Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Artistic Character

‘Tis a small world, indeed.  After reading an Internet article by Frank Paynter, I decided to play a long shot.  Paynter had contributed several articles plus occasional comments to “Time Goes By,” a blog I follow regularly that is mostly of interest to mature adults. I knew he lived somewhere in Wisconsin, but that’s all I knew about him.

Via e-mail, I asked Frank if there was any chance he was related to Richard Paynter, a close friend of ours in the early 1970s.  The reply: “Yup. He's my uncle.”

That brought back a flood of memories.  Richard Paynter and I made small talk during work breaks at the Forest Products Lab in Madison, WI, over a four-year period. He was an artist and I was an editor at the U.S. Forest Service research facility on the edge of the University of Wisconsin campus. I transferred to the Boise National Forest in a career move, worked in the West for most of the next 22 years, and retired in Utah.  As far as I knew, Richard  stayed in Madison.  We exchanged season’s greetings for years, but eventually the cards stopped coming.

Richard Paynter ranks high on the list of true characters my wife and I encountered over the years. Even his appearance was unique. He was born with only a small part of one forearm.  He had several little miniature “fingers” near the elbow joint, which many people might have tried to cover with a shirt sleeve.  He not only did not do that, he used the little digits.  To light his cigarettes, he would cradle an open matchbook between them and his upper arm and tear off and strike a match with his normal fingers.  Suggestions that a lighter might be easier to use were ignored.

When we were moving to Madison and needed a place to temporarily store some household goods, Richard offered space in his garage.  One of our items was a small antique safe.  One strong person could pick it up, but it wasn’t easy. While unloading our stuff, I took a break to prepare myself for the task of moving the little iron monster.  Richard lifted it off the trailer with his one complete arm and asked, “Where should I put this?”

Richard was a multi-talented artist. He produced four-color illustrations for the Laboratory’s annual report, the design for a beautiful carved wood door for a new conference room, and hundreds of illustrations for publications, some modernistic representations and some realistic depictions of research equipment and lab employees at work. He also designed many exhibits, both static and portable.

Some of Richard’s best personal art creations had nothing to do with the designs he developed so skillfully at his workplace.  He produced fanciful penciled portrait-like works with a few touches of color in key places. I have never seen that style used by another artist.

An annual highlight on the Madison art scene was an outdoor exhibition in the broad area surrounding the state Capitol.  Richard showed his works there for the first two years I knew him.  He once said his total sales were in the $2,000 to $3,000 range each year.  That was very nice extra-curricular money.  We were at the same pay level at the Forest Products Lab, which was about $10,000 per year. The next year, Richard refused to participate in the Capitol show.

After some prodding, he revealed that two exhibit visitors the previous year had made disparaging comments about several of his works.  He said something like, “I’m not going to waste my time catering to idiots who don’t know a damn thing about real art.” 

Richard’s distain for his few critics was more than balanced by his affinity for any new acquaintance he thought might be a good person to get to know better.  Whenever he met anyone he liked, he parted with directions and an invitation: “Come on over to our place Friday night.  We’re having a party.”

He did not keep track of the invitations.  There was a party at Paynter’s every Friday night, so that always worked out.  But what would happen if all the regulars and everybody Richard invited during the week showed up?  Well, I attended one Friday night gathering where the guests stood elbow-to-elbow throughout the living room, kitchen, and a closed-in porch, the only large rooms on the first floor of the Paynter home.

If a first-time guest had the audacity to ask if there were refreshments, Richard pointed across the park area adjacent to his backyard. The most conspicuous structure in that direction was a liquor store.  I’m not sure if Richard ventured to the store for any of his own refreshments, or if he just extracted a share from what the guests brought. At any rate, he always refreshed himself rather thoroughly. That produced a Friday night tradition.  At almost every party I attended, Richard passed out around midnight.  Several able-bodied guests carried him upstairs to bed and the party went right on without the host.

Two works of art by Richard Paynter occupy places of honor in the living room section of our home.  One shows a little girl modeled after one of his daughters gazing through a screened panel.  We didn’t have a lot of cash to buy art in the 1970s, but beautiful wife Sandy loved that work so much she scraped up $125 to pay Richard for it. Sandy earned the money working as a nanny for neighborhood kids. When I tried to suggest a price reduction, Richard’s stony countenance told me that was not going to happen.  It was clear that he did not haggle over prices for his art.

Our other piece is a larger work Richard said was “Susy,” a young woman about to sample an egg.  I knew the real-life Susy quite well, and I think she was the perfect choice as a model for that work.

"Susy" graces our living room
“Susy” was one of a dozen or so Paynter works displayed at a one-man show at Ripon College.  Most of them had been sold by the time we saw her at the Paynter home after the show.  Sandy loved the work.  Richard told me the price was $900.  I was shocked. We couldn’t come close to affording that, so despite knowing it wouldn’t do any good I pleaded for relief.  None came.  He said all the Ripon works were priced at $900, and that was that.  We went home empty handed.

Shortly before we left Madison, Richard appeared at our house.  He said he had come to deliver a going away present.  He went out to his car, came back carrying “Susy,” and presented the framed work to Sandy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Niftiest Gift

The Geezer hopes you’ve been successful this holiday season if you’ve chosen to participate in the annual quest for the elusive “perfect gift”—something desirable, unexpected, and lasting.  Thanks to some special people, I get to enjoy such a gift year after year.

Our "Holiday Express"
To my complete surprise, for my seventh Christmas my parents, who could ill-afford it,  gave me an American Flyer model train complete with a few building replicas and a faux tunnel.  The little train provided many hours of joy. 

As with most toys, the train set fell into disuse as I grew up and became interested in other pursuits.  It was packed away in the attic of the family home.  Before my mother died, she made sure I got the train. It stayed with us in storage for nearly 25 years.  We gave the train to son Lee, but he had no place to use or store it.

