41 years ago, and nevermore since

The first game of the NFL preseason is the Hall of Fame Game. Unless it gets canceled due to bad turf …

… or bad weather, as in 1980 when the Packers–Chargers game in Canton, Ohio, ended during the third quarter due to lightning. (Spoiler alert: Maybe that’s happened before …)

The Hall of Fame Game opening the preseason is a tradition of the past 40 years. It may seem hard to believe now, but the game before that used to pit a team of college all-stars (which means other teams’ early draft picks) against the defending NFL champion.

The game was played at Soldier Field in Chicago (from whence came the baseball All-Star Game), back when (until 1971) Da Bears played not there but at Wrigley Field. Soldier Field could seat up to 100,000 until renovations installed end-zone seats that cut off the huge bowl of the original stadium.

Tonight is the 41st anniversary of the final All-Stars game, which ended in chaos.

ABC-TV carried the game in the midst of its Montreal Olympics coverage. (With the Hall of Fame game the next afternoon.)

Silenced sports voices

Two figures in Wisconsin sports media history died last week.

The first is reported by the Wisconsin State Journal:

Don Lindstrom, a former prep and University of Wisconsin sportswriter and columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, passed away at 92 years old on July 13 in Madison. A cause of death was not disclosed.

The Nebraska native’s newspaper career covered 43 years as a sports editor of the Holdrege (Neb.) Daily Citizen, a sports writer for the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune and finally at the State Journal for 29 years. He retired in 1988.

Lindstrom was honored with selections to the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame in cross country in 1995, basketball in 2001 and football in 2002. He received an additional award from the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. He also was a member of the Baseball Writers of America, earned Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year nominations and was the ninth president of the Madison Sports Hall of Fame.

Lindstrom also served in the U.S. Navy Amphibious Corps Pacific Theater during World War II. He and his wife, Barbara, would have been married 64 years on Aug. 31.

I read Don well before I knew him, along with late State Journal sportswriter Tom Butler. So when I started covering games and then saw them in the flesh, it was a sign that it one of them was there, the game I was covering was a big deal that night. One wonders if, given media companies’ shedding of employees, if someone will think that after seeing one of today’s sports reporters covering an event.

That included the March 12, 1982 boys basketbail sectional semifinal game between two of the three conference tri-champions, Madison La Follette and Madison West, about which you have read, including …

The scene was wild enough for Don Lindstrom, a Wisconsin State Journal sportswriter who had previously covered approximately 11 million basketball games, to comment thereupon:

“I thought we had lost it,” yelled La Follette Coach Pete Olson amid postgame bedlam. “We worked so hard but I never thought we could do it. These kids are amazing.”

The other is reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Long before the arrival of cable television, decades before people live-streamed baseball games on tablets or checked their cell phones for ScribbleLive updates, this is how you followed your favorite team, when you weren’t actually sitting in the stadium:

You turned on the boxy radio in the kitchen or held a transistor radio to your ear and moved the tiny plastic dial in microscopic increments until the static faded and the station came in, occasionally loud and clear.

In Milwaukee, this rich era of radio produced the likes of Earl Gillespie and Blaine Walsh, Merle Harmon and Tom Collins – familiar, honeyed voices drifting through the air on hot summer nights.

Collins (left) and Merle Harmon, who I once met, probably announcing a Brewers loss.

“You weren’t involved with baseball unless you listened to the radio,” said Eddie Doucette, a member of the Brewers’ broadcast team in 1973-’74.

Yet another link to that bygone era is no more with the passing of Collins, who died Thursday in Wisconsin Rapids of congestive heart failure. He was 95.

Gillespie and Walsh, who called Braves games in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Harmon, who bridged the Braves and Brewers, preceded Collins in death – Walsh in 1985, Gillespie in 2003, Harmon in 2009.

“When you stop and think about all the good guys that have come out of that market, it was really some quality, quality talent,” said Doucette, who gained greater fame as the radio voice of the Milwaukee Bucks. “It was a sad day for me when Merle died. And now Tom. It’s almost the end of an era.”

Like many play-by-play men of his generation, Collins had no formal training in radio. After serving as a Marine Corps gunner during World War II, he returned to his hometown of Neenah and worked as a millwright in the paper mills.

He got his start in radio doing a Sunday morning polka/country music show on WNAM and later did play-by-play for local high school sports teams. In 1959, he took a job with WEMP-AM in Milwaukee, which held the rights to Braves games.

“He came to WEMP as a newsman,” said Collins’ son, Patrick. “He worked his way up to his own morning show before he got into sports. He did the Braves’ pregame show for three or four years before he started doing play-by-play.”

The Braves left Milwaukee after the 1965 season and when the Brewers arrived in 1970, Collins was part of the broadcast team that included Harmon and a young Bob Uecker, who started in 1971 and is still going strong.

“Working with Tom and Merle was a big deal for me,” Uecker said. “I had already done the ‘Tonight Show’ stuff but I was more nervous about doing play-by-play on radio than the appearance stuff I did. I came here with nothing. I never did any games. Everything was a learning experience with Tom and Merle.

“They were great guys. Funny guys, too. I always did one inning of play-by-play, the fifth inning, and one day Tom and Merle introduced me and got up and left. I was begging them to come back and in the sixth inning the engineer said, ‘You better get going, Bob. There’s one out.’ ”

Collins also did the play-by-play for Marquette University basketball games for 15 years, many of them with Uecker. Collins and coach Al McGuire became close friends and went out on top together – the last game Collins called was the 1977 NCAA championship game.

In recent years, Collins suffered from Alzheimer’s, but still worked crossword puzzles in pen. Even after he forgot his grandchildren’s names, he could name the starting lineups for Braves teams.

“He was an unbelievable storyteller,” said grandson Matt Collins. “He had a very vivid memory. If you closed your eyes you felt like you were standing over his shoulder, watching what he was describing.”

