Sunday, January 27, 2013

Obama is NOT a Big Spender


When we take a close look at facts and figures, we find out the biggest spending President in recent decades was George W. Bush! The stock market soured under Bush and has revived under President Obama.
by Charlie Leck

That’s a factoid, folks. President Barack Obama has actually reduced spending since he took office. Take a look at the way Ezra Klein lays it out on WonkBlog. Mind you, we’re looking at per capita expenditures.

During Bill Clinton’s eight years in the White House, spending rose very moderately. Under George W. Bush , spending rocketed up (you have the expenditures of two wars to account for in those years). Under President Barack Obama expenditures actually decreased.

Now, to be honest, one has to admit that President Obama would have spent a helluva lot more money if he had been allowed to – and, if so, he probably would have brought the job crisis to an end much more quickly.

Republicans (especially the Tea Party types) don’t want to look at these numbers. Well, here are some more numbers for the negative Bachmannites and Tim Phillips, the head of Americans for Prosperity to look at: (headline) Stocks Roll Toward a Complete Recovery.

Standard & Poors 500, a favorite stock indicator, closed on Friday at 1,502.96 and that was the highest mark since 2007. Check out the news on housing and jobs.

And then remind yourself, because you probably need it like most Americans do, President Obama was not in the White House when this economy soured in 2007 and 2008. A few months after President Obama took the oath his first time, the market began slowly and earnestly to improve. Over the next few business days, there is probably going to be a very common market correction and a period of profit taking, when stock holders will do some selling. It’s not to be feared and most of the top analysts are projecting a strong market through the next two quarters.

I am no financial wizard and I’m not writing this blog as one. I’m a political observer and only a dabbler in the stock market. As such, I sense growing confidence over President Obama’s leadership. If even a small fraction of the Republican Party rallies around him, we could see our economy stretch its legs again and really get this nation going.

Also take note that a Minnesotan, Denis McDonough, from Stillwater, has taken the reins as Chief of Staff to President Obama. More reason for national confidence. McDonough is highly regarded in his home state and much admired. If you never hear anything about his work in the White House that means he’s doing his job well.

A news report into today’s Washington Post on national polling after the inauguration show that a very large percentage of the population agrees with Obama on the topics he ticked off in his inaugural address – gay rights, available and affordable medical care, tighter gun control et al. This really is a middle ground president as much as the far right wants to make him sound like a left winger.


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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Behind the Inaugural Address


President Obama’s second inaugural address was carefully thought-out and there was a strategy behind it. This is a President who wants the people to win and he spoke up for them.
by Charlie Leck

I have spent a lot of time – an exorbitant amount – thinking about Monday’s inaugural address by President Obama. I have tried to take seriously the criticism of the speech by the more conservative politicians and columnists. In the end, I have decided that it was a nearly brilliant speech, carefully planned and, from a political perspective, nearly ingenious.

President Obama, in the speech, was doing what he should have done four years ago. He is calling his army of followers to action. He gathered around him a very active, vocal majority in this election and he won decisively. Now, he is calling the Obama army to his side, to help him win the legislative battle with Congress.

If you want to understand the genius behind the speech, here are two national columns about that subject that you should read. They say precisely what I have been thinking and they say it better than I possibly could on my own. If this question – about the strategy of the speech – interests you, then you should read these two columns.

Read first, The Obama Majority by Harold Meyerson (I endorse this column as exactly right on!)
Then read E.J. Dionne Jr.’s remarkable column, Obama’s Unapologetic Inaugural Address.

I think you will then understand why Obama made the speech he did. You don’t need to agree with the strategy, but you will see that that strategy was well thought out (in other words, Obama knew what he was doing). I happen to think Obama is doing the right thing in calling his army of followers to his side for the battle with Congress.

Kenneth Baer, a director of the Harbour Group and a former Obama staffer, argues forcefully that President Obama has placed himself in the direct mainstream of American politics as it is today – that this was not a speech from the left but directly out of the new center. It may well be that the average American has finally awakened to the weirdness of the Tea Party and the failures of conservatism – the very same conservatism that gave us wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a crumbled economy (remember the housing bubble and the bank crashes of 2008 that Obama had to deal with when he was inaugurated in 2009).

If you’d like to read the other side of the question, here’s an opinion piece by Stephen B. Young that argues that it was a very divisive inaugural address and one not good for the nation.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The First Lady is First among First Ladies



I’m completely dazzled by the First Lady. I admire no one in America more than her. And, I’ve got this hopeless, old man’s crush on her!
by Charlie Leck

I don’t think I need to tell my regular readers, that no one should expect an unbiased or neutral expression of opinion out of me today – the day after the Inauguration of President Obama. If you do, forget it!