Three years ago, to get ready for our move to Michigan we shipped everything we could to Lee (he now had a large house), including the train set and other items we were storing for him.  We couldn’t get into our new house until after Christmas, so we stayed at Lee’s home and planned holiday celebrations with him and his fiancée Karen. 

The first thing that came to mind when I got up Christmas morning was that famous line, “What to my wondering eyes did appear.”  The little train was running on its old track around the base of Lee’s tree!  Lee had taken the train set to a local expert for rejuvenation, bought a new transformer, and set the track up for the first run in 64 years. Karen and beautiful wife Sandy did a great job of keeping the project a secret until the Christmas unveiling.

Now, seeing the “Holiday Express” chug around the track once again is my special gift every Christmas.  Here’s wishing you equal enjoyment this holiday season. And may you receive many special gifts throughout the New Year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mitten Mutterings

The Geezer’s native and adopted states survived a bit of a tiff this week when they decided to shake and make up.  It is unknown whether hands were protected by mittens during the shake.

Mitten or chopper?
The brouhaha began when Wisconsin’s travel bureau ran ads depicting the state as a mitten to promote winter vacations. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation promptly skewered its Wisconsin counterpart with some semi-harsh comments about “trying to steal our identity.” Lower Michigan long has been known as “The Mitten” for its resemblance on maps to that item of apparel.
There has been no known violence, but charges and counter charges flew between Badgers and Michiganders.  Wisconsin was accused of stealing this year’s Rose Bowl bid after its university football team pulled off a nail-biting win over Michigan State. Wisconsinites with what they thought were long memories said many years ago Michigan stole the whole Upper Peninsula from its natural position as part of Wisconsin. The prize was control of valuable timber supplies and mineral deposits.

The Geezer has thoroughly analyzed the data and arrived at several conclusions:

Travel Wisconsin’s mitten analogy was absurd.  Any kid who grew up in the frigid northern areas of either state knows the mitten image concocted by the Badger promoters far more resembles a “chopper.”  Choppers were made from deerskin and were worn over mittens.  They were ideal for making snowballs without getting the inner cloth hand-covering wet, thus avoiding reprimands from moms who disliked mitten-drying duties.

Wisconsin footballers indeed may have “stolen” a trip to Pasadena for the roses, but it only evened things up.  Michigan State stole the first game between the teams with an improbable desperation pass in the final seconds.  Even Steven, I say.

Michigan hardly can be accused of stealing the Upper Peninsula.  It became a state first, and thus in true American tradition was entitled to grab any land it could get its mitts on (pun intended).  The peninsula was an economic prize, but social integration has been a problem. The Geezer believes most Yuppers are closet Packers fans to this day.

All is well now.  The rival travel agencies joined forces to urge residents of both states to stop the squabbling and donate mittens to warm the hands of kids who need them.  No mention was made of choppers, although they probably would be accepted. Reports from involved charities say the joint campaign is a big success.

However, trying to show the Upper Peninsula as a little mitten in the campaign’s publicity does not work well.  That part of the logo looks more like a sick fish with a large dorsal fin.  Are we headed for a new controversy involving ice fishing?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Get the Real Deal

Some folks continue to assume that real Christmas trees are removed from forested areas, thus doing damage to the natural environment.  That simply is not true today. It probably seldom was true in recent history.

Back when I worked on the staff of the Boise National Forest, our District Rangers  issued a few permits for local residents to cut one tree about this time of year.  The charge usually was a dollar.  With the permit came instructions about where to harvest the tree so the forest would be improved in the long run.  Our Idaho City Ranger District was the only one to have a big program.

Near Idaho City several large burned areas had been reforested with ponderosa pines native to the sites.  Tree plantings can have a high percentage of failure in that part of the country if seedlings are mishandled or low rainfall prevails during the first few growing seasons when the little trees struggle to get established.  To counteract climate problems, foresters directed seedlings be planted quite close together, assuming there was a pretty good chance nature would thin the stands. 

Growing conditions at the Idaho City sites apparently were well above average.  As the trees got to be three to eight feet tall, they severely crowded each other and growth was slowed. So for a number of years the Idaho City foresters tagged trees for removal and invited the public out to select and cut a family Christmas tree.  Remaining trees grew more vigorously, the families had a ball, and taxpayer dollars were conserved because there was no need to hire crews to thin the stands.

The Idaho City program ended the year after I left for another job. Idaho City had a population of only 80, and thus most people had to travel some distance, usually from Boise, to get to the cutting sites. Despite that, the public response to the annual invitation for a family Christmas tree outing had been so good there simply was no further need to thin the plantations.  That was several decades ago, and I’ve not heard of any large-scale Christmas tree cutting in a National Forest or other forested area since then.

Lee and Karen with their selection at Peterson's nursery
Today, trees come from some 15,000 farms spread through all 50 states.  Michigan, where we cut our tree every year, ranks third among tree-growing states behind Oregon and North Carolina.  We are told the growers plant three trees for every one removed. Our experience supports that.  When we cut our tree at Peterson’s Riverview Nursery each year, we must be careful not to step on the new little seedlings as we move our prize to a loading area. 

Peterson’s is no rinky-dink operation.  Trailers pulled by tractors deliver customers to large cutting areas and return them and their trees to a processing site near the office.  Crews there put your tree in a shaking machine to remove foreign matter. They drill holes in the base to help you with mounting and also facilitate moisture movement into the tree after you have it in a stand at home. Workers will trim branches to your specifications. Then another machine ties the branches to form a neat bundle, and the men carry your tree to your vehicle.

It sounds like a big operation, and in some respects it is (this year Peterson’s shipped more than 6,000 wreaths in what is just one part of the business).  However, like most tree nurseries, this is no huge corporation run by overpaid executives who never dirty their hands with production work. Jerry and Anne Peterson started the business 18 years ago.  They and son Josh, now a co-owner, work in the fields and production and sales areas year round. The firm has six to 25 employees, depending on the season.

Every time we’ve gone to buy a tree we had an opportunity to chit-chat a bit with Jerry, Anne, and Josh.  They are local people.  Their nursery is only a few miles from our home in the same county.  It is nice to know payroll dollars and profits are returned to our area.

