

The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.

In her blog, Dowd pointed back to some very reliable statistics…

82% of Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable
89% of all Americans agree

Tony Rugare tweets and blogs and I follow both. He has a very simple wisdom, spoken plainly and definitively. On a recent tweet he said:

“If most Catholics support contraception why do they allow their money to condemn it?”

Some things seem so simple, but there are people who want to complicate them. The clergy tends to do that. And that’s God’s truth. I swear it!


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Thursday, May 24, 2012

GOP Blinded by its Goals


Even though JP Morgan Chase boss, Jamie Dimon, had publically admitted to stupidity and sloppiness, the Republicans want to loosen banking regulations. I just CAN’T BELIEVE how stubborn this party is.
by Charlie Leck

While I’m away, be sure to read Dana Milbank’s opinion column in the Washington Post that points out that Republican U.S. Senators are putting the heat on banking regulators and not on bankers – even after JP Morgan Chase’s colossal and very stupid three billion dollar investment loss earlier this month. This is a political party out-of-control. They are determined to blame everything that goes wrong on government involvement and on the Obama administration. Their one goal has been clear: “Make Obama a one-term President!” The facts don’t matter – just the goal! Milbank’s column leaves me shaking my head.

If you haven’t read my blog of last week, Remember when Banking was Boring, you might what to take a look at it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

1501 and a Time for a Break

We celebrated a couple of nights ago and now I will try to recover!
by Charlie Leck

Monday we posted our 15 hundredth Ad Astra blog. Monday night we celebrated. Thank you for your many notes of congratulations.


 Now it is time to recover and rest up. I’m going to visit the Sand Hills of Nebraska for a few days. I’ve never been there before and I look forward to it. My blog will be silent while I’m gone. When I return I’ll have some photographs and something to say about the Dismal River and the Sand Hills. Please, come back then.

“The Dismal River is a spring fed short stream that flows quietly and peacefully through the Nebraska Sand Hills. Its pace and its depth is always the same. It never overflows and it never dries up. Amazingly, it is one of the most consistent rivers in the world.
“…today it is rarely visited and seldom viewed. It is seen and known only to the occasional canoeist, the townspeople of Dunning, Nebraska, where it empties in the Loup, and the travelers on Highway 97 (very few), who cross the river on the way to and from Mullen, Nebraska and beyond. The people who see it the most are the golfers: the guests at Sand Hills Golf Club where the Dismal meanders unpretentiously behind the Club’s cottages and those at the Dismal River Club where the deck from the clubhouse looks down on the Dismal River Valley, the likely location of Buffalo Bill’s last battle with the Indians.”
           [Buffalo Bill, the Dismal River and the Nebraska Sand Hills by Dean G. Kratz]

In the meantime
In the meantime, please support Minnesotans United for All Families in its efforts to defeat the proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution in the November election. The amendment will limit the scope of marriage. In other words, give generously!

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Monday, May 21, 2012

1500



This is post 1,500. I guess it should be something special – something incredibly important – something rocking – something elegant!
by Charlie Leck

“A nation that will not care for the least of its children is doomed to fold in upon
itself and it will be trampled into the earth.”

Can you believe it? This is blog #1500. It nearly takes my breath away. What shall I say? Who shall I berate? What shall I praise? Of whom can I make fun?

I am disquieted! I wonder why readers have come here – again and again – to read what I have to say. I hope it is because I have been consistent. Even in my rage, I hope I have been consistent.

I am just an old man!
As a couple of my readers have said, in response to my rather scathing comments about Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, “You are nothing but an old man and a fool!”

I know they got it half right –correct! I hope they are not correct on both counts; but that I leave to my readers to determine. There are several dozen of you out there who communicate with me regularly about my blogs. Boy, do I appreciate you. If I could whisper it (so no one else will hear), “I also love you a great, great deal!”

From the so called writer’s block I have never suffered.

And yet, here – now – I am flailing around for the all the best things to say.

