Monday, March 30, 2009

2009: First house on market for $150 million

Downsizing to a $47 million condominium on the top two floors of a building in Century City, Candy Spelling, widow of TV producer Aaron Spelling, is offering her Los Angeles mansion for $150 million. It's apparently the most expensive home for sale in the US.

Aaron Spelling, who produced a string of hits over five decades from "Charlie's Angels" to "Beverly Hills, 90210," died at the 123-room house in 2006 at age 83.

The 57,000-square-foot house, dubbed "the Manor" and featured on guided tours of Hollywood mansions, includes a bowling alley, a beauty salon, a gift-wrapping room and a screening room with a screen that rises out of the floor.

The Spellings bought the nearly five-acre property, at one time the home of Bing Crosby, in the early 1980s, tore down the house and rebuilt. When completed in 1991 it was considered by far the largest home in Los Angeles.

Since Mrs. Spelling announced her planned move to Century City, she's fielded roughly a dozen calls from qualified buyers. She didn't consider lowering the price. "The ones who could afford it three years ago, can still afford it today," her attorney said. $150 million "is not a lot." (info and photo from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, March 27, 2009

1884: First long distance call in the United States

March 27, 1884 was the date of the first long distance call in the US, from Boston to New York City.

Apparently the world's first LD call was made from Brantford, Ontario, Canada in 1876.

The first coast-to-coast call in the US happened in 1915.

The first direct-dialed long distance call in the US was in 1951.

Friday, March 20, 2009

1984: First college dunk shot by a woman

On Dec. 21, 1984, about 100 people in Elkins, West Virginai were in the town armory to watch a women's basketball game between West Virginia and the University of Charleston. They witnessed history.

With 11 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the game, West Virginia's 6-foot-7 junior center, Georgeann Wells, took a long pass at half court, and with a clear path to the basket, rose up and slammed the ball. With the first official dunk in a college game, women's sports reached a milestone.

Unlike the first sub-four-minute mile, which was broken within months, and other athletic firsts that were seconded and thirded almost instantly, no other woman would dunk in college for another decade.

The game was also remarkable for another reason: No visual evidence of the play was ever released. Newspaper articles ran without photos and TV stations covered it without any visuals. Some people didn't believe it happened.

But there was a tape. Bud Francis, the coach of the opposing team, Charleston, had a man stationed near the stage on the east side of the armory, and his camera lens was pointed directly at Wells during the dunk. Despite repeated requests from media and West Virginia University, Francis never released the tape.

Wells's coach, Kittie Blakemore, says she assumed the recording had been destroyed. The coach died in 1999 and the secret of the lost tape seemingly went with him to the grave.

Earlier this year, Francis's son, Ford, looked in an old box of his father's. He found a nondescript videocassette labeled "W.V.U.-84 Elkins." It was the tape of the dunk. The picture has deteriorated slightly, but what can clearly be seen is Georgeann Wells, leaping through the air and slamming the ball with authority. As of now, only three women players in the WNBA and five college players have dunked.

Georgeann Wells grew up in Ohio as one of nine children. Most of her siblings were talented athletes too. With her tremendous height, she was a top prospect starting in middle school, even though she was awkward and uncoordinated at first.

Newspapers across the country ran stories about the dunk shot. But when television stations called West Virginia to request footage, they said the Charleston coach, Francis, had the only tape.

Says Blakemore, West Virginia's head coach at the time, "For years, I would see [Mr. Francis] at coaching functions, and I'd ask him about it. He'd say, 'You aren't getting that tape, Kittie.' "

Wells recreated the famous dunk a year later in 1985 at the Basketball Hall of Fame. The game ball used for the dunk is enshrined there. Because no one outside the losing Charleston team saw the recording, some people didn't believe she actually dunked, Wells remembers. But she quieted the naysayers when she did it again in a televised game that has been played on ESPN highlight reels.

Francis threw out most of his old game tapes when he left his coaching job in 1986. But when he died unexpectedly in 1999, his son, Ford Francis, ended up with a box of VHS tapes. He never paid any attention to the one marked "W.V.U.-84 Elkins." He had heard about the dunk but says he thought it happened much later.

After a call from The Wall Street Journal explaining that he might have the tape and that Wells dunked in 1984, Francis popped it into his VHS machine and watched it on his big-screen TV. "There it was," says Mr. Francis. "I couldn't believe it."

Wells, now a physical-education teacher, recently watched the tape on the screen of a laptop computer. "Wow!" she said, pointing out the dunk to her 7-year-old son, Kasey, and her 13-year-old daughter, Maddison.