American tree farmers like the Petersons collectively sell 30 million Christmas trees annually.  The total has declined by about 3 million in the past 10 years.  The chief reason is the growing popularity of artificial Christmas trees.  No doubt some people have good reasons to buy the plastic trees, but enhancing the environment is not one of them.  Following are several reasons why buying a natural tree is a good deal.  Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for some of them:

1. Tree farming protects precious open space, keeping fairly large areas of land free from urban development.

2. More than 80 percent of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are manufactured in China.  They are made from vinyl plastics based on petroleum that require large amounts of carbon-producing energy in their manufacture. Vinyl plastics are among the most difficult to recycle.  When they can be, the reprocessing again requires large amounts of energy. Ships transporting the plastic trees across the Pacific burn big quantities of diesel fuel, emitting more air pollutants.

3. Natural trees, especially young, vigorous ones, purify the air we breathe by taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.  

4. After use, natural trees are easily recycled as mulch using simple chipping equipment, and the mulch improves soils as it breaks down.  About 4,000 communities in the U.S. have Christmas tree recycling programs.

5. Natural trees add a pleasant aroma to your home during the holidays.  Plastic trees, of course, cannot do this.

6. Selecting your tree at a lot, or cutting one at a nursery if you prefer, is a lot more fun than picking up a boxed plastic model at Walmart.  Son Lee and his fiancée Karen radiate pleasure with their find at Peterson’s nursery in the photo with this post.  So can you when you find and bring home the real thing.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

In Grateful Memory                      
Staff Sgt. Vincent J. Bell (U.S. Marine Corps), 28, Detroit, Michigan.  Killed during a combat operation in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, November 30, 2011.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Why Aren't We Getting It?

World leaders are meeting once again to haggle over standards to control pollutants that make major contributions to climate change.  The subject can be complex, and there are disagreements among scientists on certain points and between environmental and business advocates on major issues. Political considerations cloud the issues.

That said, it is possible to distill the information, add a measure of common sense, and describe the big picture in an understandable way. The following article, published by Richard Brewer on his web page, is the best concise explanation of the situation I have seen.  Brewer is Professor Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, Western Michigan University.

                            * * * * * *

Ozone, Obama, and the Deregulation Doo Dah Parade


By Richard Brewer

President Obama made two serious mistakes early this fall. First, he told the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw new, stronger, standards for ozone levels in the lower atmosphere that were intended to replace the standards held over from the Bush administration. Ozone (O3) is an atmospheric pollutant dangerous to human health because it’s highly reactive in lung tissues. It’s involved in various respiratory diseases but evidently also in other sorts of human pathology; for example, it’s believed to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. But ozone in the lower atmosphere also has many bad effects besides just our own health and life span.  It damages plants, lowering photosynthesis and growth and is implicated in die-offs of forest trees.

Ozone is produced in the lower atmosphere by reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. The nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds come mostly from power plants, various sorts of factories, automobiles, gasoline vapor, and chemical solvents.

There are interactions between ozone production and temperature and ozone effects and temperature, such that we get more ozone produced and stronger effects when temperatures are high. These are one of many kinds of interactions that may make global warming an even greater calamity than most of the early predictions claimed.

President Obama’s second mistake was his reason for turning down the new, science-based ozone recommendations. He said he wanted to reduce regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty. But tough regulations strictly enforced are what can make capitalism work. The last few years have shown us repeatedly how things go astray when politicians manage to weaken and thwart regulations.  Weakened regulations together with the unwillingness of federal agencies to enforce existing regulations were the main causes of the financial fiasco of 2007-2009 and the recession that came with it.

Michigan has been on the deregulation bandwagon right along. In the DooDah parade of deregulation, it may even have been ahead of the bandwagon.  We had a governor a few years ago whose slogan was “Less enforcement, more compliance.”  Such a proposition if it were sincere would be fatuous, but considering everything, just calling it preposterous or ludicrous will probably have to serve.

President Obama seems to have accepted the argument of the extreme political right that there is a conflict between “the environment” and “the economy.”  For most Americans, the right wing lost on that issue 30 or 40 years ago. Some corporations tell us if the nation doesn’t give them lax environmental rules they’ll take their jobs overseas.  Since such corporations show little national loyalty, some have.

But the balance sheet we need to look at is the overall gain to our nation in terms of clean air and water, healthy citizens, healthy communities, and healthy ecosystems compared with the cost of meeting any given environmental standard. Time after time we’ve seen that the cost of meeting new standards turns out lower than the company’s forecast, that new jobs are created connected with the improved technology needed, and that the overall national cost/benefit ratio is heavily in favor of the tougher standards.

Anyone who’s been paying attention anytime these past 40 years knows that.  Why doesn’t the President?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Santa Scores

About ten years ago, beautiful wife Sandy came up with a surprise holiday gift—a large Green Bay Packers flag.  Flagpoles weren’t allowed in yards in the planned community where we lived in Utah.  I often flew Old Glory from a standard attached to the building adjacent to our garage door, which was in keeping with community rules.
What so proudly I once hailed.

The second flag posed a bit of a problem during football season.  So we devised a sharing system that became an amusement for most (but not all) of our neighbors.  A Bears fan down the street definitely was not amused.  Neither was a Cowboys fan across the street, but he launched a counter attack by displaying his own team colors.  The Bears fan merely seethed.

The sharing plan was simple.  If the Packers won their weekly game, their flag was displayed soon after the contest ended.  It flew until Wednesday, when it was displaced by the Stars and Stripes.  The national flag stayed up until the Pack won again.

When we moved three years ago, our new place had a regulation flagpole installed by the previous owners in the lawn beside the house.  There also was a standard beside the garage door, almost exactly like the one in Utah.  No rotation problem here.  But as one who fancies tradition, the Geezer continued to display the Packers banner in the old way—up after a win, down on Wednesday until the next win. 