Patrick Collins said the family planned to celebrate his father’s life with a “big, old-fashioned Irish wake” in Neenah in late September or early October.

“I was sad when I found out the other day that he passed away, but 95 years, that’s a pretty good run for anybody,” Uecker said. “It’s always sad, the inevitable, but Tom was a longtime friend and we had a lot of laughs. He was a great guy.”

I cannot find Collins’ obituary, so I don’t know if that was his real name. If it was (and even if it wasn’t), he had the perfect on-air name for a Wisconsin media personality. (For those unaware, the Tom Collins drink is gin (to prevent malaria), lemon juice (to prevent scurvy), simple syrup and club soda.)

I don’t recall hearing Collins, who did radio until 1972, did two more years on TV, and then did the Brewers’ first cable TV broadcasts for the SelecTV subscription service in 1981 (available only in the Milwaukee area) with current Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione. He was more of a broadcaster than a sportscaster in that he was in Milwaukee radio outside the Brewers and, for their last three years of existence, the Milwaukee Braves.)

So why do I recall this announcer, eulogized in the New York Times?

I had never met Bob Wolff, who died Saturday night, but like many people in the New York and Washington sports markets, I knew Bob. To me, he was the television voice of the Knicks during their 1970 and 1973 N.B.A. championship runs. To fans of the Washington Senators, he was the voice of a franchise from 1947 to 1961 (including its first season as the Minnesota Twins) that was invariably awful.

And for just about everyone who listened to him over the course of a remarkably long career, he was that smart, joyful, genial voice who loved what he was doing, who worked hard to appear that he wasn’t working hard, who made you feel that there was a friend behind the microphone. …

Later in 1990, I drove out to his apartment, which overlooked the Tappan Zee Bridge in South Nyack, N.Y. On his dining room table on that autumn afternoon was a single object: a cassette recorder. Inside it was a tape of the radio broadcast of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, [Don] Larsen versus Sal Maglie of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Let’s listen,” Wolff said.

He turned it on and we concentrated as if the game were happening for the first time. Bob leaned toward the recorder as if he had not heard the game — as if he had not called it.

But there was the voice of the then 35-year-old Wolff, calling the second half of the game after Bob Neal had finished the first half. Wolff got the better of the deal. It was enthralling to listen to the game for the first time across the table from this very exuberant man who often told me how he equated calling games to singing, how his voice rose and fell with the events of the game, how he hit his high notes with the enthusiasm of a tenor onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

He did not declare Larsen’s gem perfect until the final out. But when it ended, he excitedly said, “Man, oh man, how about that, a perfect game for Don Larsen!”

Two years later, he was again in the right place at the right time when he called the 1958 N.F.L. championship game won in overtime by the Baltimore Colts, 23-17, over the Giants. “The Colts are the world champions — Ameche scores!

And if you listen, you will hear his voice begin to crescendo before landing on those last two words. It was a lyric to Wolff, not a call — words to sing, not shout.

These are transitional times in sportscasting. Vin Scully (whose birth date, Nov. 29, was the same as Wolff’s) retired from the Dodgers last year after 67 seasons. Verne Lundquist and Chris Berman have drastically scaled back their workload (and Berman’s wife, Kathy, died in a car crash in May). Brent Musburger left the booth to join his family’s sports handicapping business.

But Wolff’s death ended a remarkable era. He began his career on radio while at Duke in 1939 and ended it with a commentary in February on News 12 Long Island. He had not retired, not at 96, when he still had something to say or an event to cover. No sportscaster has had a longer career — Guinness World Records backs up that claim — and few have had one that was more varied.

A long time ago, Wolff followed with fidelity the advice of his college baseball coach when he asked him what he thought of his chances of playing in the major leagues.

“If you want to make it to the majors,” the coach told him, “keep talking.”

So he did. Wolff was a generalist who called football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and he was a deft and friendly interviewer whose subjects included Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. One of his more intriguing ventures began on road trips with the Senators: It resulted in the formation of a choral group, with Wolff on his ukulele, and players like Jim Lemon, Roy Sievers and Tex Clevenger singing along.

“We’d be on the train singing, and I’d do some harmony groups,” he told The Washington Post in 2005. “Over time, because guys got traded or retired, I had three different groups, and the last one actually went on the ‘Today’ show.”

In 1995, Wolff soloed in a hotel bar in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the night before he received the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He propped his foot on a chair and accompanied himself on “When You’re Smiling,” “Heart of My Heart” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

After the applause died down, he said, “You folks obviously know talent.”

And as his father sat down, Rick Wolff jokingly said, “Now you know what we grew up with.”

So many of us grew up with him as well: a decent, hardworking sportscaster and entertainer with the heart of a journalist and the soul of a happy ham.

Because Wolff’s list of assignments included the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, held in Madison Square Garden and covered by MSG, formerly carried by USA Network. He also announced the 1958 World Series with Collins’ former Braves partner, Earl Gillespie:

 

Impeach them all!

Back in May, Reason.com opined:

To everything there is a season, the Bible and Pete Seeger told us. The season to impeach Donald Trump may come, or it may not. Trying to do it now would be like harvesting sweet corn before it’s ripe, yielding something stunted and indigestible.

But n0w, Reason.com says:

Impeachment talk in the nation’s capital rose from a murmur to a dull roar in mid-May, thanks to a week jam-packed with Nixonesque “White House horrors.” On Tuesday, May 9, President Donald Trump summarily fired FBI director James Comey; on Thursday, Trump admitted the FBI investigation into “this Russia thing”—attempts to answer questions about his campaign’s links with Moscow—was a key reason for the firing; Friday found Trump warning Comey he’d “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations”; and the following Tuesday TheNew York Times reported the existence of a Comey memo on Trump’s efforts to get the FBI director to “let this go.” Along the way, Trump may have “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State” while bragging to Russian diplomats about his “great intel,” according to TheWashington Post.