Now, the debate in the Wells household is not about old dunks, but about who's going to dunk next. Maddison says she'll dunk by sophomore year in high school. (info from The Wall Street Journal; photo is (c) Copyright 1984 by David L. Zicherman and used with permission.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

1890: first woman lawyer in Illinois

Myra Colby Bradwell was born in 1831 in Vermont. In 1852, she married James B. Bradwell and they operated a private school in Tennessee. In 1855 her husband was admitted to the Chicago bar and became a successful lawyer, judge and in 1873 was elected to the state legislature.

In 1868, Myra Bradwell established the Chicago Legal News, and was the business and editorial manager. Bradwell published information about court opinions, laws, and ordinances, which were admissible in court. The paper also supported many reforms such as woman suffrage, efforts to gain employment for women attorneys, improvement of court systems, and railroad regulation.

She published “History of Woman Suffrage,” which was edited by women’s rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage. This volume discussed women’s patriotism, beginning with the American Revolution and continuing to the efforts for suffrage.

In an 1869 edition of the Chicago Legal News, Bradwell wrote about her philosophy of how suffrage would be achieved: “You ask us, how shall this great privilege be obtained for women? We will tell you. Not by the class who term man ‘a tyrant’— but by the sensible and devoted mothers, wives and daughters of the state unifying together, we mean those who have the respect and love of their fathers, husbands and brothers, and asking them that they give to women the right to vote.”

Bradwell often used humor to make her point and felt that it was effective in the courtroom. In an 1880 edition of the Legal News, she said, “A lawyer’s wit sometimes, does more than enliven a dull hour in court. It so opens the eyes for the Judge that he sees with clearness a point that otherwise he would have ignored.”

In addition to her activities as owner and editor of the Chicago Legal News, Bradwell assisted in securing the passage of the 1869 bill that gave married women the right to retain their own wages and protect the rights of widows. Bradwell and her husband participated in the organization of Chicago’s first woman suffrage convention and the founding of Cleveland’s American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1869, Bradwell passed the Illinois Bar Exam with honors. She then applied to the Illinois Supreme court for admission to the bar. The court refused her application because she was a woman. The decision was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Bradwell v. Illinois.

The opinion of Justice Bradley in the case reflected the nineteenth century society belief about women not participating in the workforce, he said: “The civil law, as well as nature itself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say the identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea for a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband…for these reasons I think that the laws of Illinois now complained of are not obnoxious to the charge of any abridging any of the privileges and immunities of cities of the United States.”

Eventually, Illinois changed the rules for admitting women to the bar. In 1890, Bradwell was admitted to the Illinois bar and in 1892, she received a license to practice before the US Supreme Court.

Myra Bradwell died in 1894. Her daughter, Bessie Bradwell Helmer continued her mother’s work with a career in law and publication of the Chicago Legal News. The tribute to Bradwell in the February 24, 1894 edition of the Chicago Legal News stated, “The future historian will accord her the breaking of the chain that bound woman (sic) to a life of household drudgery. She opened the door of the professions to her sex, and compelled law makers and judges as well, to proclaim that it was not a crime to be born a woman.” (info from

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009: End of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a printed newspaper

The Post-Intelligencer, Seattle's first newspaper, was founded in 1863 as the Seattle Gazette. The paper failed after a few years and was renamed the Weekly Intelligencer in 1867 by the new owner. In 1881, The Intelligencer merged with the Seattle Post. The names were combined to form the present-day name.

William Randolph Hearst took over the paper in 1921. The Hearst Corporation owns the P-I now.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had a special relationship with the P-I. In 1936, their son-in-law John Boettiger took over as publisher. He brought his wife Anna, the Roosevelts' daughter, to also work at the paper. Anna became editor of the women's page. Boettiger left Seattle to enter the Army in the spring of 1943, while Anna stayed at the paper to keep a liberal voice in running the paper. After Boettiger's absence, the paper increasingly turned conservative with Hearst's new acting publisher. Anna left Seattle in late 1943 to live in the White House with her youngest child. This effectively ended the Roosevelt-Boettiger ties with the P-I.

On December 15, 2006, no copies were printed as a result of a power outage caused by the December 2006 Pacific Northwest storms. It was the first time in 70 years that publication had been suspended.

On January 9, 2009, the Hearst Corporation announced that after losing money on it every year since 2000, Hearst was putting the P-I up for sale. The paper would be put on the market for 60 days, and if a buyer could not be found within that time, the paper would either be turned into a Internet-only publication with a drastically reduced staff, or closed outright.