I have struggled for hours over this blog #1500. I deleted it twice and each time went to the computer’s trash container and restored it. Some of you are going to think it is a religious, or scriptural, or biblical, or even a Christian blog. It is not. Rather I have used the concepts of Christian and Judeo/Christian scripture to combat the rising, harsh voice of the right-wing, fundamentalist Christian movement in this country that is so critical of government services to the poor and disadvantaged. Try to read the blog as if it were secular and only uses the language of faith and the prophets.

Why am I so often driven back to the ancient prophets of scripture when I am stuck? Their messages about governance, corruption and national conduct often stir me. Am I na├»ve to think nations have responsibilities for their citizens and obligations to care for those who cannot care for themselves – to ensure that its entire people are secure, safe, sheltered and fed? Or, is it an old fashioned idea that can only, in reality, be associated with socialism or communism – or idle dreamers?

Social Justice
I’ve looked back over hundreds of blogs to see if I can find a common thread or theme; and I see it there. With scattered blogs about baseball or golf thrown in, a good recipe here and there, a few notes about personal travels and a book review or two, I go back again and again to the responsibilities of those who govern.

And, I wonder! How can there be justice when some of us can have multiple homes, yachts, sports cars, personal chefs, valets and unlimited resources, while others live without shelter and with too little nutritious food to eat? How can we spend so much on our own personal comfort and indulgences while the earth suffers from our abuse of it?

For instance, can we, in good conscience, build sports stadia that cost billions of dollars while there is such rampant homelessness? I do not argue that we cannot do the former, but I do persist in urging that we can do both.

How can America have so much accumulated wealth and such staggering poverty at the same time? Reputable reports indicate that twenty percent of our population is poor. A large number are completely destitute.

We slip lower each year in the ranks of those nations providing the highest quality education for our citizens.

Politicians claim we cannot afford to spend more; yet we now have more billionaires than we ever dreamed we would have.

It seems to be true that one (1) percent of the population now controls nearly fifty (50) percent of the nation’s wealth. I do not begrudge them their wealth, but I do persist in arguing that this group has a greater – much greater – responsibility to care for the bottommost percentage of the population that lives in utter poverty. To neglect that lowest part of the general population is to turn one’s eyes from the loving gaze of God. It is to refuse the wisdom of the prophets and what they have been telling us for a hundred generations.

I am not impressed by lapel-pin American flags! I am not impressed by those who profess to be super-religious or discoverers of salvation. Those with dozens of religious rules are not admired by me. The blindly religious are marked by God’s disdain; for they have not heard Him calling out to them about his neglected children.

I admire those who hear the words of the prophets of old – and understand!

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream!” [Amos 5:24]

America losing its grip
America once had this dream about the poor and “the huddled masses that yearned to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

Now a whole, massive party of people turn away from America’s great and solemn dream; and they claim it is not a nation’s job to care – to care – to care.

“Leave the poor to care for the poor; and let the diseased care for the ill. We shall build higher fences and mightier gates to separate ourselves from the stench of the oppressed. And God be damned! We shall hide from His will!”

Justice appears now to be for those who can afford it! Yet, we beat our paths to expensive churches, mosques and synagogues to pray to a God who will not hear us because we have ignored his constant message to us.

I hate, I despise your feasts
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever flowing stream!”
                                                               [Amos 5:24]

The message of the prophets is clear – even today: A nation that will not care for the least of its children is doomed to fold in upon itself and it will be trampled into the earth.
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Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There is a Season) – made into an enormous, international hit in 1965 by The Byrds.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant
                                                                     a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal, a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together,
                                             a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
                                                                             [Ecclesiastes 3]

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bill George Comes Out



Bill George is a Minnesota institution (and so is his wife, Penny). In a well written article in today’s StarTribune, Mr. George comes out against the proposed marriage amendment.
by Charlie Leck

I’ve committed myself to work pretty hard against the proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that is on the ballot this November regarding marriage rights. So, it’s heartening when people I admire show their courage and sensibility and also come out in opposition to the proposal. So, reading this morning’s StarTribune and finding Bill George’s statement in the business section started my day in just the right way. [You can read it here!]