Still, the Beltway discussion of impeachment remained couched in euphemism, as if there was something vaguely profane and disreputable about the very idea. “The elephant in the room,” an NPR story observed, “is the big ‘I’ word—impeachment”; “the ‘I’ word that I think we should use right now is ‘investigation,'” House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

We don’t call it “the v-word” when the president signals he might veto a bill. Yet somehow, when it comes to the constitutional procedure for ejecting an unfit president, journalists and Congress members—grown-ups, ostensibly—are reduced to the political equivalent of “h-e-double-hockey-sticks.”

What’s really obscene is America’s record on presidential impeachments. We’ve made only three serious attempts in our entire constitutional history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998—both of whom were impeached but escaped removal—and Richard Nixon, who quit in 1974 before the House could vote on the issue. Given how many bastards and clowns we’ve been saddled with over the years, shouldn’t we manage the feat more than once a century?

Well, the views were written by different writers. But Impeachm0ent Writer, the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Devotion to Dangerous Executive Power goes on:

Impeachments “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties,” Alexander Hamilton predicted in the Federalist. That’s how it played out during our last national debate on the subject, during the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio of the late ’90s.

The specter of Bill Clinton’s removal from office for perjury and obstruction of justice drove legal academia to new heights of creativity. Scads of concerned law professors strained to come up with a definition of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” narrow enough to let Bill slide. In a letter delivered to Congress as the impeachment debate began, over 430 of them warned that unless the House of Representatives wanted to “dangerously weaken the office of the presidency for the foreseeable future” (heaven forfend), the standard had to be “grossly heinous criminality or grossly derelict misuse of official power.”

Some of the academy’s leading lights, not previously known for devotion to original intent, proved themselves stricter than the strict constructionists and a good deal more original than the originalists. The impeachment remedy was so narrow, Cass Sunstein insisted, that if the president were to up and “murder someone simply because he does not like him,” it would make for a “hard case.” Quite so, echoed con-law superprof Laurence Tribe: An impeachable offense had to be “a grievous abuse of official power,” something that “severely threaten[s] the system of government.”

Just killing someone for sport might not count—after all, Tribe pointed out, when Vice President Aaron Burr left a gutshot Alexander Hamilton dying in Weehawken after their July 1804 duel, he got to serve the remaining months of his term without getting impeached. Still, Tribe generously allowed, in the modern era “there may well be room to argue” that a murdering president could be removed without grave damage to the Constitution.

In the unlikely event that Donald Trump orders one of his private bodyguards to whack Alec Baldwin, it’s a relief to know that Laurence Tribe will entertain the argument for impeachment. But does constitutional fidelity really require us to put up with anything short of “grievous,” “heinous,” existential threats to the body politic?

The Framers borrowed the mechanism from British practice, and there it wasn’t nearly so narrow. The first time the phrase appeared, apparently, was in the 1386 impeachment of the Earl of Suffolk, charged with misuse of public funds and negligence in “improvement of the realm.” The Nixon-era House Judiciary Committee staff report Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment described the English precedents as including “misapplication of funds, abuse of official power, neglect of duty, encroachment on Parliament’s prerogatives, [and] corruption and betrayal of trust.”

As Hamilton explained in the Federalist, “the true spirit of the institution” was “a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men,” the sort of inquiry that could “never be tied down by such strict rules…as in common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts.”

Among those testifying beside Sunstein and Tribe in 1998 was Northwestern’s John O. McGinnis, a genuine originalist, who argued that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions should be viewed in terms of the problem they were designed to address: “how to end the tenure of an officer whose conduct has seriously undermined his fitness for continued service and thus poses an unacceptable risk of injury to the republic.”

Contra Tribe, who’d compared impeachment to “capital punishment,” McGinnis pointed out that the constitutional penalties for unfitness—removal and possible disqualification from future office holding—went “just far enough,” and no further than necessary, “to remove the threat posed.” In light of the structure and purpose of impeachment, he argued, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” should be understood, in modern lay language, roughly as “objective misconduct that seriously undermines the official’s fitness for office…measured by the risks, both practical and symbolic, that the officer poses to the republic.”

Today, even the president’s political enemies tend to set the bar far higher. Donald Trump has acted in a way that is “strategically incoherent,” “incompetent,” and “reckless,” Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in February, but “that is not grounds for impeachment.”

But incoherence, incompetence, and recklessness are evidence of unfitness, and when we’re talking about the nation’s most powerful office they can be as damaging as actual malice. It would be a pretty lousy constitutional architecture that only provided the means for ejecting the president if he’s a crook or a vegetable, but left us to muddle through anything in between.

Luckily, Pelosi is wrong: There is no constitutional barrier to impeaching a president who demonstrates gross incompetence or behavior that makes reasonable people worry about his proximity to nuclear weapons.

When Barack Obama was president, Trump once asked, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?” Earlier this year, Daily Show viewers found that tweet funny enough to merit the “Greatest Trump Tweet of All Time” award. Still, it’s a valid question.

The conventional wisdom says no, largely on the basis of a snippet of legislative history from the Constitutional Convention. As James Madison’s notes recount, when Virginia’s George Mason moved to add “maladministration” to the Constitution’s impeachable offenses, Madison objected: “So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” Mason yielded, substituting “other high crimes & misdemeanors.”

But the Convention debates were held in secret, and Madison’s notes weren’t published until half a century later. Furthermore, the language Mason substituted was understood from British practice to incorporate “maladministration.” Nor did Madison himself believe mismanagement and incompetence to be clearly off-limits, having described impeachment as the necessary remedy for “the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief Magistrate.”