Analysts said that, considering declining circulation in the US newspaper industry and the presence of multiple other newspapers that were on the market but going unsold, it was unlikely that a buyer would be found within 60 days. Five days before the 60 day deadline, the P-I reported that the Hearst Corporation had given several P-I reporters provisional job offers for an online edition of the P-I.

On March 16, 2009, the newspaper posted a headline on its front page, followed shortly after by a short news story, that explained that the following day's edition would be its final one in print. The newspaper's publisher, Roger Oglesby, was quoted saying that the P-I would continue as an online-only operation. The P-I is among the most heavily trafficked newspapers in the US., and in 2009 was regularly exceeding the page views and unique visitors of its competitor, the Seattle Times.

Since 1983, the P-I and the Times have been run under a "Joint Operating Agreement" (JOA) whereby advertising, production, marketing, and circulation are run for both papers by the Seattle Times Company. They maintain separate news and editorial departments. The papers publish a combined Sunday edition, although the Times handles the majority of the editorial content while the P-I only provides a small editorial/opinions section.

In 2003 Times tried to cancel the JOA, citing a clause in the JOA that three consecutive years of profit losses were cause for cancelling the agreement. Hearst disagreed and immediately filed suit to prevent the Times from cancelling the agreement. Hearst argued that a force majeure clause prevented the Times from claiming losses in 2000 and 2001 as reason to end the JOA, because they resulted from extraordinary events (in this case, a seven week newspaper strike).

Each side publicly accused the other of attempting to put its rival out of business. The trial judge granted a summary judgment in Hearst's favor on the force majeure issue. But after two appeals, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Times on June 30, 2005 on the force majeure clause, reversing the trial court judge. Both papers settled the issue on April 16, 2007.

The JOA ends today with the cessation of the P-I print edition. (Info from Wikipedia)

Monday, March 16, 2009

2002: First free PC program for US students

Maine started its first-in-the-nation program to expand computer use by distributing more than 30,000 computers to each seventh- and eighth-grader in all of the state's public schools in 2002 and 2003. Despite the economic turmoil, now the goal is to provide a laptop to every public school student in grades 7-12 by the fall.

About 30 high schools already have laptops obtained outside the scope of the original program. But now all 120 of Maine's high schools, along with 241 middle schools, will have new laptops under the same program, at a cost of about $242 per computer per year.

Education Department officials announced this week that they're negotiating a four-year lease with Apple for 100,000 Apple MacBook laptops. Gov. John Baldacci said in his State of the State address that revamping the laptop computer program would turn it "into a powerful tool for the entire family."

"Every night when students in seventh through 12th grade bring those computers home, they'll connect the whole family to new opportunities and new resources," Baldacci said.

The state hasn't yet completed its negotiations with Apple, but it's expected that the new lease will cost the state about $25 million per year. The state currently pays about $13 million per year to provide Apple laptops to 37,000 middle-schoolers and about 10,000 middle school and high school teachers and administrators. The expansion would add 53,000 high schoolers to the program.

At a time when state lawmakers are facing a two-year budget shortfall of more than $800 million, Baldacci pointed out that the program expansion is being done within existing resources and won't require additional taxes.

School administrators say the laptop program, aimed at eliminating the so-called "digital divide" between wealthy and poor students, has been a success. A study released in 2007 by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine indicated writing scores improved after laptops were introduced. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, March 13, 2009

1905: First gas station in the US

Apparently, the first places that sold gasoline were drugstores. Henry Ford's mass-production of cars lowered prices and greatly increased car sales, and the need for filling stations.

The world's first gas station was built in St. Louis, Missouri in 1905 at 412 S. Theresa Avenue. The second gas station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington. (info from Wikipedia)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

2009: First committe formed to elect Moose Mama president in 2012

West Haven, Connecticut -- a town with 52,000 people and three fire chiefs and three different fire department websites -- has gained additional distinction.

Earlier this week, a Denny's restaurant in West Haven was the site of the first "Sarah meet-up" for supporters of the former Republican veep candidate.

Six people showed up.

The man in charge is John Streitz, who is co-director of Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control. He co-founded the first federally registered committee with the goal of raising money to draft Palin for president in 2012. So far, the committee has collected about $3,000.

The 2012 Draft Sarah Committee is based in Colorado, where the group’s other founder lives, and officially filed paperwork Nov. 20 with the Federal Election Commission. The goal of the "meet-ups" is to provide a chance for like-minded people who want Palin to run in 2012 to get together.