Mr. George is a professor in the Harvard Business School, but he was, for many years, the CEO of Minnesota based Medtronic Inc.. He maintains an extremely good web site [click here to go to the web site].

My interest in this issue is twofold. First, I believe in freedom of association for all Minnesotans. Second, as a former CEO of Medtronic, I know firsthand how important and challenging it is to recruit and retain talented people. Doing so requires a culture that accepts people as they are -- not in spite of differences, but because of them.
Defeating this amendment is essential not only to provide civil rights, but also to ensure that Minnesota is open and welcoming to everyone -- regardless of religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation. Would Medtronic's new CEO, who is a Muslim born in Bangladesh, have left General Electric had he not believed that Minnesota was open to people with diverse life experiences?

Minnesota is an important business hub. We have the largest number of Fortune 500 companies (per capita) in the nation – companies like Target, 3M, United Health Group, General Mills, Hormel, St. Jude Medical and U.S. Bancorp.

Mr. George argues that these companies need to have an open and inviting environment in the state so that they will continue to be able to recruit the top candidates in the business world to participate in the growth of business in Minnesota. He urges leaders of these other companies to speak out forcefully against the Marriage Amendment that will be on our ballots this November. It is significant that only a couple of these major and highly recognized business leaders have so far spoken out (Wheelock Whitney and Marilyn Carlson Nelson). It’s also sad.

I shake my head in wonder and disappointment when I regard the silence of corporate leaders here in Minnesota. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Gregg Steinhafel, the CEO of Target remains silent. He showed his extremely conservative stripes when he allowed his corporation to make donations to the coffers of extremely conservative political candidates – money, which I reminded him at the time, actually comes from his customers, who may differ a great deal from Steinhafel’s archaic viewpoints.

So, where is Best Buy on this issue? Where are Land O’Lakes and Thrivent Financial and Xcel Energy? Do you leaders of these companies want Minnesota to be a closed state, uninviting to some of the most creative and exciting business leadership candidates in the world?

Thanks, Mr. George! Thanks for your remarkably good and sensible statement about the dangers of supporting this constitutional amendment.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Gyro



It’s the weekend and I’ve got to prepare something for something, and I’ve been thinking about my gyros, and this and that!
by Charlie Leck

What can I tell you? I know my blog is not about cooking or food recipes, but, I’ve just got to…

(And this comment makes me wonder just what my blog is about – oh, well, one critic who likes it calls it “very eclectic”)… Really, I just write about whatever strikes my fancy on a given day.

Call this a blog about Community Supported Agriculture (read on)! Or, perhaps it’s a blog about Tzatziki Sauce and Gyros. Then again, maybe it’s a blog about the salad I’m preparing for tonight… or about the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area… or about my indirect drive through the countryside to Belle Plaine and back. Take your choice!

We’re going to a pot luck dinner for a small group tonight at a friend’s house. It’ll be a nice evening. It always is at her house. She’s incredibly bright and she’s always prepared with good topics of conversation. Sometimes she’ll even play little mind games or word or thinking games.

“Charlie, you bring the salad, will you?” It seemed a fortuitous request at the time. Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery is always on Friday evenings and it includes big bags of nice, fresh mixed greens and spinach leaves. It’s hard not make a good salad when you start that way. But then, our CSA delivery didn’t get here last evening because the driver’s truck broke down.

Here’s a list of CSA establishments in Minnesota presented by our state’s Department of Agriculture!
Here’s a better list of CSA farms in the area presented by the Land Stewardship Project.

“You could go down to the farm and pick up the order,” my wife suggested to me.