Thus far, the Trump administration has been a rolling Fyre Festival of negligence and maladministration, from holding a nuclear strategy session with Japan’s prime minister in the crowded dining room of a golf resort to having the former head of Breitbart News draft immigration orders without the assistance of competent lawyers. Near as I can tell, James Comey’s verbal incontinence had a bigger impact on the 2016 election than Russian espionage, but liberals hold out hope for a “smoking gun” of collusion that’s unlikely ever to emerge. Meanwhile, the Trump administration was apparently clueless that firing the FBI director in the midst of the Russia investigation would be a big deal, and Trump himself was unaware that admitting he did it in hopes of quashing the inquiry was a stupid move.

As the Comey story emerged, pundits and lawbloggers debated whether, on the known facts, the president’s behavior would support a federal felony charge for obstruction of justice. But that’s the wrong standard. As the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry staff report pointed out: “the purpose of impeachment is not personal punishment. Its purpose is primarily to maintain constitutional government.” Even if, to borrow a phrase from Comey, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a charge of obstruction on these facts, the House is free to look at the president’s entire course of conduct and decide whether it reveals unfitness justifying impeachment.

The Nixon report identified three categories of misconduct held to be impeachable offenses in American constitutional history: “exceeding the constitutional bounds” of the office’s powers, using the office for “personal gain,” and, most important here, “behaving in a manner grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office.”

When Trump does something to spark cries of “this is not normal,” the behavior in question often involves his Twitter feed. The first calls to impeach Trump over a tweet came up in March, when the president charged, apparently without evidence, that Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower.

The tweet was an “abuse of power,” “harmful to democracy,” and potentially impeachable, Harvard Law’s Noah Feldman proclaimed: “He’s threatening somebody with the possibility of prosecution.” Laurence Tribe, of all people, agreed. Murder may have been a hard case, but slander? Easy call. Trump’s charge qualified “as an impeachable offense whether via tweet or not.”

I confess it wasn’t the utterly speculative threat to Barack Obama that disturbed me about Trump’s Twitter feed that day in March; it was that a mere two hours after lobbing that grenade, Trump turned to razzing Arnold Schwarzenegger for his “pathetic” ratings as host of Celebrity Apprentice. The Watergate tapes exposed much more than a simple abuse of power. They revealed a fragile, petty, paranoid personality of the sort you’d be loath to entrust with the vast authority of the presidency. And Nixon didn’t imagine that the whole world would be listening. Trump’s Twitter feed is like having the Nixon tapes running in real time over social media, with the president desperate for an even bigger audience.

As it happens, there’s precedent for impeaching a president for bizarre behavior and “conduct unbecoming” in his public communications. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson gets a bad rap, in part because most of the charges against him really were bogus. The bulk of the articles of impeachment rested on Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act, a measure of dubious constitutionality that barred the president from removing Cabinet officers without Senate approval.

But the 10th article of impeachment against Johnson, based on different grounds, has gotten less coverage. It charged the president with “a high misdemeanor in office” based on a series of “intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” against Congress. In a series of speeches in the summer of 1866, Johnson had accused Congress of, among other things, “undertak[ing] to poison the minds of the American people” and having “substantially planned” a race riot in New Orleans that July. Such remarks, according to Article X, were “peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate” and brought his office “into contempt, ridicule and disgrace.”

From a 21st century vantage point, the idea of impeaching the president for insulting Congress seems odd, to say the least. But as Jeffrey Tulis explained in his seminal work The Rhetorical Presidency, “Johnson’s popular rhetoric violated virtually all of the nineteenth-century norms” surrounding presidential oratory. Johnson stood “as the stark exception to general practice in that century, so demagogic in his appeals to the people” that he resembled “a parody of popular leadership.” The charge, approved by the House but not voted on in the Senate, was controversial at the time, but besides skepticism about whether it reached the level of a high misdemeanor, “the only other argument offered by congressmen in Johnson’s defense was that he was not drunk when giving the speeches.”

It’s impressive that Trump—a teetotaler—manages to pull off his “peculiar indecencies” while stone cold sober. Since his election, Trump has used Twitter to rail against restaurant reviews, Saturday Night Live skits, “so-called judges,” and America’s nuclear-armed rivals. The month before his inauguration, apropos of nothing, Trump announced via the social network that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” following up the next day on Morning Joe with “we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

As Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general, observed, “there are no lines for him…no notion of, this is inappropriate, this is indecent, this is unpresidential.” If the standard is “unacceptable risk of injury to the republic,” such behavior just may be impeachable. An impeachment on those grounds wouldn’t just remove a bad president from office; it would set a precedent that might keep future leaders in line.

If Trump is impeached, the next Democratic president unfortunate enough to have a Republican Congress surely will be impeached too. (Barack Obama should have been removed from office for Cash for Clunkers.) No president, of course, has ever been removed from office by Congressional vote following an impeachment trial.

The opposing view comes in one of the comments:

The problem isn’t Donald Trump. We have elections every four years – THAT’S how we get rid of “dangerous” presidents.

We have a Constitution with co-equal branches of government. We have a Bill of Rights.

The libertarian position is to get back to limited government so NO president can be dangerous.

 

On National Corvette Day and Drive Your Corvette to Work Day …

click here to read everything I have ever written about America’s sports car …

… which, because life is unfair, is not my sports car.

Today is the 64th anniversary of the completion of the first Corvette. Two days before that

Strike up the band (again)

An outstanding newspaper reports:

Sixty years after what’s been called southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band started playing, its founder and members of the band are holding a concert in Avoca Sunday.

The band started by Vilas Craig of Richland Center was called the Kollege Kings when it was made up of members of the Richland Center High School band cornet section.

What’s being billed as Vilas Craig and the Nu ViCounts … will perform a free concert at Legion Park in Avoca Sunday at 1 p.m. In addition to the Nu ViCounts, Craig’s son Timothy, a Nashville recording artist, will be performing.