Here’s the simple truth about the inauguration from my perspective. Whenever I see the First Lady, Michelle Obama, all duded out, why, I’m like melted butter. I’m reduced to big alligator tears. My goodness, I love the woman! I’m crazy about her! She owns me completely.

What a grand woman and mother she seem to be! I gotta believe it! Look at her. She’s solid as a rock and so loving to her children and supportive of her man. Have you ever seen her looking flustered? My gracious, the woman is composed and totally stable.

And, is she bright or what? I watched all the activities yesterday and last evening just to catch little glimpses of Mrs. Obama. I didn’t care which dress, by which designer, she came out in last night at the inaugural balls. I knew she’d look spectacular whatever she wore.

How can a woman be so solid? It’s a foolish question! I’ve been around too many solid and spectacular women. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that she is a person who never loses it – that composure and rock-solid mind. Of course, she’s like real human beings and I know there are the moments when she gets exasperated – when she has to let a little anger out and when she can’t help but show her frustrations. I wouldn’t be able to admire her so much if I didn’t know she’s one-hundred percent a human being just like the rest of us.

So, yes, I cannot be impartial about President Obama. I wish he had a more cooperative Congress. If he did, we’d see tremendous advancements in human rights. And, we’d see solid tax reform that would allow us to pay our past and present bills. Obama knows that the way out of our financial troubles is to heat America up and get it rolling again – get all able Americans working again and education doing what it should do.

Obama is a dreamer, yes! Thank goodness! I want to be led by a dreamer with a grand and glowing vision for America. This president has got just that. And, he’s got a gorgeous wife who supports him as solidly as we could ever imagine. And, I’m betting that she is also his most trusted adviser.

Did you get some good looks at her yesterday? Man, what a woman!

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P.S. Watching so much of the inaugural festivities yesterday introduced me to a host of spectacular people I didn’t know very much about; and I was really, really impressed. I came away from the day feeling very positive about America. We’ve got some awfully wonderful people in this nation and we’re going to be in good hands for a long, long time – especially if we can shake the immense negativism of the Tea Party movement. I'll mention just a few of these extraordinaries...

  1. Richard Blanco, Inaugural Poet: He's not a great poet (yet) but he has a big and open heart filled with love and understanding. He was right-on, yesterday and his words were important for us to hear: "One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the great lakes, spreading a simple truth across the great plains, and charging across the Rockies....)

    You can find full text of the poem and see a video of his reading here...
  2. Brendon Ayanbadejo, Baltimore Ravens linebacker, who championed the right for gay couples to marry in the Maryland election this past autumn. I listened to a long interview of this young man and I was deeply impressed by his steady composure and his sympathetic understanding for people who are treated unjustly. This is one guy you are going to hear plenty about outside of football.
  3. Alicia Keys, entertainer and singer who did a special rendition of one of her songs: Obama's on Fire! "He's the President and he's on fire!" Ms. Keys is an impressive singer, but she's also a very mature woman and thinker who will be a leader in the move to better our nation. I listened to a couple of interviews of her and I'm proud that she's a fellow-American.
  4. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore in Vice President Joe Biden and smiled widely and happily as she did. Ms. Sotomayor is an amazing story of American success -- evidence that it can still be done in this great nation. I heard her interviewed twice during the day and she absolutely demonstrated in clear tones her impressive intelligence and her extraordinary compassion. San Diego Mayor, Julian Castro, like Ms. Sotomayor, a Latino, was also very impressive in the numerous interviews of him. Here's an interesting and uplifting story from the Huffington Post about the many extraordinary Latino citizens who impressed over the weekend.



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Sunday, January 20, 2013

What’a Ya Say?



Stan the Man has died and, alone, I shed some significant tears this morning because he was The Man!
by Charlie Leck


“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”

It was there in the newspaper this morning. I opened the local paper’s electronic version on my computer and browsed the front page. There, at the bottom, was the link to a story on the sports page: Stan the Man Musial Dies! [Sports, Page 3]. Appropriately, the story was filed out of St. Louis by the Post-Dispatch.

I’ll tell you this, I didn’t hit the link real quickly. I sat looking at the little headline and I said something like this to myself, “Hmph!”

And then, in the silence of a Minnesota winter morning, in my deathly quiet house with only the sound of a distant dog bark, I heard Stan the Man himself. It was unmistakable.

“What’aya say? What’aya say!”

