Sunday, March 3, 2013



First of all, Jews are everywhere.  Not to notice that they are here and make a significant difference in our lives at every turn is like Marlon Brando’s metaphor of pretending not to notice a hippopotamus head in the middle of the living room floor.  Second, I like Jews.  It is not uncommon for people to mistake me for a Jew – because of my name, I guess.  It is my theory that most people who dislike Jews are jealous of how they excel.  I admire their endeavor, their chutzpah and their humor.  Their words, particularly the Yiddish, have a certain je ne sais quoi that has become imbedded in our language and often fits better than any other words.  Try to find any single word in any language that comes close to describing chutzpah.  You couldn’t do it if I gave you a dozen words, already.  Yiddish is a gentle language of suffering and of humor and of wise observation.  There would be far less crime, war, hatred and cruelty if the world spoke Yiddish.

Jews have a way of seeing right to the point.  It’s hard to fool a Jew.  They are good lawyers, doctors, surgeons, researchers, musicians, politicians, producers, directors, entertainers, writers – in fact they are good at anything they want to be good at.  We depend on Jews in some way at least every day.  Think about it.  In your own personal life, you must certainly depend on Jews to live a better life.  Your doctor, your lawyer, the clothing store owner where you buy your clothes, the guy who stocks your wine and liquor, writes the news articles you read, the comedian who makes you laugh, the producer who brings you many of the best films, the musician who brings you sublime music, conducts the orchestra, produces the best dramas.  Think how empty our lives would be if all the Jews disappeared tomorrow. 

You never hear of a Jew on welfare.  They are patriotic and honor their mother and father, children and families.  From infancy, they think, work, learn and wonder.  When the Jews poured out of Europe to find a new life in America, they brought along their enormous potential.  I have often said that real opportunity was the little Jew just off the boat, with a pad and pencil and an orange in his pocket and a desire to become rich.  You can be sure that first he bought a pushcart, sold maybe socks or something for a short while, but only a short while, and then moved on to greater and greater success.  I can’t think of a better way to illustrate this than the following anecdote.

In 1974 or 75 I went with actress Leslie Parrish to a luncheon meeting at the Hillcrest Country Club with some successful merchants she was trying to get to support the public TV station she was starting up in Los Angeles.  As we drove up, I noticed the parking lot was full of Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Cords and Morgans, and here I was in long hair and blue jeans.  Leslie said they would think I was a big-time producer.

She went on to explain that Jews were ostracized from all the country clubs when they first came to Hollywood, so they started one of their own.  Many became ultra successful and built the most posh country club in California.  As we were being ushered to an elegant private dining room, I heard, “Paging Mr. George Burns…paging Mr. Carl Reiner.”  These Jews prospered from nothing and became American institutions that enriched all our lives.  DeMille, Zanuck, Spielberg, and on and on.  Think what a void there would be in the entertainment world if all the Jews had become carpenters and bricklayers.

In perhaps the greatest crime of all history, the Nazis destroyed the entire Jewish culture in Europe and left a vacuum that is filling up with hordes from the Middle East not out to help the world but to usurp it.  The bones of all the great doctors and artists, humanists, humorists, scientists, jurists and entertainers lay moldering in common mass graves or went up in smoke almost seventy years ago.  All Europe will pay an extreme price for this for which they will get nothing except the problem of dealing with a new and fearful entity. 

And only now are we learning the Holocaust was far worse than even the known horrors.  New evidence reveals there was a staggering total of 42,500 slave labor and death camps set up by the Nazis in Poland and Germany bringing the total of all victims to a shocking 15 million Jews and non-Jews, including Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals and anyone else the Nazis considered misfits, they, the worst misfits of modern times!