That, of course, is …

(from left) Jim Chitwood on bass, Vilas Craig on vocals, Karl Gillingham on drums, Steve Prestegard (future father of blogger) on piano and Gene “Fuzz” Mueller on guitar.

… the performers of:

(Side note — get it? — the last video pictures the first iteration of the band, which didn’t record that song. So two people in the video get credit for something they didn’t do.)

I have written about this band previously on this blog. Most people, I suspect, think of their parents as something from the previous century (which is actually true in our children’s case) who have been boring old adults as long as you’ve known them. Of course, if your parents weren’t once your age, you wouldn’t be reading this now. And to find out that your parents were once cool is, well, cool.

Irrelevant side note: The piano player also plays accordion. This is National Accordion Awareness Month.

If you think spelling is hard now …

Because the National Spelling Bee took place this week, Google Trends promoted this map:

Notice that Wisconsin is the only state that, according to Google Trends, has the biggest problem spelling its own name. People (Hawaii’s most queried word) have been making fun of Wisconsin for that reason, but I think that is less appalling than those in Oregon lacking the sense to know how “sense” is spelled, Are people in Rhode Island lying when they claim they can’t spell “liar”?

As an alleged spelling expert, I find this to be a stereotype-breaking map, Most people probably think North Carolina is in the Bible Belt, so why would “angel” be difficult to spell? Is Mississippi so poor that its residents don’t know what a “nanny” is, or West Virginia and Connecticut so unfamiliar with Disney works that neither state’s residents can spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”? (I’m sure you’ll agree that that is something quite atrocious.) Of course, as a former spelling bee contestant I can say that “Wisconsin” would never come up in a spelling bee, because proper nouns are not included in spelling bees.

One reason for Wisconsin’s difficulties with “Wisconsin” may have to do with what the always-accurate Wikipedia reports:

The word Wisconsin originates from the name given to the Wisconsin River by one of the Algonquian-speaking Native American groups living in the region at the time of European contact. French explorer Jacques Marquette was the first European to reach the Wisconsin River, arriving in 1673 and calling the river Meskousing in his journal. Subsequent French writers changed the spelling from Meskousing to Ouisconsin, and over time this became the name for both the Wisconsin River and the surrounding lands. English speakers anglicized the spelling from Ouisconsin to Wisconsin when they began to arrive in large numbers during the early 19th century. The legislature of Wisconsin Territory made the current spelling official in 1845.

The Algonquin word for Wisconsin and its original meaning have both grown obscure. Interpretations vary, but most implicate the river and the red sandstone that lines its banks. One leading theory holds that the name originated from the Miami word Meskonsing, meaning “it lies red”, a reference to the setting of the Wisconsin River as it flows through the reddish sandstone of the Wisconsin Dells. Other theories include claims that the name originated from one of a variety of Ojibwa words meaning “red stone place”, “where the waters gather”, or “great rock”.

So “Wisconsin” is a combination of Miami, Algonquin or Ojibwa and French, going from “Meskonsing” or “Meskousing” to “Ouisconsin” to “Wisconsin.” “Oui” means “yes” in French, for what it’s worth. Clear as mud (or “clair comme de la boue” en français), but the red references might explain the decision of the University of Wisconsin to adopt red (to be precise cardinal, as you know) as its color.

The more annoying issue that we residents of Red Water Rock (in order in French, “rouge,” “eau” and “roche”) face is national sports announcers’ inability to pronounce this state’s name correctly. Badger fans who didn’t get to Pasadena certainly enjoyed the 1994, 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowl wins, except for ABC-TV’s Bob Griese’s pronouncing “Wisconsin” with the accent on the first syllable instead of the second. (Griese is from Evansville, Ind., and played for Purdue. Some people argue that southern Indiana and southern Illinois are, or sound like they are, in the South, so perhaps that has something to do with it.)

If you think spelling in American English is difficult now, read Hannah Poindexter:

English has always been a living language, changing and evolving with use. But before our modern alphabet was established, the language used many more characters we’ve since removed from our 26-letter lineup. The six that most recently got axed are:

Eth (ð)

The y in ye actually comes from the letter eth, which slowly merged with y over time. In its purest form, eth was pronounced like the th sound in words like this, that or the. Linguistically, ye is meant to sound the same as the but the incorrect spelling and rampant mispronunciation live on.

Thorn (þ)

Thorn is in many ways the counterpart to eth. Thorn is also pronounced with a th sound, but it has a voiceless pronunciation — your vocal cords don’t vibrate when pronouncing the sound — like in thing or thought.

Today, the same th letter combo is used for both þ and ð sounds. There is a pronunciation difference — thorn is a voiceless pronunciation and eth is voiced — but that’s just something you pick up as you learn to speak. Of course, you’ll never hear about this in school, because that’s English for you.

Wynn (ƿ)

Wynn was incorporated into our alphabet to represent today’s w sound. Previously, scribes used two u characters next to each other, but preferred one character instead and chose wynn from the runic alphabet. The double u representation became quite popular and eventually edged wynn out. Ouch.

Yogh (ȝ)

Yogh was historically used to denote throaty sounds like those in Bach or the Scottish loch. As English evolved, yogh was quickly abandoned in favor of the gh combo. Today, the sound is fairly rare. Most often, the gh substitute is completely silent, as in though or daughter.

Ash (æ)

Ash is still a functional letter in languages like Icelandic and Danish. In its original Latin, it denoted a certain type of long vowel sound, like the i in fine. In Old English, it represented a short vowel sound — somewhere between a and e, like in cat. In modern English, æ is occasionally used stylistically, like in archæology or medæval, but denotes the same sound as the letter e.

Ethel (œ)

Ethel also once represented a specific pronunciation somewhere between the two vowels o and e, though it was originally pronounced like the oi in coil. Like many clarifying distinctions, this letter also disappeared in favor of a simpler vowel lineup (a, e, i, o, u) with many different pronunciations.