I think Stan had the little greeting copyrighted. It belonged to him. He owned it. Or perhaps it owned him. It was the way he greeted people – strangers, old friends, a handful of people or a crowded room.

He always fell back on it. He wasn’t a handy speaker. He was edgy around lots of people. He was awkward about his fame and stardom. That little “what’a ya say” seemed to help him out.

It was always said with a broad smile and bright, sparkling, slightly nervous eyes!

Those of us who loved him simply called him “The Man.”

Feeling pretty glum, I turned to page 3 in sports section and there was the page headline: So Long to the Man!

They gave him the name in Brooklyn. The Dodger fans there had one of the most beautiful love/hate relationships you could ever imagine. Musial used to come into Ebbets Field and tear the place up. He was so good in that ballpark that the fans of the home team gave him a ton of grudging respect.

“Who dat?”

“Dat? Dat’s Stan the Man.”

I was at Ebbets Field one night when the Dodgers were playing the Cardinals. Musial was my man. I loved him! I followed him as closely as I could, watching him on TV as often as I could, listening to his games on the powerful radio station from St. Louis – picking up the static-filled play by play of his games all the way back in New Jersey. Well, that night in Brooklyn, Musial came to bat in the middle of the game somewhere and the crowd gave him the usual friendly boo-job. The Man just smiled in a friendly, happy way and crouched in the batter’s box in his usual and very unique stance. Somebody (maybe big Don Newcome) fired a fastball in on The Man and he swung gracefully, but with enormous bat speed and caught the ball flush. It was a high, hard line drive to right field and it kept climbing. It crashed into the big screen that protected Flatbush Avenue up there at the top of the big scoreboard. Both the center fielder and the right fielder rushed to the spot where it might fall to the ground, but no ball game down. The two outfielders looked at themselves and then looked up toward the screen. There it was! He struck it so solidly that it hit the screen so hard and jammed itself right there in the diamond-shaped opening of the mesh screen.

The fans hooted and hollered and the umpires stopped The Man at second base with a “ground rule double.” The laughter around the stadium was immense when the ground crew brought out a giant extension ladder and hoisted it up to where the ball was, thirty or forty feet above the ground. They clapped and howled while a guy carefully climbed the ladder and pried the ball out of the screen. They applauded him wildly when the ball released and he climbed down like a victorious champion as they cheered him. He waved the ball joyfully at the crowd as he and the rest of the crew left the field. Musial stood on second base laughing and jawing it up with the shortstop, Pee Wee Reese.

The Man owned Brooklyn. They loved him! And so did I.

I’m not going into all his enormous records and achievements here. I’ll tell you this: Stan the Man was one of the four or five greatest hitters of all times. He’s right there with guys like Ty Cobb and Ted Williams. He played in every All Star game in each of his full seasons in Major League Baseball. And here’s an odd statistic for you. In his career he got 3,630 hits – and 1,815 of them were at home in St. Louis and 1,815 of were on the road, in other ball parks. If he was anything, he was consistent. He had a career batting average of .331.

And, he was also a purely nice guy. Umpires loved him, opposing players loved him and the fans of the game loved him. Pitchers? Well, not so much! Sal Magly, the great pitcher for the NY Giants during the Musial years called him the best hitter he ever went up against and “also the nicest guy I ever knew.”

One time, as a little leaguer, at our season ending banquet, Tom Gorman, a great major league baseball umpire, was the guest speaker. One of the questions was about the best hitter Gorman ever saw. There was no hesitation. Gorman said that Musial “was something special.”

“I’ll tell you,” Gorman said, without hesitation, “if Stan Musial took a pitch with a 3 and 2 count, as an umpire, you knew it was a ball. No question! He had the finest set of eyes of any ball player in my career.”

In St. Petersburg, in 1972 (I think it was), the company I was working for booked me into Stan Musial’s hotel in that city. I checked in and went to the elevator to take it to my room. A few people gathered behind me and moved into the cabinet of the elevator when the doors slid open. At the back of the elevator, I turned around to face forward and I saw him sliding in with the rest of the people. I gasped.

“Stan Musial,” I stuttered, like a small boy, overwhelmed by the site of my incredible hero. He heard me and looked me in the eye.

“What’a ya say? What’a ya say!” He stuck out his hand to shake mine.

Somehow, stuttering and shaking, I let him know how much I had loved watching him play and what an immense fan I was.

“You checkin’ in?”

“Well, yes, sir! We’re having sales meetings here this week!”

“Good, good,” he said. “Put your bags in your room and come on up to the penthouse and have a drink with me.”