During those awful years, about 115 million people lived in Germany (80M) and Poland (35M).  Wartime losses reduced the total to about 100 million.  The combined land area of Germany and Poland is almost exactly the size of Texas.  The population of Texas in 2010 was about 25 million.  Even with only a quarter of the population of Nazi held territory in wartime, it staggers the imagination to impose 42,500 death camps on a land mass the size of Texas without a high level of public awareness.  That’s a facility every six square miles, a plot 2 by 3 miles.  At that density, an area the size of Washing, DC, would have had ten death camps.  It further staggers the imagination that the civilian population was unaware as claimed.  How could they not notice?

People have been perennially covetous of Jews and how they have been able to achieve prosperity from nothing ever since Moses.  Many Jews stand aloof from non-Jews, and who can blame them.  I would too.  A Jew is expected to exploit his one life and his God-given talents to excel, to master a musical instrument, to honor mother and father and bring pride to the family.

So, I include Jews in my writing because I like them and they are imbedded everywhere in our lives and have done so much provide us with so much worth writing about.

How could you not notice?



I am an American and proud of it, but I feel disposed  to say I think we are as a whole moving away from something that gives us our strength as a nation.  Is it pride?  Not exactly.  Is it patriotism?  Not exactly.  But something akin to things like that.

I still get misty-eyed thinking back many years to the haunting soft and slow notes of a bugler sounding “colors” as the flag is lowered at day’s end, when I held my salute until the final note had faded.  I never reach the end of The Star-Spangled Banner with dry eyes.  My dearest friend of seventy years believes that only God merits such homage as salutes and pledges and are exclusively in His purview.  In all those years, and as many times as we have been together, there has never been a moment of discomfort over the differences in what we believe.  I know him to be a man of courage and principle and respect and accept that what he believes are to him true values.  There are far more similarities in our beliefs, respect for the truth, loyalty of friendship, honoring commitments and consistency of character.  Standing side by side if a flag were to pass in front of us, neither of us would feel discomfort with one saluting and one not, as being emblematic of the freedom America accords all of us.

I think one of the reasons for our drift is more that we lost our self-confidence in being able to say no and mean it.  In my view, the lack of self-confidence crept in because we didn’t care deeply enough about our history, our country, our education and our children to invest whatever time and effort was necessary to find out what is going on and become confident that we knew.  This is not an easy thing to do.  It is so much easier to succumb to the temptations and distractions of modern life than to work hard to be a good parent and to seek the knowledge and make the contribution that is the hallmark and duty of a good citizen. 

The camel’s nose appeared under the tent many times when a firm no might have kept the rest of the beast from coming any further, but we failed to say no and hold to it.  (A friend says when you see the camel’s nose, you should keep in mind that the ass is not far behind.)

Atheists or the like who demand that we exchange our principles for theirs. – I was a Marine and include atheists among those I would have fought for – but for their freedom, not their ideology.  Everyone from Madeline Murray to the local school board who demands we take In God We Trust off our currency or say we can’t set aside a quiet minute in the classroom for reflection on whatever our children want to use it for should be told, in justifiable self-righteous indignation, to go to hell.  We didn’t do that and still aren’t doing it and tiptoe around every crackpot view on whether or not we have to whisper God’s name and give the Constitution as justification.  If you have never read the Constitution, how can you have any confidence in whether this is what it means or not?  If you have never attended a school board meeting how can you judge whether or not these are good citizens dedicated to finding solutions that make sense through a democratic struggle for consensus or are simply a roundtable of strut and big egos taking safety in numbers for any decisions made.

People who demand special status, not because of talent or accomplishment, but because of what they bring from birth –  I accept if you are black and female, for instance, you understand discrimination better than I ever will, and I would be first among those who say all of society should want to see justice done.  But I would say to you to do whatever you can to help it along.  Show the world why faith in you is well-placed and you’ll get there long before those who don’t.  The only thing that can possibly help you overcome those things you cannot change about yourself including your talent and still hope to compete in an indifferent world is a dedicated and driving will combined with hard work, hard work, hard work.  It is a formula by which you can change the world as did Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill, all of whom were adjudged to be losers at one time or other in their lives.  If you are not willing to make this kind of effort, go ahead and sit on you ass and vegetate, and no one will feel he owes you a damn thing.