 

WWJFKD?

On the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy (if you’re dead you don’t really have birthdays anymore), Larry Elder asks:

President Ronald Reagan said: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” Actor and former president of the National Rifle Association Charlton Heston, who called himself a “Kennedy Democrat,” switched to the Republican Party after the 1960s.

On racial preferences, JFK, in 1963, said he opposed them: “I don’t think that is the generally held view, at least as I understand it, of the Negro community, that there is some compensation due for the lost years, particularly in the field of education. What I think they would like is to see their children well-educated so that they could hold jobs and have their children accepted and have themselves accepted as equal members of the community. So I don’t think we can undo the past. In fact, the past is going to be with us for a good many years in uneducated men and women who lost their chance for a decent education. We have to do the best we can now. That is what we are trying to do. I don’t think quotas are a good idea. I think it is a mistake to begin to assign quotas on the basis of religion or race or color, or nationality.

“I think we get into a good deal of trouble. Our whole view of ourselves is a sort of one society. That has not been true. At least that is where we are trying to go. I think that we ought not to begin the quota system. On the other hand, I do think that we ought to make an effort to give a fair chance to everyone who is qualified, not through a quota, but just look over our employment rolls, look over our areas where we are hiring people, and at least make sure we are giving everyone a fair chance, but not hard-and-fast quotas. We are too mixed, this society of ours, to begin to divide ourselves on the basis of race or color.”

On tax cuts, in a 1962 speech Kennedy said: “It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low, and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now. … The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy, which can bring a budget surplus.”

On dealing with foreign enemies, JFK believed, as Reagan did, in peace through strength, not strength through peace. In his inaugural address, Kennedy said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

On the Second Amendment, this lifetime member of the NRA believed it conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. In 1961, Kennedy said: “Today we need a nation of minutemen: citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom. The cause of liberty, the cause of America, cannot succeed with any lesser effort.”

Abortion was not an issue during the 1960 presidential campaign. Nor was it an issue during his presidency. Kennedy did say this: “Now, on the question of limiting population: As you know, the Japanese have been doing it very vigorously, through abortion, which I think would be repugnant to all Americans.”

In 1971, in a letter to a constituent, John Kennedy’s brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, wrote: “It is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old. … Once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire.”

On guns, taxes, racial preferences, foreign policy and abortion, John F. Kennedy would not be comfortable in today’s Democratic Party. He was, after all, a Kennedy Democrat.

Teddy’s letter about abortion is interesting given not only the proclivity of the Kennedy brothers to violate the commandment about adultery, but also the youngest Kennedy’s shift on abortion rights after Roe v. Wade. It is unimaginable that JFK would have asked the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev for help in his 1960 campaign as Teddy did from Yuri Andropov. Teddy Kennedy could not really be described as a Kennedy Democrat either.

East Side, West Side

Readers know I grew up on the far east side of Madison, a mile south of where Interstate 90 splits off for Chicago, Interstate 94 heads to Milwaukee, and I–90/94 goes north to the Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse and the Twin Cities.

This was (well, still is) the old neighborhood, Heritage Heights, which years earlier had been part of a large farm. (More on that presently.) My parents built their first house, a green and yellow ranch with a two-car garage on the left side behind a rather steep driveway, in 1971, the year our street and the street behind (to the north) our house was paved. (The basement for our house was poured on my sixth birthday, and the street wasn’t paved yet.) There were basically three house designs on the entire block, with a couple of exceptions — a one-story ranch (with garage to left or right), a two-story house (on either side of our house), and a split-level house.

We had moved there from another house my parents had purchased upon having two sons in the house, 1.5 miles to the south. My future second-grade teacher lived two houses down, and across the street was a childless couple, older than my parents, who would have us over on numerous occasions.

Neither of those neighborhoods was a suburb of Madison, since they were in the city, but they felt like they were, given the distance around either Lake Mendota or Lake Monona to downtown or the UW campus, seven miles (if you drive through downtown) and a world away. When late 1960s Vietnam War protests hit national TV, we had relatives who were concerned that marauding rioters would endanger us. They didn’t realize how far it was to campus and the reality that any UW student who got that far east was lost.

It took until I (permanently) left Madison for me to realize what an unusual neighborhood it was. The nearest gas station and grocery store were one mile away. Want to have a drink at the neighborhood bar? There wasn’t one; the closest bar was two miles away. (Farther away yet was a combination bar and barber shop building where the males of the house got haircuts.) Want to go out to dinner? The nearest nice restaurant (which I never went to) was The Pig’s Ear, 1.4 miles away. (There were both bars and bars with non-bar food a couple of miles away, but at the time those were in what could be called “rural Madison,” the towns of Blooming Grove and Burke.)  Unless you mowed grass or babysat, any part-time jobs required a commute.

There was one church in the neighborhood, for what then was called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Not the Mormons, and now called the Community of Christ, though I think the building itself, which became our Boy Scout home base, isn’t a church anymore.) The neighborhood had houses and one park, and that was it. Our neighborhood was impossible to live in if you didn’t have a car. (Madison Metro’s J route went through, but try bringing home groceries on a bus.)

Public-school kids in my neighborhood went to John F. Kennedy Elementary School (though I went to Elvehjem Elementary School for kindergarten until we moved), which was a one-mile walk through Heritage Heights Park and its culvert that filled with fast-rushing water from spring snowmelt (and the future home of legendary 1980s Heritage Bowl touch football games, but that’s another story). until the completion of a road behind our house reduced the distance considerably, just in time for me to leave Kennedy for (the hellhole that was) Schenk (now Whitehorse) Middle School. And then surviving Schenk, off we went to Robert M. La Follette High School (sports teams known as the Lancers, not the Fighting Bobs), 3.7 miles and 15 minutes away from our house down Cottage Grove Road and U.S. 51 (Stoughton Road). (No wonder my mother was so annoyed when her sons stayed late after school and asked separately for rides. Two round trips constituted a gallon of gas in our 1975 Chevrolet Caprice, EPA-rated at 13 city and 18 highway miles per gallon. At $1 a gallon, that adds up.)