I looked at him in amazement.

“Really! Just take the elevator to the top floor and knock on the only door up there. Great view! We’ll chat for a little while.”

And, I did. The great man introduced me to his lovely wife, poured me a drink, pushed some pretzels out across the bar and came around and sat on a stool next to me. We chatted for fifteen or twenty minutes about the ballgames I’d seen and how I idolized him. Stan loved his fans. He got out a photograph of himself, in his batting stance ,in his Cardinal uniform, and he autographed it and gave it to me. It hangs on the wall near this desk and I can see it as I write this.

I saw him a number of years later, too, when we were guests of Augie Busch at a Cardinal World Series game against Milwaukee. I flew down there with one of the boys. We had first row box seats very near third base. Musial, in a bright (cardinal) red blazer came walking along the track, shaking hands with folks in the boxseats. When he got to me and we shook, he looked at me as if he remembered something.

“Maybe ten years ago! In your suite in St. Pete,” I said. “We had a couple of beers together.”

His eyes brightened and he, at least, pretended to remember.

“What’a ya say? What’a ya say!”

He shook my hand again and then moved on down the field.

I’m no youngster with stars in his eyes, but, I’m here to tell you, that I loved that man – The Man – like no other figure in the entire sports world. And, today, I’m a bit sad.

But, you all know how I feel about this. He’s got the best seat in the house now! Out there among those stars, he’ll watch it all and he’ll be smiling widely.

Way to go Stan! Way to go!

In 2011, at the White House, President Obama presented Mr. Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon a civilian.

Upon his retirement in 1963, the Commissioner of Baseball, Ford C. Frick, said of Musial: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”

"What’a ya say, Stan! What’a ya say!”




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God Speaks



I rose early on this Sunday morning and did a lot of writing and some significant reading. I came upon something that seemed very special, especially for a quiet day like this.
by Charlie Leck

So far in this new year, I’ve been very faithful about my daily readings from A Year with Rilke, a book I received for Christmas. I found today’s reading especially good and meaningful and I felt certain it belonged as today’s blog. It follows.

God Speaks
I am, you anxious one.
Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?
I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am waiting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.
                [Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours I, 19]

Nothing more! Silence!


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Friday, January 18, 2013

Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed


The depiction of an American Revolutionary Army Soldier
is by Randy Steel. You can see more of his magnificent work
at Fine Art America.


The right of the people to own guns (guns, guns, guns and more guns) is a complex and troubling issue and it will be impossible to solve it until the people move to do so.
by Charlie Leck


I have been trying to write a blog about gun control for weeks. My main purpose has been to explain the Second Amendment in intellectual and historical terms (using the Federalist Papers as a guide). This, I have found out, is not an easy task because both the amendment and the papers were written in a place and time (Sitz im Leben, the German intellectuals called it) that was so extraordinarily different than our own that it doesn’t make sense in this highly modern era.

Today, along came a letter in the NY Times from a former Prime Minister of Australia who had (absolutely had) to fight guns in his own nation. He offers friendly advice and guidance to America. I was touched by the genuineness of the letter and also by its thoughtfulness. I urge you to read it and then to pass it along to friends who might also be concerned about this issue.

“…on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.
“After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.”

Part of this complex arrangement in Australia included a “buy-back” plan to reimburse people who had spent money on the weapons the government now wanted to make illegal. Under the plan, nearly 700,000 guns were bought back and destroyed (“the equivalent of 50 million guns in the United States).

I’ll say right off – out front and in full disclosure – that Australia had nothing like our Second Amendment with which to deal. It had not been necessary for them to go through a “revolutionary war” in order to secure their independence.

The Second Amendment is a baffling statement of a right – it is more than a conundrum because we can no longer place it properly in its Sitz im Leben. Yet, without being able to understand “the place in time” in which the Second Amendment was adopted, we cannot ever be freed from it. We are no longer going to find a need to recruit “well regulated” citizen armies out of their homes to fight again to secure our independence. (But, that is a whole other blog!)

What we need now is to find a way to get hold of a growing American fantasy love with incredibly high-powered and dangerous weapons. If ever there was a time for Americans to calmly and reasonably discuss solutions to horrific mass murders in the strangest of places (movie theaters and elementary schools just to begin listing them), now is that time.

In no way do I want to take reasonable sporting weapons away from my neighbors. I do want to rid from our private society the kinds of weapons that soldiers take into battle against the forces of evil. We have got to beg Americans to be reasonable about this.

Reading this remarkable letter from John Howard is a good beginning.