For almost two years, the rotation worked well.  Toward the end of last year, however, it got a little old.  The Packers ended the season with six consecutive victories.  It became drudgery to take the banner down and reinstall it every week.

Prospects were even better for the team this season, so the Geezer devised a labor-saving strategy—leave the flag up until the Packers lost.  The new plan seemed a stroke of genius as the Packers won 11 straight games.

This week, Sandy devised a new strategy for our annual holiday lighting display.  Lights were strung most of the way around the garage.  The design placed lights perilously close to the Packers flag.  With any sort of breeze, the flapping banner threatened to destroy a key part of Sandy’s display.  Something had to give.  Guess what won out.

Ho, Ho, Ho . . . . Packers, you’re on your own now, you know.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In Grateful Memory

Pvt. Jackie L. Diener II (U.S. Army), 20, Boyne City, Michigan.  Killed by small arms fire in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, November 21, 2011.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Great Day, Indeed

Today is America’s best celebration.  Thanksgiving truly is for everyone.  It is not part of any specific religious tradition; it is for all to enjoy.  For this one day, we can cast aside worries about the future and focus only on the good things that have happened in our past.

I am thankful that I was born in a prosperous nation and have lived a long and generally pleasant life with the freedom to chart my own course. Through good and bad times, many people have supported and guided me. I appreciate all of them, especially Sandy, my beautiful wife.

I am thankful that my family does not want for food, shelter, or love.  Today we will be together. That is the best thing of all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Not to Run a Restaurant

We drove seven miles to one of our favorite little restaurants, anticipating a tasty delight and a bargain.

The special of the day, advertised in the local shopping guide, was a tuna salad sandwich.  We made our journey because of it.  Previous experiences were that the sandwich, when designated the special, was very good and came with choices—soup, salad, or fries and sometimes combinations of two of the three, plus a bottomless drink.

The restaurant owner seated us, took our drink order, and announced as she walked away, “Oh, the special today is a taco salad.”  We knew a taco salad concocted in that restaurant’s kitchen was anything but special.

“Isn’t today’s special tuna salad?” I asked.  “No, they made a mistake.  I don’t know how they got tuna salad into that ad,” said the restaurateur.  I said that was very disappointing, because we had a hankering for tuna salad.  I spoke slowly, giving the lady every opportunity to authorize the advertised special for us.  She did not.

A bit later, our waitress appeared.  I inquired about the tuna salad special.  She laughed, and said, “Isn’t that the darndest thing?”  Again, I described our affection for the sandwich, and added the fact that we had driven miles out of our way for it.  The waitress seemed a little surprised when we asked for more time to study the menu.

We actually discussed walking out.  Instead, we wasted some time perusing the menu believing there was a pretty good chance the waitress would reappear and offer us tuna salad sandwiches as advertised.  She reappeared without any special deal.  I ordered a tuna salad sandwich anyway, and said, “That’s what the special would be if it really was the special, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” said the waitress.  That was almost correct; it cost 30 percent more than the price for specials, and included only one optional side dish. The drink was extra.

On the way home, beautiful wife Sandy and I decided it will take one helluva special offer to lure us back to that restaurant.  I might even be forced to learn how to make tuna salad.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taking Stock

My favorite pro sports team, the Green Bay Packers, once again is gearing up to sell stock to the public.  Nothing new about that. The club has held numerous sales of shares since the 1920s when it was organized as a nonprofit corporation with backing from several local business leaders.

In the early years, sales of shares kept the team alive, often just barely.  Recent sales financed major improvements at Lambeau Field, allowing the Pack to pick up considerable extra revenue from home-game crowds and special events. That money has helped the franchise compete with those owned by billionaires in big cities.

Hanging on a wall of my office is one framed share of stock issued in 1997 by Green Bay Packers, Inc.  I bought it for $200.  It has proved to be a horrible or great investment, depending on how you view such things.  The dollar value is zero.  The value of the bragging rights is immense.
Not for profit; for bragging rights
Much has been written and said about Packers history since the big team representing the little city burst upon the national stage back in the 1960s. Championship years arrived just as color television came into millions of American homes and professional football emerged from the shadows of sports to become somewhat of a national mania.

I’m not an expert on Packers' lore, but I’ve read much of what has been written about club history, attended the first game in Lambeau Field in 1957 (we beat "da Bears" 21-17), and have followed the team’s fortunes more or less closely for nearly 65 years. Here are some of my favorite trivia, some factual, some based on rumor and questionable recollections. A few items correct erroneous statements by current news people, mostly television announcers:

  • Television talking heads frequently state the Packers are the “only professional sports franchise owned by the community.”  Wikipedia makes the same statement. The statement is incorrect.  I am one of 112,158 shareholders, living all over the world, who own the team.  Obviously, all the owners do not live in Green Bay.  This relatively unimportant error may be caused by confusion between team and home field ownership. The City of Green Bay, not the Packers, owns Lambeau Field, which has become somewhat famous in its own right.
  • Accounts of the dire financial straits faced often by the team in early days are not exaggerations.  Perhaps the most desperate situation occurred when a section of the wooden grandstand in old City Stadium collapsed during a game. (at its largest, old City Stadium seated 25,000 when all stands were upright). The collapse caused many injuries.  The Packers’ insurance company couldn’t handle the volume, went bankrupt, and thus defaulted on many claim payments.  A stock issue raised enough money to pay the claims and save the franchise.
  • It often has been said that if the corporation was to be liquidated, an unlikely event, all proceeds would go to an American Legion Post in Green Bay, because the post bought a block of preferred stock many years ago that gave it special ownership rights. The legality of that assertion never will be tested, because Packers’ management a few years ago changed the charter to clarify things.  If the Packers went out of business, all assets remaining after creditors were paid would go to a charitable foundation.  That would be a rather nice deal for charitable causes, because the franchise today is valued at a bit more than $1 billion, and debt is minimal.
  • My $200 investment in reality was a donation. The share has no cash value and cannot be sold.  It can only be transferred to members of my immediate family.  I can attend the annual stockholders’ meeting with about 30,000 other fans, listen to the head coach, general manager, and finance officer field questions, and vote for the board of directors.  The board mostly is a figurehead body that includes Wisconsin business leaders and heads of sports organizations, plus a few former Packers players. They select an executive committee. The committee appoints a club president and approves the president’s choice of a general manager who runs the show. Because of the large number of interested shareholders, the annual meeting is held in Lambeau Field.
  • When a hands-on billionaire owner such as  Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys jumps up from his front-row perch in a luxury box and yells, “Run a damn screen,” an attempt at a screen pass is likely to occur soon on the field.  When I leap from my stool at Rhino’s Sports Bar with a similar demand, the message goes no further.  We little Packers owners have no power to influence policy or play.  A provision in stock offerings limits the number of shares a single entity can own; assuring the present limits on stockholder power will be permanent.
  • Many current histories state or at least imply that E. L. (Curly) Lambeau, Packers co-founder and coach and general manager for 32 years, was a wonderful guy revered by all who knew him, and area residents rushed to name their new stadium for him in 1957. The facts, and the rumor mill when I lived in the Green Bay area, say otherwise.
  • Lambeau, without question, was an important       figure in the early development of what now is the National Football League.  His teams pioneered the passing attack. He led the Packers into post-season exhibition games in the South and on the West Coast, often against the arch-rival Chicago Bears. The teams often traveled together. These contests created interest in pro football and helped pave the way for expansion teams some years later.  The rumor mill said a side benefit of the excursions to the coast were close encounters between Lambeau and several Hollywood starlets.  Giving credence to that story is the fact that one of Lambeau’s three wives was a former Miss California.  A personal history that included a couple of divorces probably was not exactly endearing to many football fans in Green Bay, most of whom were Roman Catholics who at that time considered divorce a serious no-no.
  • Rumors abounded that Lambeau was notorious for late or no repayments of debts. Several times when I asked older De Pere residents (I edited the weekly newspaper there) if they knew Curly Lambeau, they smiled and pulled from their wallets scraps of paper that said, “IOU $10” (or $15 or $20).  Each was signed, “Earl Lambeau, or simply, "Curly.” None was marked paid.
  • The famous founder-coach became somewhat of a traitor in local eyes when he abruptly left Green Bay in 1949 to coach the rival Chicago Cardinals.   The rumor mill maintained that whatever was in a depleted Packers treasury left town at about the same time.  Whether that is true or not, the Green Bay club was forced to make a major stock sale in 1950 to continue operations.
  • What is now called an “historic playing field” was not named for Lambeau at the start.  When I attended the 1957 opener I was seated in City Stadium.  Some locals called it “new City Stadium” to make the distinction between it and the old arena near Green Bay East High School where the Packers played for years.  I heard of no one campaigning to name the new field for Lambeau. That did not happen for eight years, until after Lambeau died in 1965. 
  • Both Lambeau and the other legendary Packers coach/general manager, Vince Lombardi, were known as stern taskmasters who often emphasized their instructions with profanity.  There the resemblance pretty much ended.  Lombardi did not earn the nickname “Saint Vincent” entirely because his teams won a lot of games. Unlike Lambeau who enjoyed lavish living in his spare time, Lombardi was known to be a workaholic and a devoted family man in what off-duty time he allowed himself. He attended a Catholic Mass every working day before heading to the office or the practice field, a ritual that considerably enhanced his standing with many Green Bay residents.
  • When Lombardi came out of retirement to lead the Washington Redskins, there was none of the animosity among Packers fans that was kindled by Lambeau’s defection to Chicago.  The Green Bay fans were only disappointed that “Saint Vincent” chose did not return to the Packers.
  • Lombardi often is portrayed as a ruthless bad guy by fans of rival teams, and other critics have contributed to that notion.  However, in memoirs published by former players, all speak of a healthy respect for the coach’s work ethic and demands that they follow suit.  Few disliked him.  Perhaps the most famous quote attributed to him, often by critics, was “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  Historians now doubt Lombardi ever said that.
  • It is often said that the club shareholders and citizens of Green Bay are hidebound traditionalists who have prevented Packers management from selling naming rights to the stadium to a commercial enterprise, as other pro clubs have done. The truth is that Green Bay area voters approved a name sale in a referendum on the question.  Packers’ executives are the traditionalists. They have ignored the will of the voters, preferring to give up millions of dollars of income in favor of maintaining the Lambeau Field name.
  • The bitterness of the Packers-Chicago Bears rivalry is real, but historically there has been perhaps more of a love-hate relationship between the organizations' leaders than we are led to believe.  Many old Packers fans think that Bears’ long-time owner-coach George Halas actually was an ally who stood firmly against other big-city owners when frequent calls were made to move the Packers franchise to Milwaukee or some other more-lucrative market than the small city (population 50,000 in 1957, about 100,000 now) on the bay (others say Halas backed a move to Milwaukee, at least once).
  • My rumor mill said that when Halas retired, Packers fans threw a bigger party for him in Green Bay than his friends did in Chicago.  It is a fact that Halas served as a pall bearer at Lambeau’s funeral. Some Packers fans were said to be offended, which seems silly indeed.
  • Apparently, it is true that Lambeau and Halas refused to engage in the traditional post-game handshake during all or most of the 30 years when they were opposing coaches. One observer reports seeing “Papa Bear” shake his fist at Lambeau after a particularly hard-fought contest. Nevertheless, when the Bears faced serious financial difficulties in 1933, Lambeau loaned Halas half the Packers’ share of gate receipts ($1,500) from a game in Chicago. The act is said to have been a big factor in keeping Halas and the Bears solvent during that Depression time.
  • Was some of the public inter-coach dislike displayed as part of a shrewd show by two skilled promoters seeking to increase interest in their struggling sport?  I think so.  If that is true, Halas and Lambeau were successful.  Packers-Bears games continue to draw big crowds and lots of attention from national television viewers.
  • The cost of the coming Packers’ stock sale is rumored to be $250 per share.  The goal is to raise millions to pay for 7,000 additional seats at Lambeau Field, plus a new scoreboard and complete new electronic communication system.  Buyers will be making a donation just as I did in 1997.  Will the “worthless” shares sell? No doubt they will.  Some current stockholders already have said they’ll buy shares as gifts to their grandchildren.  They can’t very well buy their descendents a couple of season tickets, because the waiting list for tickets now stands at 81,000. Although Packers fans suffered through 27 years of mediocre play between the Lambeau and Lombardi eras, every game since the present stadium was built has been a sellout.
  • Some fans have been waiting for years to become “owners” for the first time. Why?  That’s the “bragging rights” part of it, I guess. There is a certain family feeling about the whole thing. The letter signed by the  club president that arrived with my share of stock didn’t end with a standard line such as, “Thanks for your contribution.”  It said, Thank you for joining the Green Bay Packers.”
  • Of course, any pro football fan with even a touch of rationality realizes the games are between one group of hired athletes and another. Nevertheless, Packers fans are notorious for saying, “We scored twice in the second quarter,” or, ”We blew the coverage on that play.”  There seems to be a personal feeling that “we” always  are part of the team of little guys going up against the big city slickers, even though that attitude is unrealistic.
  • Packers fans seem to have a little special streak of dedication that sometimes borders on craziness.  After I had shown off my share of stock as much as possible, I told my son I was going to transfer the certificate to him so he could take a turn at bragging about being a pro team owner.  He said, “Don’t bother, Dad.  I bought one for myself.”
  • Myths and facts pertaining to the career of Packers’ old-time pass catcher Don Hutson deserve mention in any discussion of Green Bay history, but this treatise is getting too lengthy for that. Television reporters who would know better if they did their homework, and show business personalities who can’t be expected to have a clue, routinely state that San Francisco 49ers’ receiver Jerry Rice was the greatest pass receiver of all time.  As sometimes is said in locker-room comparisons of talented players, “Rice was a great receiver, but he couldn’t carry Hutson’s jock.”
  • Don Hutson not only was the greatest receiver ever to play the game, but he probably was the greatest player in pro football history.  I’ll try to prove that point with a post later in this season when the stars are right.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Penn State Report Card