For comparison purposes: The local high school is 15 minutes from our house. By foot. The only reason it takes 10 minutes to get there by car is if you’re stuck trying to get across two state highways at non-stoplight intersections. (There is a roundabout, but four years after it opened most locals don’t seem to be able to figure out how to drive in it.) I can get to a neighboring community’s high school in 10 minutes, and two others’ high schools in 15 minutes. Those of us who grew up in my neighborhood were as far away from our own high school as those who grow up in rural school districts if measured by time. (I figured out after I moved from Madison that a 15-mile drive at 60 mph seems shorter than a 15-minute drive at 25 mph, though the former obviously is farther in distance. The driver feels like he’s getting somewhere at highway speeds, as opposed to the Far East formula of drive to the end of the street, stop, drive a few blocks, stop, drive one block, stop, etc.)

This long preamble has now reached the point of this blog: It could have been different. Stu Levitan takes us back to 1967, four years after La Follette opened its doors:

The new high school—or not

In 1966, voters had approved by a margin of 2-1 to a $26.5 bond issue which included funds to open a new east side high school in 1969. Things didn’t quite work out as planned—especially for a powerful board member and the lame-duck superintendent.

Atty. Albert J. Mc Ginnis, former chair of the Madison Redevelopment Authority, who lost to mayor Henry Reynolds in 1963, chaired the board’s site selection committee for the new school. He picked a site on the Sprecher farm on Milwaukee St., adjacent to Kennedy elementary school—which just happened to be within the Heritage Heights plat that he had developed before his election to the board in 1965, and still owned. North side Alds. Kopp and Smith, who want the school in Warner Park, howl, accusing McGinnis of an obvious conflict of interest. Later that month, more than 350 people pack a school board public hearing, calling for a Warner Park site.

On April 28, his last day before resigning to assume his duties in Denver, [school] superintendent [Robert] Gilberts recommends to the board that it buy the parcel McGinnis has identified on Milwaukee St. But three days later, in a stunning and costly rebuke of its administration, the board votes 4-3 against building any new far East Side high school at all, endorsing instead a new junior high at La Follette High School, and a similar one at Kennedy “as needed.” Among the likely repercussions: when Central HS closes in 1969, all south side students now at Central will go to West—which cannot accommodate them.

Levitan adds the numbers for the four public high schools’ Classes of 1967:

West: 677
East: 512
La Follette: 339
Central: 271

There was a high school about half the distance to La Follette in a different direction. That was Queen of Apostles High School, just on the opposite side of I–90, across Cottage Grove Road from a branch of my father’s bank. (Where I met former Packer Ray Nitschke, but that’s a different story.) QAS, as it was locally known, apparently started as a seminary back in 1948, 20 years before the Interstate bypassed Madison. QAS was the first home of my Boy Scout troop, which moved to the RLDS church after QAS closed. (QAS’ last graduation was on my 14th birthday.) QAS was on the way to closing by the time I neared high school age, and I never considered going there or to Edgewood, the remaining Catholic high school in Madison.

(The area between the Interstate and Cottage Grove is unrecognizable now compared to when I lived there. When I was driving from Madison to Cottage Grove to cover government meetings in my first journalism job, there was only one place you had to slow down on those seven miles, at Vilas, about halfway there. Now, it is wall to wall houses and businesses, and the speed limit is 35 mph.)

Another high school is even closer to La Follette, but that’s in a different school district — Monona Grove, on the opposite side of the Monona Golf Course. Monona Grove, for non-Madisonians, is the school district that combines Monona (which is on Lake Monona and surrounded by Madison) and Cottage Grove, which is about eight miles east. (MGHS students who live in Cottage Grove have to go through Madison to get to school. When the school district built a new high school in 1999, it was built in Monona, which has shrunk a quarter in population over the past 40 or so years, and not Cottage Grove, which is now only slightly smaller than Monona in population.)

Levitan’s piece, part of a larger work chronicling a rather turbulent year in Madison to say the least (including, one assumes though I don’t remember, my own Terrible Twos), is the first time I knew there was a proposal to build an east-side high school farther east than the Far East Side high school, La Follette. Or a middle school. Really Far East Side High School (perhaps it would have had some sort of Asiatic nickname in those pre-politically correct days) would have been no more than a mile away from Kennedy. Kennedy and Don’t-Call-It-Schenk-Anymore (which had an attached elementary school) were just two miles apart by car, and Really Far East Side Middle School would have been even closer than that. (As it was despite being just two miles away, going from Kennedy to Schenk was like entering a different world; the Schenks were in an older neighborhood, and, well, it was a middle school, a toxic combination of burgeoning hormones and tween Social Darwinism.)

To say the least this would have changed things. I’m not sure where the high school attendance boundaries were in the pre-open enrollment says, but one oddity was that students who lived in Maple Bluff, the richest part of greater Madison, went to East, the most blue collar high school. That probably would have changed with RFESHS; indeed all the high schools’ attendance boundaries would have shifted eastward. (Students who lived downtown, who went to Central before it closed and, I believe, went to West thereafter, probably would have gone to East.)