Friends of mine in Europe (several of them) have written to me about this terrible Connecticut school incident and either told me or asked me about America’s attitude about life. “Is life so cheap in America? Has it no value?” (Est-ce que, la vie est tellement pas cher en Amérique? At-il aucune valeur?)

The question hurts me – it hurts my feelings and it wounds my great American pride. Of course, life is not cheap. But how to I explain it – this right to own guns – the Revolutionary War and the Taming of the Wildwest? It is unique history that even the great French Revolution (1789) can not duplicate. How does one explain that Sitz im Leben of the American revolutionary who was also a farmer and a hunter of game and then suddenly a soldier in a citizen army, fighting for his country’s freedom?

The struggle goes on in my mind. How shall we ever free ourselves from this tiny piece of the land’s revered Constitution without understanding the historical moment in which it was written and adopted?

The following is the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America as ratified by the states and certified by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.


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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Etty Hillesum



Etty Hillesum died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. She was a Dutch Jew who was taken from her home in Amsterdam by the Nazis. For nearly two years, as she waited to be taken away, she kept a diary that was found after her death. It’s been published in a dozen languages.
by Charlie Leck

I finished reading An Interrupted Life (The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943). I was very moved by the diary entries. Unlike Anne Frank, Etty, also a Jew, did not live in hiding. She lived openly just a few blocks from where Anne Frank was hidden away. She worked in a business and went home in the evenings. She saw a psychologist regularly – a Jewish man nearly 30 years older than she – and they began having a sexual relationship as they stared reality in the face. The time before they would be picked up and deported grew shorter and shorter. They were not in love, but they comforted each other and took something more from their relationship than the mere pleasure of sex.

I jotted down these sections from here and there in the book, to act as a reminder to me of the power Etty had both in her writing and in her dealing with the frightening inevitable. I’d like to share these excerpts with you.

SATURDAY MORNING. As tired and discouraged and worn out as an old man. And as dreary as the chill drizzle outside. And as ineffectual. But no one made me sit in the bathroom reading until 1 o’clock in the morning when I could barely keep my eyes open with fatigue. That’s not the real reason of course. A growing sense of unease and exhaustion. Perhaps it’s purely physical after all? Or is it the many splinters of my ego which bar the way?
The more tired and ineffectual I feel, the more astonished I am by his energy and by the love he has for everyone at all times. Then I resent the fact that he has so much strength even in times like these. We could be ordered at any moment to those barracks in Drenthe Province and the greengrocers have signs in the shops saying, ‘No Jews.’ The average person has more than enough on his plate these days. But he still sees six patients a day and gives all he has to each one. He breaks them open and draws out the poison and delves down to the sources where God hides Himself away. And he works with such intensity that, in the end, the water of life begins to flow again in dried-up souls; each day the life-stories pile up on his little table, almost every one ending with, ‘Please help me.’ And there he is ready and willing to help each one.
u
THURSDAY AFTERNOON. A letter from my father with his inimitable sense of humour: ‘Today we have entered the cycleless age. I have delivered up Mischa’s bicycle personally. In Amsterdam, I see from the paper, the Jews may still cycle about. What a privilege! At least we need fear no longer than our bicycles will be stolen. That is some balm for the nerves. In the wilderness we also had to do without bicycles for forty long years.’
u
7 JULY, TUESDAY MORNING, 9:30. Mien just rang to say that Mischa had been selected for Drenthe yesterday. Outcome unknown. Mother is up and about, she said, and Father reads a lot, he really has great inner resources.
The streets through which we cycle are not what they used to be, the sky hangs so low and so threatening over them and there seems to be storm signals even when the sun is shining. We now live side by side with destiny, or whatever you want to call it, we rub shoulders with it daily, and nothing is how we learnt it from our books.
This much I know: you have to forget your own worries for the sake of others, for the sake of those whom you love. All the strength and love and faith in God which ones possesses, and which have grown so miraculously in me of late, must be there for everyone who chances to cross one’s path and who needs it.
u
Nothing can ever atone for the fact, of course, that one section of the Jewish population is helping to transport the majority out of the country. History will pass judgment in due course.
u
29 JULY, WEDNESDAY MORNING, 8 O’CLOCK. On Sunday morning I was curled up on his floor in my big striped dressing gown, darning socks. Water can be so clear that you can see right through it and distinguish everything on the bottom. What a basic way of putting things I have.
What I really wanted to say is: it suddenly felt as if life in its thousand details, twists and turns had become perfectly clear and transparent. Just like a crystal-clear sea.
u
AT NIGHT, 10:30. ‘God give me calm and let me face everything squarely.’ There is so much to face. First I must start living a disciplined life. At this moment, the lights are being turned off in the men’s barracks. But was there ever a real light in them? Where were you this evening, Jopie, little comrade? I have moments when I am suddenly filled with sadness: sadness that I cannot walk out of my barracks and on to the great moor outside. I take a short walk around the camp and before long my comrade, with his tanned face and that straight furrow between his eyes, by my side. And as it grows dark I can hear in the distance the first chords of Beethoven’s Fifth.
I so wish I could put it all into words. Those two months behind barbed wire have been the two richest and most intense months of my life, in which my highest values were so deeply confirmed. I have learned to love Westerbork [a Dutch transit camp from which inmates were taken to the death camps]. Yet when I fell asleep on my narrow plank bed there, what I dreamt of was the desk behind which I now sit and write. ‘I am so grateful to You, God, for having made my life so rich, but no matter where You place me, I always long for that desk of mine.’