The sad story of allegations of child sexual abuse by a coach who had a 26-year career at football power Pennsylvania State University has brought forth a variety of comments on the educational institution and college athletics in general.  The players in the sordid drama deserve one of two grades—A or F—nothing else seems a good fit. 

Here’s the Geezer report card:

A—Mike McQueary, an assistant coach who as a graduate assistant  says he saw Coach Jerry Sandusky performing a sex act on a 10-year-old boy in the showers in a Penn State football building.  McQueary says he reported the incident to Joe Paterno, Sandusky’s boss, as he should have.

McQueary might have earned an A-plus had he called the cops himself back in 2002 when the incident occurred, but that would have been a lot to expect from one who was a low-level participant in the athletic program at the time and who had coaching aspirations. McQueary has been placed on indefinite leave with pay.  Penn State officials state he may have special legal status as a whistleblower.

F—Sandusky.  A grand jury indictment includes allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted at least seven other minor boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky is free on bail after his arrest when the youth in the Penn State incident came forward recently and McQueary corroborated the story.

F—Head Coach Paterno. As an experienced administrator in charge of the program within which the alleged crime took place, Paterno should have ensured that police were notified.  Instead, the iconic head coach merely informed his immediate superior, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, and did not follow up.

F—Curley and Schultz. They apparently did not advise Paterno to report the alleged crime, nor did they contact law enforcement authorities.  Both have been charged with failing to report the incident. Whether or not the 84-year-old Paterno will be similarly charged remains in doubt.

F—University President Graham Spanier. Investigations now under way probably will reveal whether he did or did not know of the incident.  Even if he did not, he deserves a failing grade for maintaining incredibly poor communications with his top assistants.

A—The Penn State Board of Trustees.  They promptly fired Coach Paterno and President Spanier, even though Paterno had offered to make this season his last after leading the football program for 46 years. Curley and Schultz earlier had removed themselves from the Penn State staff.

F—The Penn State students who demonstrated in favor of restoring Paterno to his coaching job.  More reprehensible are individual demonstrators who turned violent and significantly damaged property.  The latter should be arrested and expelled if they can be identified.  The remainder should, at the very least, be required to receive some special instruction on the relative values of greed (win at all costs) and integrity (do the right things).

A—The Penn State students who organized vigils as statements of sympathy for any boys who were victimized, and their families, and for all victims of sexual abuse.  They showed they understood and supported the values that Penn State long has proclaimed it teaches and practices.

F—A few commentators who implied or flatly stated that the incident unmasked widespread corruption in college sports.  The headlines accompanying these stories, and some of the sensational language in the tales, suggested that sexual abuse is rampant in university athletic programs, particularly football.

In more than five decades of closely following sports, including a few years as a sports editor, the Penn State affair is the only instance of sexual abuse of a minor by a coach that has come to my attention. Anyone who knows anything about sports writers knows that given even an inkling of such conduct, many of them would doggedly pursue the story. Child sexual abuse may be common in other institutions, including some well-publicized activities in religious organizations, but it most likely rarely has any association with college athletics.

A—The many critics who cast this incident as a classic case of greed versus integrity.  University officials should be the epitome of men and women who place honor and open and honest dealings above all else. They are among the ultimate role models in our society.  But too often, stadiums seating 80,000 to 100,000 fans and financial supporters and $100-million-dollar athletic budgets seem to be the motivating forces in these officials’ lives. 

At Penn State, a whole series of officials, going right to the top, appear to have participated in a cover up, and if they did so they endangered many children.  Obviously, all believed the straightforward action of reporting an alleged crime would somehow endanger the programs they so love.  Actually, doing the right thing probably would have enhanced the reputations of all concerned, except of course, for Sandusky. 