"Her values resonate with the American public," Streitz said.

Most of the people at the gathering are friends of Streitz who share his desire for tougher anti-immigration laws.

"I think she’s a beautiful-looking woman," said Ted Pechinski.

"And she has a good brain to go with it," added Veronica Kivela. "She is a fine American."

According to Jim Troyer, "The thing I like best about her is she has international experience. Her state borders Russia and Canada, and China isn’t too far away."

BUT DOESN'T IT MATTER THAT SARAH IS INARTICULATE, IGNORANT, UNPREPARED AND A HYPOCRITE? And many people thought she was a terrible candidate and a major reason the Republicans lost the election.
(info from The New Haven Register)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

2009: First time I write an editorial

Yesterday I got an email from the Republican National Committee asking me to send money to fight the Democratic Party's alleged plans to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding American Citizens and repeal the Second Amendment.

That amendment was written by the fathers of our country in the 1790s at a time when a militaman might use a blunderbuss, capable of firing a weak, inaccurate projectile every minute or so -- not a high powered assault rifle that can fire ten bullets per second.

The GOP says, "It is clear that the Obama Democrats are looking for any excuse to once again threaten our freedoms. Their nanny-state, Big Brother mentality has no place in our Constitutional Republic."

I think the biggest threat to my freedom to survive until I die of natural causes is the Republican Party.

And to add to the Republican gun lust and paranoia, party chairman Michael Steele accused the "the mainstream media" of bias against "our right to buy and own firearms."

Also yesterday, a man in Alabama shot and killed ten people, and wounded others. Many of the victims were "collateral damage" and not even his actual targets.

And today a gunman shot and killed at least 15 people at a high school in Germany, and wounded others.

Other than toys in my childhood, I have never owned a gun.

I have never fired a real gun. I don't want to own a gun or fire one or learn how to use one. I don't want my neighbors to have guns. I don't want stores to sell guns. I don't want anyone other than police and military troops and perhaps security guards to have guns.

I think hunters should buy their meat in a supermarket and shoot cameras instead of rifles. If hunters want to bear arms, I'm in favor or arming bears to make it a fair fight. I think target-shooters should limit themselves to slingshots and paint guns.

It wouldn't bother me if every home, farm and business was searched and all guns and bullets were seized and melted down. It wouldn't bother me if toy guns and violent video games were banned.

I am not afraid of my local police or the Federal government and don't think I need to be armed against them.

I believe the Second Amendment to the US Constitution should not be interpreted as allowing non-military gun ownership.

Yesterday Michael McLendon, the Alabama mass murderer, did not use his arsenal to protect his home against a burglar. He did not shoot someone who tried to rob him on the street or steal his car. He was not defending his liberty against a misguided police force.

He was a nut who did not need to have a gun and should not have had a gun. All those who think he should have the right to have a gun, share his guilt for the murders.


Monday, March 9, 2009

2009: End of Circuit City in the US

What began 60 years ago as a small TV store in Richmond, Virginia ended yesterday as Circuit City closed its 567 remaining American stores.

For the last month and a half, liquidation companies have conducted going-out-of-business sales for what had been the nation's second-largest consumer electronics retailer, selling its remaining $1.7 billion worth of inventory weeks sooner than expected.

After the bust Circuit City will leave more than 18 million square feet of vacant space in a faltering real estate market, and more than 34,000 employees will be jobless. Shareholders will likely get nothing and creditors may receive far less than what they are owed.

Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November with hopes of emerging as a stronger company able to compete in the ever-expanding marketplace; shedding its $2.32 billion in debt and getting out of older real estate. The company was unable to work out a sale or secure new financing.

Circuit City owes nearly $625 million to its 30 largest unsecured creditors -- mostly electronics manufacturers. They must wait to be paid until secured creditors such as banks are satisfied.

At its height, Circuit City had more than 700 stores. It faced increased competition, pressure from vendors and waning consumer spending. Ultimately, the hobbled credit market and consumer worries proved insurmountable.

Circuit City, which posted losses in seven of its final eight quarters, had its brand value diminished in the 1990s as it lost significant traffic to rivals like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Costco that expanded their electronics departments.

Alan L. Wurtzel, son of company founder Samuel S. Wurtzel and himself a former chief executive of Circuit City, has previously said the company didn't take the threat from Best Buy seriously enough and at some points was too focused on short-term profit rather than long-term value.