And the last words of her diary, near the end of August 1943, were these…

As for my future, I am firmly resolved to return to you after my wanderings. In the meantime, my love once again, you dear people.

Etty Hillesum died on 30 November 1943 in Auschwitz.

I often marvel at the strength of the human soul and heart. I would never have been so brave and hopeful and so in control of my spirit and mind.

I feel foolish that I did not know about Etty’s diaries until only a few weeks ago. After I read an article about the book, I went on-line to ABE and bought a used copy for a dollar.

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943
[Washington Square Press, New York, 1983]


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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty



It was Senior Day at the old movie theater yesterday, so I plunked down a few bucks and ambled on in to see a pleasant film. OMG!
by Charlie Leck

I saw Zero Dark Thirty yesterday. It was a remarkable film. It certainly provided a fascinating story line and plenty of tension. It also raised plenty of questions for discussion: (torture, for one, because there were plenty of scenes of it in the film, and also the clear strategy to just kill Osama bin Laden and not to capture him alive).

I’d say I was mostly captivated by the role played by women in the CIA’s tracking down of bin Laden. I am told the film is very accurate, so I am amazed at how long it was before we struck the compound in which he lived after we had become quite certain the terrorist was there.

All around me in the theatre yesterday afternoon were other folks of my own age – seniors, taking in an afternoon flick. More than half of them were women. Now, this is not only a very violent film, but it is also a very realistic one in terms of dialogue. There were a lot of f-bombs as we call them around here. I’m not unfamiliar with the terminology and I’m prone to use the word in various forms and contexts; however, I try my best not to use the word around women and/or kids.

When my wife asked me this morning if the flick would be too violent for her, I told her that I didn’t think so but that the potent language might be. She looked at me and tilted her head in that manner that says, “You got to be kidding?” I think I underestimate women. Er! Let’s revise that to: “I generally underestimate women!”

There were a lot of explosions in the film and an enormous amount of gun play (isn’t that an odd combination of words – gunplay?).

Throughout the film I had to keep reminding myself that bin Laden was the bad guy – that he had killed thousands of innocents in New York City in 2001. America had sworn to bring him down. We were desperate to do it. We devoted millions and millions of dollars to do it. Is that a significant enough rationalization for the use of brutal torture? That’s an immense discussion point with which the film leaves us. Would they – or could they have – captured the maniacal murderer without the weapon of torture? I, in my cozy home here in the Minnesota countryside, can philosophize all I want about the evil and unrighteousness of torture, but I am told by the film to keep remembering the September day in 2001 when the towers fell.

Here was the stunner in this film for me! It was a woman, singularly focused on bringing down Osama bin Laden, who is the central figure in the film’s story. True? Again, I’m told the film is generally accurate when it comes to the history of the hunt and the final clash. If so, she must be regarded as a national heroine and deserved great honors.

It would be an error not to see this film on a big screen and in the company of other viewers. One deserves to feel the enormity of this hunt and sense the visceral reaction of other people to the violence.


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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Where Do You Come?



Such a question might draw a bland answer from most of us ("from the Bronx and New York City"); but from one nine year old it drew a lovely, thoughtful and delightful response.
by Charlie Leck

There is nothing like grandchildren! Why? That’s too grand and complicated a question to go into here. I love my children and step-children so danged much and without reservation; but my grandchildren are somehow different. There’s not judgment involved. I don’t have to worry about them. I’m just free to love them to no absolute end. Grandpa can brag and boast and tell stories about them all he wants.