The bedrock issue in collegiate athletics, as it is today in the United States, is the power of the dollar in influencing decisions that should be made on the basis of ethical, not economic, factors.  Rewarding successful college football and basketball coaches (and athletic directors) with multi-million-dollar contracts is ridiculous.  University presidents could put a stop to the practice, but doing so would risk the wrath of enraged alums and might threaten their own bloated compensation packages.

Some like to draw a parallel between recruiting big-time football coaches and CEOs of major corporations.  “You have to pay top dollar to get a top performer,” that logic goes.  It may have some truth in the business world, but this tenet is ridiculous in the world of what is supposed to be amateur sport. 

It is difficult to find business execs with proven abilities to turn moribund enterprises around or to maintain other huge organizations at a highly profitable level.  It is not at all difficult to find football coaches who have come up through the high school and assistant coaching ranks with winning programs.  A whole lot of them are more than willing to head a major university program for a salary of a few hundred thousand dollars.  The trick should be to carefully examine the integrity of the candidates.  Those who pass that test might be worth a half million or so a year.  Six or seven million is outrageously unnecessary.

The Geezer often has laid the blame on college and university presidents for allowing greed to direct the athletic programs at their schools.  Perhaps the Penn State experience shows that position has been wrong.  The blame might be better placed on members of Boards of Trustees and Boards of Regents. They are where the buck stops, since presidents, unfortunately, are too often complicit in the abuses.

Come to think of it, the Penn State Board of Trustees deserves a bit more that an A for their resolute actions in the football program affair.  Let’s hear it for them:

Hip, Hip, Hooray. . . Siss Boom Bah . . . PENN STATE  TRUSTEES . . . Rah, Rah, Rah!  

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Get on Down There

This is an unqualified endorsement of Applebee’s Veterans Day offer.  The national restaurant chain once again will provide free meals on November 11 to all who have served or are now serving our nation in the U.S. military.

If you’re a veteran of any kind, with an honorable discharge, go to Applebee’s on Friday for your choice of a free dinner from a very good menu.  If you’re on active duty, ditto.  If you’re not a veteran or on active duty, but know someone who is, grab him or her and take them to Applebee’s. That will show, in a very personal way, your appreciation of the sacrifices service people have made and continue to make.

The Veterans Day offer should apply throughout the U.S. and may include Canada.  It would be a good idea to check at a location near you to be sure the free meals are available there and learn what type of identification is needed to qualify.

In the future, you may want to introduce your favorite dinner companions to Applebee’s.  This company deserves your business.
This commercial message was written, authorized, and posted by the Gabby Geezer, who may be found about noon on Nov. 11 enjoying a steak dinner at Applebee’s in Plainwell, Michigan, USA.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ahead of the Game

(Lately, many notices have appeared urging us to protest the behavior of megabanks by transferring our accounts to local financial institutions.  The Geezer was ahead of that game. Following is an abridged version of his Jan. 26, 2010 comments—the original appeared here a full 21 months ago. As predicted, the big bank that lost Sandy’s account has not collapsed, but perhaps now with millions joining the movement the bankers will get the message.)

Take It from the Bank

Of course, the bank president will just laugh at the loss of our business, if by some strange quirk of fate it comes to his attention.  But our action will be symbolic.  We are going to transfer Sandy’s checking account from a big bank to join mine at a little credit union.

We little guys aren’t moving our business out of greed, although often we can get better rates locally.  We’re doing it because we’re mad as hell at greedy big bankers.

We ought to be. In 2008, the median U.S. household income was $50,303.  It no doubt will be lower when the numbers are in for 2009 (Ed note: it was).  The average professional employee (broker, sales staffer, trader) compensation at JP Morgan Chase was $279,000 in 2008.  The bankers gave themselves a raise in 2009, upping average compensation to $379,000.  Wow!  The average Morgan staffer got an income increase double what the average American family must subsist on.

JP Morgan Chase was given $25 billion dollars of taxpayer money in the fall of 2008 to ensure the firm would be healthy.  Wouldn’t it follow that the guys who were making a quarter million or more a year were the same bozos who were making the firm unhealthy? They should have been disciplined, not rewarded with big bonuses.

The medicine worked.  Morgan paid back the $25 billion.  The taxpayers even earned some profit on the deal.  Unfortunately, although the patient survived, it didn’t start doing what the doctors envisioned.  The idea was that the propped-up big banks would lend cash to stimulate business, which in turn would save or create jobs.

The bankers quickly engineered a payback to avoid government control of their compensation packages.  They made the money to do that in investment banking, and continued a lot of the risky stuff that got us into a financial crisis in the first place.  Instead of ramping up typical business lending they tightened things up in that area. They gave the surplus funds to each other, rather than helping their country out of recession.

Was Morgan an isolated case?  Goldman Sachs got $10 billion from Uncle Sam to stay in business.  It was one of the first to make a full repayment.  It should be better managed than some competitors, because at Goldman average professional compensation was a mind-boggling $317,000 in 2008.  It increased to $498,000 in 2009.  Meanwhile, nationwide unemployment moved above 10 percent.

The big bankers deserve our ire.  Some even admit it.  At a hearing before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Brian Moynihan, Bank of America chief executive officer and president, said, “Over the course of the crisis, we as an industry caused a lot of damage.”

That’s right on.  Politicians, Republicans and Democrats, over the past twenty years stripped away needed regulations or looked away as questionable activities were taking place.  But, just because politicians gave financiers a license to steal doesn’t mean the liberated bankers were forced to plunder.  They could have applied their own ethical standards—if they had any-- to daily practices.

We need Congress to clamp down hard on the bad guys who betrayed us.  Democrats will lose the support of a lot of voters if they simply continue running around yelling “yes, we can” make financial institutions work for all Americans. They need to do it. And Republicans need to identify some common-sense reforms they can support and get with the program. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Price Freedom?

Frankly, it was somewhat of a blow to national pride.