In those days (and probably now) the four high schools were easy to stereotype. La Follette had white-collar families — bankers, insurance agents, small business owners, salespeople, etc. East had blue-collar families. West was where UW-employed families lived. Memorial families had money, though we didn’t know from where. Then as now, the biggest high school rivalry in Madison was East vs. West, followed by West vs. Memorial and East vs. La Follette. (The latter rivalry introduced police to hockey games after East fans threw rocks at our band bus.) James Madison Memorial (which could have been the name of RFESHS) was built instead of RFESHS (or the sought-after Warner Park-area high school) and given the anticipated growth of the Far West Side (three words: “West Towne Mall”) a high school was likely to be built there anyway. (La Follette Junior High became Sennett Middle School, connected to La Follette by a concrete supposed-to-be-no-man’s-land under the La Follette library known as The Pit, a favorite stop of those who related to the Brownsville Station song and Poison cover “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”)

Then there’s this:

I went to grade school with two players on the varsity roster and another player who wasn’t on the varsity  roster for state. Two other players went, I think, to the local Catholic school instead of Kennedy or Schenk Middle. I do not intend to denigrate their athletic abilities by pointing out that none of them were named “Rick Olson,” who went on to play at Wisconsin, or “Steve Amundson,” who went on to play at Western Michigan. La Follette may have still won the 1982 state championship, but none of us at RFESHS would have been part of that.

There has always been a rivalry between Madison’s East and West sides, and those of us who lived on the East Side (however you define that) felt some sense that we were getting ripped off. Madison’s two newest high schools were an example — Memorial got a football field and track (which hosted the state track meet until 1990), but La Follette did not. (Of course, neither did Central, East or West; they shared Breese Stevens Field until East and West shared Warner Park, while West plays home games at Memorial’s stadium. La Follette did not play at Monona Grove’s stadium even though it would have been more convenient and nicer than Warner Park, which was worse than some smallest-division fields. La Follette now does have a football field and track, and East plays there too.) Memorial got a planetarium, as a reader reminded me.

East Towne was bigger than West Towne (an important point), but while there were several Catholic churches on the West Side, there was one near-side Catholic church (St. Bernard’s, on Atwood Avenue not far from my father’s bank), and one closer to us, St. Dennis, two miles away. St. Dennis held church services in its school gym from the beginning of my memory, and we parishioners helped out at Friday fish fries in the same gym to raise money for the new church, which was finally completed my senior year in high school. (The new church was immediately packed nearly every Sunday, which suggests the diocese should have located more churches closer to the Far East Side than Monona and Cottage Grove.) As far as I can remember, the annual Madison Parade of Homes were always on the West Side. (Including the house with the two-level garage.)

We also felt we were getting ripped off in such city services as police response time, though there was little reason for the police to show up in our neighborhood. (Other than a rock-throwing incident next door, we may literally have gone years without having a police car on our street.) The nearest fire station was across the street from my first employer, Bridgeman’s Ice Cream Restaurant and Parlour, about 2.5 miles away. The nearest fire station now is on the other side of the Interstate. Our streets were always the absolute last in Madison to get plowed after snowfalls (assuming they were, and often they weren’t), always timed for when we had just finished shoveling. The Far West Side (where four of my cousins grew up and, sad to say, attended Memorial) seemed to have nicer houses and therefore more money, though young minds don’t necessarily know much about how much it costs to buy 4,000-square-foot houses with two-level garages.

One thing that’s changed in Madison is high school enrollments. The Madison high schools when I was growing up had around 2,000 students each, I believe. East and La Follette are 75 to 80 percent of their former size, while Memorial and West are still around 2,000. However, Sun Prairie, one of the smallest schools in the Big Eight in the ’80s, is now bigger than any Madison high school (Sun Prairie just built a new high school but is considering another), as is Middleton, which was too small to be in the Big Eight. Verona, which was Monona Grove’s size, now is La Follette’s size. Part of that is that nearly every Madison-area school district has alternative high schools, but part of that is smaller families, though that has hit rural school districts harder than Madison-area schools.

I’ve written before that I had a pretty drama-free childhood. I don’t know what went on in other houses, but Heritage Heights felt so far away from downtown Madison that we might as well have been living out in the ‘burbs. (There were people who lived in the school district, with Madison addresses, but didn’t live in the city; they were east of the Interstate. I assume most of those houses were annexed into the city.) It certainly would have been different not having many of my classmates be classmates, although with 500 classmates no one could know where everyone lived.

 

The TV reverse Midas touch

The late Trio cable channel had a series called “Brilliant But Canceled” about shows on TV all too briefly:

I wouldn’t call what follows “brilliant,” but they were definitely canceled, and shortly after I started watching them at a very young age.

“The Interns,” which was on briefly in 1970, includes an actor from “Star Trek” and “The FBI,” another “Star Trek” actor, B.J. from “M*A*S*H,” one of those actors whose face you recognized (before his untimely death at 49), and the star of “Highway Patrol” in a series that lasted one season:

Before I knew Glenn Ford as a movie actor of long standing, I saw him in this one-season series:

My viewing preferences of TV series with cars probably started with the 13-episode “Bearcats!”

Perhaps because of his recently canceled “Get Smart,” I watched the next sitcom of Don Adams, “The Partners.” The only episode I recall was when their car’s driver’s side door was sheared off by a passing car, creating a three-door detective car.

“Partners” was moved halfway into its only season. Its time-slot replacement was “Emergency!”

You’ve already read here about “Chase,” produced by Jack Webb;

Another Webb series not long for the screen was “Project UFO”:

Movie fans may remember an actor named Khigh Dhiegh, the Chinese bad guy in “The Manchurian Candidate.” TV fans remember him (name at birth, believe it or don’t: Kenneth Dickerson) as Wo Fat in the original “Hawaii Five-O.” While playing Wo Fat, Dheigh briefly was the lead of “Khan,” about a San Francisco private detective. “Khan” is so rare that you can’t even find a snippet of it on YouTube, perhaps because it was canceled two episodes into its four-episode run.

As you know, quality and popularity are not synonyms. I don’t remember much about any of these series, but since none lasted very long, neither does anyone else.

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