When readers grasp the fact that I blog for my grandkids, that these children may grow into adults and understand and know who I was, grandpas among these readers, love to send me stuff their granddaughters and/or grandsons have done or made. I don’t know why grandmothers don’t do this (there’s just something incredibly different about grandpas and their grandchildren).

Well, very recently, one of my quite faithful followers and readers (and a dear friend, as well) sent me a little piece his nine (9) year old granddaughter had written. I emphasize the nine year old element here because it is quite amazing that a nine year old could be this sensitive. Now, don’t misunderstand me: The following is not great literature, but it is, however, an evidence of sensitivity that is rare in a nine year old and it portends very interesting things for this child; and that is an ability to be sensitive to life and what surrounds her.

I won’t get any more psychological than that (mostly because I’m not professionally capable). Just enjoy these reflections from a nine year old girl who answered thusly when she was asked: “Where are you from?”

“Where I’m From”
I am from smooth-tasting caramel bars,
to holiday cheer when being with family and friends.
I am from hitting hard softballs,
to wrestling with my dad and having fun.
I am from screaming when Santa Claus came,
to enjoying Christmas spirit by the Christmas tree.
I am from slipping on water slides in the summer,
to bouncing on my trampoline and throwing fall leaves in the air.
I am from going to Church and saying prayers,
to watching winter frost on the ground.
I am from Hot Chocolate burning on my lips,
to singing Christmas Carols in Music class.
I am from reading bedtime stories with my grandma,
to getting ready to perform at the Holiday Sing.
I am from going camping with my Aunt Kriss and Uncle Rodney,
to telling jokes with my grandpa.
I am from gardening with my mom and planting sweet peas,
to playing hide-and-seek with my best friend Peyton.
I am from feeling the steam and heat of the washer,
to watching TV with a cup of chocolate milk.
I love all of these things so much and will cherish them forever.

Well, there you are. From where are you?

Right now, I’m reading an extraordinary book called Etty. The book contains copies of the personal writings of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman, who was awaiting an inevitable arrest that was coming. It did come in 1943 and this lovely, troubled woman was taken off to die in a Nazi concentration camp. Her diary entries, which were left behind and discovered many years later, are quite personal and I get the feeling from time to time that I ought not be invading Etty’s privacy; yet, they also contribute to the pool of remarkable literature of Nazi Europe.

I’ll tell you more about Etty Hillesum in the coming days.


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Monday, January 14, 2013

Representative Bachmann Goes Silent



Stories in our local paper over the last few days seem to indicate that Representative Michele Bachmann has withdrawn into her shell and won’t be quickly coming out!
by Charlie Leck

Yes, it is the same woman, Michele Bachmann, who never seemed to know when to keep her mouth shut, who has now withdraw from public notice and we don’t seem to hear a peep out of her. What’s going on?

To that question, one can only guess! Perhaps she’s licking her 2012 election wounds and the wounds, perhaps, were more numerous than we ever imagined. She came within a whisker of defeat in her congressional district – even after said district had been redrawn in such a way that her election should have been more certain than ever. I have sources within the State Democratic Party who tell me that Bachmann could actually have been defeated had the Party been able to convince potential donors that her opponent was doing as well as he was. Jim Graves, who ran against Bachmann in the November election, had actually crept up on her in the polling and drawn sliver close to her. I didn’t believe it. I, like others, thought it was optimistic hopefulness and not reality. The local newspaper's polls were still showing Bachmann with a wide lead. Why, had I known Graves had really pulled nearly even with Bachmann, I would have been “in” in a second. I would have gotten the buggy out of the garage and headed for the Graves headquarters to find out what I could do – where I could beat on doors and to whom I could give money.

My sources, savvy and connected, are also telling me that Graves will run again in 2014 – this time with a more organized campaign and with solid backing from former non-believers (such as I).

Six months ago, I was championing the concept that Bachmann could not be beaten given the characteristics of that congressional district. I was certainly not responsible for Jim Graves’ inability to over-take the incumbent, but I was certainly no help either.

The Congresswoman’s district begins approximately one mile from my house (to the west). It wouldn’t have like killed me to mosey on over there, perhaps with checkbook in hand, to find out what I could have done to help.

Well, at the very least we put a scare in her, I’ll tell you what! It appears the old girl is still shaken up and she’s begun to wonder what she can do to repair herself as a candidate for reelection in 2014. It appears that someone has kicked over the tea kettle and there’s lots of embarrassment about the big dent that has been left in it.