Still, Circuit City took arduous steps in an attempt to turn around its struggling business. In 2008, it defused a proxy battle, opened its books to potential buyers like Blockbuster, changed management, closed stores in some locations and tested smaller concept stores in others. It laid off about 3,400 store workers in 2007 and replaced them with lower-paid employees, a move analysts warned could hurt morale and drive away customers.

Circuit City also had hoped to make up for its diminished product margins with its service and installation business called Firedog, which opened in 2006 - four years after Best Buy purchased the similar Geek Squad service.

Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at a market researching firm, said, "Every time there was a crossroad ... they almost always did the wrong thing."

Baker pointed to many missteps in management, including not declaring bankruptcy sooner, not getting into the music and movie business earlier, takeover bids in the mid-2000s, and exiting the appliance business in 2000. "When you make that many mistakes, eventually you end up at the edge of the cliff," he said.

The Circuit City name may still live on.

Bell Canada is buying a chain of 750 The Source by Circuit City electronics stores across Canada. Hilco Merchant Resources said it hopes to buy the brand name and Website. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

1825: First president inaugurated wearing long pants
1831: First former president elected to the House of Representatives

Inaugural costume, while generally formal, has varied over the years.

A contemporary account reported that Washington wore "a complete suit of Homespun Cloaths; the cloth was of a fine fabric and as handsomely finished as any European superfine cloth."

The first five Presidents wore knickers to their ceremonies, with John Quincy Adams the first to move into trousers.

In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, an apostle of the strenuous life, was the first to deliver his Inaugural Address bareheaded.

Pearl-gray top hats, matching cutaway coats and darker gray striped trousers -- traditional daytime formal wear -- were the approved inaugural costume for perhaps a century.

Jimmy Carter rejected this elegance for a business suit in 1977, but Ronald Reagan reinstated the cutaway in 1981. In 1985, frigid weather drove Reagan into the Capitol for a semiprivate oath-taking and, sartorially, into a business suit.

Pants-wearing John Quincy Adams served as the sixth President of the United States from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties.

Adams was the son of the second President John Adams and his wife Abigail Adams, the name "Quincy" having come from Abigail's maternal grandfather, Colonel John Quincy, after whom Quincy, Massachusetts is also named. He was a diplomat, involved in many international negotiations, and helped formulate the Monroe Doctrine as Secretary of State. As president he proposed a program of modernization and educational advancement, but was stymied by Congress. Adams lost his 1828 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson.

Adams was elected a US Representative from Massachusetts after leaving office, the only president ever to do so, serving for the last 17 years of his life. In the House he became a leading opponent of the Slave Power and argued that if a civil war ever broke out the president could abolish slavery by using his war powers, which Abraham Lincoln partially did during the Civil War in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. (info from The New York Times and Wikipedia)

Monday, March 2, 2009

199?: Last McPizza

Over the years, Mickey Dee's has experimented with lots of items in an effort to broaden their business beyond fries and burgers.

Egg McMuffin has been a huge success. The McLean DeLuxe, Onion Nuggets and Fried Roast Beef Sandwich were flops. The McRib sandwich was officially discontinued, but is periodically revived for a limited-time appearance. (I'm lovin it.)

Probably the most famous McDonald's failure was pizza.

Although it was popularly called McPizza (like McRib and McNuggets) McDonald's just called it pizza.

There were several versions test-marketed in various parts of the US and Canada starting in the late 1970s.

One variation was like an apple pie. There was also a personal-size pizza, and a family sized pizza that was brought out by an employee and placed on a raised rack on the table.

Although traditional pizza makers were scared by the Golden Arched threat, McDonald's never became a pizza power. It was just too difficult, too time-consuming, and too expensive to produce acceptable pizzas in a fast food facility. Most people who wanted pizza went to a pizza place, not to McDonald's.

Mickey's stores had invested big bucks in special ovens and even extra-wide drive-thru windows, but experimentation, variation, reconstruction and expensive marketing just could not make it work. My the late 1990s, McPizza was gone. (If anyone knows the actual year, please let me know.)

I tasted a Mickey Pizza once, on the Garden State Parkway. It was better than many "real" pizzas I'd had, not the worst, and certainly not the best. It was as good as what comes out of a Pizza Hut robotic oven.

I ordered it at the drive-thru window and then parked my car. About 10 minutes later, it was brought to my car. Strangely, Dunkin Donuts is able to produce their version of a Pizza Hut personal pizza in less than two minutes. Maybe Mickey Dee's gave up too soon.

Outside the US, McDonald's offers the vegetarian Pizza McPuff in India, Dubai and maybe other countries.