Last week, Hamas, which controls what passes for a Palestinian government, released one Israeli soldier it had been holding prisoner in return for the release of 1,027 Palestinians from Israeli jails.

Two days ago, an alleged spy who holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship was released by Egypt in exchange for a mere 25 Egyptians imprisoned in Israel.

That incredible disparity in exchange rates could be construed as an indication of the low value assigned to American citizens in the Middle East. Wonder how many Syrians it would take to spring a  French double-agent?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Boo! and Poo

It’s a good thing--Halloween hijinks have been toned down so much over the years they hardly exist anymore.  Back in the 40s and 50s failing to provide a proper treat could result in some serious tricks.
In many communities, “Gate Night” produced various levels of damage and civic disruption by older youths, who perpetrated some strange acts apparently just for the hell of it.

Soaping windows was fairly innocuous.  Tossing trash onto Main Street from cars driven by juveniles set the bar a little higher.  Actually tearing gates off fenced areas to fulfill the Gate Night tradition was not uncommon. There were other types of property damage.  Local police gave chase when they spotted miscreants, but they were outnumbered by bands of roving youths and had little chance of apprehending anybody.
The police even could be the target. My father recalled Gate Night escapades back in the early 1900s when he was growing up in Wausau, Wisconsin, long before police had squad cars.  They traveled by bicycle when in hot pursuit.  His favorite story:
A group of boys spread horse manure liberally in an alley between two garages.  They strung a sturdy cord between the buildings about four feet above the mess, and then lured an officer into chasing them into the alley on his bike at full speed.  The result was not pretty for one of Wausau’s finest.
A somewhat similar Halloween story told in my hometown involved the lads who lived in "Jersey City," a community a short distance outside the city limits. The victim was "Shorty" Ruff, a small man whose outhouse was a favorite tip-over target during Gate Night forays by neighborhood youths.
After several years of outhouse restoration projects, Shorty decided enough was enough. Early on Gate Night, he took a seat in his outhouse with shotgun in hand, ready to scare away the most dedicated vandals who might show up.
Legend has it that Shorty fell asleep. The tippers appeared and had their way with the outhouse as usual. Shorty fell into the pit. He was said to be uninjured but considerably more aromatic when he emerged.
Cops, outhouse users, and all the rest of us can be happy these sorts of things won’t happen this year.  Or will they? Only the witches’ brew can tell us for sure.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Have We Become?

I don’t remember all the details, but I can clearly recall the scene on VJ (Victory Over Japan) day in my hometown.  My father took me on the two-block walk from our home to the downtown area.

It seemed as though every ambulatory citizen was there.  Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Socialists, and perhaps even a Communist or two were hugging each other, slapping each other on the back, shaking hands, and dancing in the middle of the street.  Loud music emanated from the several taverns in the small business district.  Dad said everyone who wanted a free drink had no problem finding someone to buy it.

Joy was general.  No one was asking any questions about the ethics of actions that ended World War II, including atomic bombings.  No one was questioning our military strategy, or the intentions or operations of any of our allies.  Some of that came later, but for the moment Americans were just plain happy that the killing finally had stopped.

In recent days, American involvement in two wars ended.  The eight-month civil war in Libya reached the last of its final days when rebels killed the nation’s tyrannical leader.  Almost simultaneously, President Obama declared our military work in Iraq over after eight years of struggle in a war that every poll showed was unpopular with a majority of our people.

Were there huge celebrations?  Parades?  Loud music? Free drinks?  Not at all.  We were immediately treated to a volley of carping and bitching by various politicians and commentators.

Our NATO allies, primarily the United Kingdom and France, who did the heavy lifting in Libya, where charged in the United Nations and some American media with violating their charter to provide air power to protect Libyan civilians.  What were the British and French pilots supposed to do?  It seems wildly impractical to suggest they should land when they spotted an armored vehicle and ask the driver if he intended to shoot rebels, innocent civilians, or just a couple of rabbits before they launched a rocket.

From the right came complaints that the U.S. did too little in Libya, and never should have let allies assume the leadership in the military actions.  From the left came assertions that we should have shunned any involvement at all, and had run a huge risk of getting into another Viet Nam or Afghanistan quagmire. From other quarters came charges that helping the rebels would surely result in replacing a secular dictator with Libyan leadership controlled by religious fanatics.

We did have the leading role in Iraq, so the critics had to shelve that complaint and come up with a few new ones.  One was that Obama played a political trick to gain support before the next elections.  That is a strange position, indeed, considering he made a clear promise during his presidential campaign to get us out of Iraq. Apparently, keeping a promise nowadays is an evil act.

Others complained about leaving four or five thousand contract guards in Iraq to protect our diplomats and other civilian workers.  They cautioned that relying on contractors for security purposes was a serious danger.

What should we do?  Let the remaining known thugs in Iraq wipe out a segment of our diplomatic and foreign aid corps?  The prime minister of Iraq refused to continue to allow legal protection for American troops; thus it seems quite logical to turn to contractors to provide needed para-military power.

Probably the most unbelievable criticism is that Obama acted precipitously and failed to execute an orderly withdrawal.  Good grief; our withdrawal has been in the planning stages for at least two years.  Our administration is well into planning a withdrawal from Afghanistan, with a target date some three years in the future.  That would seem to indicate the people in the White House and Pentagon are practicing careful planning.

This critic thinks three years is way too long to wait for the Afghan withdrawal.  I hope that doesn’t make me as un-American as the rest of those idiots who can’t take even a day off from their political agendas and negative attacks to celebrate the end of a war and praise our young men and women for their role in bringing it about.

Of course, World War II was much larger, although it lasted only about half as long as the Iraq adventure.  And, American involvement in Libya was relatively minor and resulted in no loss of life. No matter the scope or length of the conflicts, however, lives were put at risk and dollars were spent that could have been used for better purposes.  

But yet the spirit in the country seems very different from the way people felt at the end of hostilities in 1945.  Have all the wars since then caused us to no longer feel any personal connection to military actions?