Mr. Graves, I hope it is true that you will run again. I here and now pledge my support if you do. I do suggest, however, that you go ahead and buy a home just a mile or so west of me and settle in there so you can get to know your neighbors. You might just as well live in the district. You’ll still be close to downtown Minneapolis. And, I promise I’ll show you around and that you’ll fall in love with your neighbors.


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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Leonard Cohen



Are you old enough that you can think back on the sixties – the incredible generation of chaos in America and many other nations as well?
by Charlie Leck

I took the following from my personal journal, something I try to write in every day. I've never done this on my blog before; that is, double post something in my personal journal and on my blog. React for me, if you will! I won't do if often, but I may do it occasionally if people aren't offended by some of the candid nature and language of this post.

This is just a part of what I wrote about this morning. The subject is Leonard Cohen, rock singer and writer back in the tumultuous 60s. I’ve just begun reading a biography of his life by Sylvie Simmons (I’m Your Man).

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I’ll take a break from the LBJ biography. Two volumes down. Three to go. Just a little rest. I’ll read now a biography of Leonard Cohen. He was a rock star, hippy, degenerate wise man of my youth – almost exactly six years older than I. I liked his songs then (and I like them now too). Vietnam set both of us off and we learned how to be very angry. The world wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, what with unjust wars and racial inequality (somewhat like the irrational hatred of the non-Aryan, which hatred we had fought so hard across the sea). He was a Jew (Leonard Cohen). He hated hatred. We got confused about such things sometimes. Was it okay to hate Dick Nixon? Cohen wrote lyrics with enormous ease and tunes and melodies with facileness (predictability). His novels were awfully crazy, but I read them anyway.

“I asked my father: ‘Change my name.’
The one I’m using now it’s covered up
With fear and filth and cowardice and shame.”
                               [Leonard Cohen]

I don’t think I’ve ever grown out of that. When I’m honest with myself, I still hate America for how easy she is – such an easy woman, talked into depraved and wonderful behavior so easily (more easily than I was into a night in bed with a buxom woman). Christ! We make war so easily! I wonder now who we will sleep with next. Afghanistan will be pushed aside and Iraq has already been. We took from them what we could get and left their beds when we saw it was an error to climb in with them.

That’s the kind of stuff Cohen was all about – an angry man looking to be free in all the ways he wanted to be free (sex and drugs and music). He loved to write. He was a good writer. He wrote a novel, Beautiful Losers, in the sixties, while he was in a constantly altered state – lots of hash. He admits to being very angry when he wrote it. Sometimes he was a pompous ass-hole, but he’s grown old well. I’d take a couple of his songs to be sung at a gathering at my death if someone must insist there be one: Going Home is a song I like a great deal.

Goin’ home without my sorrow
Goin’ home sometime tomorrow
Goin’ home to where it’s better than before
Goin’ home without my burden
Goin’ home behind the curtain
Goin’ home without this costume that I wore.

Show Me the Place is another of his songs I can hear sung (played) at my evening sun – when there will be no more mornings. I certainly don’t want any of the traditional hymns – maybe a verse or two of We Shall Overcome! Here’s the basic lines from Show Me the Place!

Show me the place where you want your slave to go
Show me the place, I’ve forgotten I don’t know
Show me the place, for my head is bendin’ low
Show me the place where you want your slave to go
Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can’t move this thing alone
Show me the place where the word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began
The troubles came, I saved what I could save
A thread of light, a particle, a wave
But there were chains, so I hastened to behave
There were chains so I loved you like a slave

I have chores to do on this Saturday – little things like packing away the last of the Christmas decorations, paying the bills, cleaning out my closet (it’s over-stuffed).

The sky is now reacting to the sun’s rise
and the colors are magnificent – deep-blue grays with splashes of orange, as if dabbed here and there by Monet’s brushes, and then the light brightening as I watch and changing all the hues as it does. It is morning (“Morning has broken, like the first morning!”) My, but it is so beautiful that I am crying at the sight of it (but I cry easily).

Cohen’s song, Crazy to Love You, is playing now… and I’ll stop with this.

Had to go crazy to love you!
Had to go down to the pit
Had to do time in the tower
Beggin’ my crazy to quit
Had to go crazy to love you!
You who were never the one
Whom I chased through the souvenir heartache
Her braids and her blouse all undone

Sometimes I’d head for the highway…
I’m old and the mirrors don’t lie,
But crazy has places to hide in
That are deeper than any goodbye

Had to go crazy to love you!
Had to let everything fall
Had to be people I hated
Had to be no one at all

I’m tired of choosing desire
I’ve been saved by a blessed fatigue
The gates of commitment unwired,
And nobody tryin’ to leave.



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