Saturday is a golf day and after that I want to get my car washed up for the weekend and I thought I’d sit around and finish The Art of Fielding (which will be another blog) so I can talk about it tonight… well, you know the deal on weekends, don’t you?

“Well,” I said to myself, “let’s make the best of this, Charlie. Get your camera all ready and pick an attractive route.”

I’ll need to make the pick-up down in Belle Plaine. It’s a nice little community right in the Minnesota River Valley. If I pick the best route down there it will be a pretty relaxing time and my dog can ride along to keep me company. It’s a little out of the way, but I can take Highway 25 just west of Watertown and go down as far as Young America. There I’ll pick up County Road 33 and drive through pretty farm country right down to the river. Then I’ll need to back-track east to Belle Plaine, but it’ll be along the Scenic Byway Road that goes north and east to the pick-up spot. I’ll be right at the southern tip of the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area. I can pop in and find out what that’s all about.

Then, of course, I can hold this blog and post it only after I’ve reviewed the photographs from the trip and chosen a few to show you.

In the meantime, back to my gyros
My wife is off to the farmers market this morning, as she does virtually every Saturday morning (May through October). She likes to have little lamb recipes on the back of her business cards, so I got nice new ones all printed up for her yesterday and I came across this recipe for a Tzatziki Sauce that is so simply delicious and simple to prepare that I thought I ought to share it with you. Here’s how it’s all detailed on the business card.

Gyros: Grilled Leg of Lamb Gyros
Prepare a leg of lamb using the Sheepy Hollow leg of lamb recipe.
Thinly slice the lamb and place slices in the center of the pita bread.
Top with Tzatziki Sauce (below) and chopped tomatoes and serve.

Tzatziki Sauce
Mix Together…
medium cucumber, peeled and seeded and finely chopped
1 cup of plain yogurt
1 tsp of lemon juice
1 tsp oregano
½ Tspn olive oil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp minced garlic

As for my salad for tonight…
I’ll add some small cherry tomatoes to the mixed greens and spinach leaves and put in a few leaves from a Boston Lettuce. I’ll also add some very thinly sliced radishes, some chopped green onion and then sprinkle the top with some crumbled blue cheese and mixed sprouts. I’ll have a dressing on the side (a wonderful Tuscan Vinaigrette that I get at Whole Foods). I know, I know – I should make my own dressing, but I just can’t get close to this particular dressing that I like so much.

Enjoy the photos from my trip earlier today…

    My favorite little spot to have coffee in Watertown,
    just 6 miles or so west of home.

    Coming into the town of Young America on the edge of
    the metro area. From here on south its rural farmland.



    Fallen Soldiers
    This is a cemetery in Young America. I was passing quickly
    by and the sight of this stopped me. I paused and gave
    thoughts of thanks to the soldiers who died for their country.

    And we're talking some of the finest and most productive
    farmland in America here.


    The town of Assumption amounted to a church,
    a cemetery and a little curiosity shop.

    The Minnesota River isn't one of the prettiest rivers in
    the world, but it was very important in Minnesota's
    history both before the white man came and after
    white settlers started moving west of the Mississippi.


    Down in the Minnesota River Valley one can spot these
    very unusual buildings on the grounds where the popular
    Renaissance Festival is held each year. The festival is
    owned and operated by a good friend who sends tickets
    along to us each year.


By the way, if you’re not into Community Supported Agriculture, you ought to be. It’s really great and you can tailor your order to a single person or a large household. I’m nuts about it. Last year we gave a large subscription to a CSA to a refuge for abused women in St. Paul and it worked out great for them – a constant flow of whatever was fresh at the time. If you’ve got a few extra bucks think about doing something like that.

_________________________
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If you read my blog regularly, why not become a follower? All you have to do is click in the upper right hand corner and establish a simple means of communication. Then you'll be informed every time a new blog is posted here. If all that's confusing, here's Google's explanation of how to do it! If you don’t want to post comments on the blog, but would like to communicate with me about it, send me an email if you’d like.