People who haven’t the foggiest notion of the principles upon which the country was founded – It is a travesty to have easy access to such a wealth of material as we do today and have the time and freedom to explore it and not do so.  I am about to stop and go watch the Redskins and the Steelers.  We need fun and distractions in our lives, but we also need a sense of accomplishment that helps us to be proud of who we are and gives us that little extra bit of courage to stand up and say no when the time calls for it and to have a clear understanding of what you are voting for when you go to the polls to vote soon.  You may never feel you are entirely right about any decision, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to give it your best shot whenever you can, for your country, your friends and family and for yourself. 

I say these things with the conviction of being right and remain open to being convinced otherwise.

(I just watched the Redskins and the Steelers and wish now I hadn’t.)

Monday, February 18, 2013



At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, something has been sticking in my craw.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is a better example of how we have allowed – with about as much discernment and taste as a herd of lemmings –  the medium of television to make fools of us all than it did with the much ballyhooed Super Bowl performance of Beyonce and company.  This tawdry, exaggerated, hip-twisting gyration proudly hit the air noisily as the Super Bowl centerpiece and enjoyed notoriety before, during and after and was all the rage for a while with the on-camera, ex-jock pundits who toiled to find any unused hyperbole with which to extol that spectacle over and over as something America could be proud of.  God help our image around the world, it was not.  It was ridiculous.  As an American, I found the whole thing an embarrassing reflection of emptiness and American bad taste in the rush to charge big bucks for a Super Bowl flash in the pan.  You can say whatever extenuating credits about Beyonce you want: talent, beauty, up from a tough life, etc., etc….  It doesn’t whitewash this thing for me.

Even at my age, I am not un-inured to the charms of women.  If they have beauty, all the better.  Personally, however, I find charm, poise, self-confidence and mystery to be far more captivating and far more beguiling certainly than the in-your-face gyrations of Beyonce’s gyratees, a.k.a. Destiny’s Child.  I remember a time when Ginger Rogers or Rita Hayworth teamed up with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly and created grace and poetry in motion.  A friend of mine is a Hawaiian interpretive dancer whose extraordinary graceful and exotic style is hypnotic and captivating.  She once interpreted the lyrics to a piece of music for us in her home that Sundi chose, ad hoc and a cappella.  It was astonishingly lovely and memorable. 

A lot of high-end Super Bowl television commercials are aimed at as much noise and slam-dunk junk it is possible to cram into the unforgiving minute at the highest cost per-second charges thus far known to man.  Not since that kid noticed the emperor had no clothes have so many people looked up and, no matter what their senses told them, went along with the crowd anyway.  When a thing has the imprimatur of the Super Bowl and all its bells and whistles at whatever cost and unremitting decibels, and all the ooing and awwing of the talking heads, it’s hard for an ordinary guy to have the confidence to look at it and say that it’s simply ridiculous.

If you think back, the native cultural contributions of America were varied and stimulating: Blues and jazz, gospel and spiritual, country and western, brought new species to the cultural scene.  The Negro spiritual is forever embedded in American life.  Composers like Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Joplin and Kern in the last century gave music a resurgence of vitality in American culture for the common man.  Composers of the great musicals like Hammerstein, Rogers and Hart.  Folk singers like Dylan, Baez and Seeger became a part of our cultural history.

There is far more to this story.  More time will have to pass to judge whether or not these perceptions have merit.  As far as I’m concerned, Beyonce and the ubiquitous pop tarts of venues like American Idol, the rap artists and their many imitators are headed for the dust bin and not a moment too soon.  There is such a plethora of schlock media pelting our young audience today, the really good music is being eclipsed and paved over, and never reaches our young people who are missing out by going along with the media whereas true artistry charts its own course.

Edward R. Murrow, one of the greatest television personalities of all time, once had this to say about the television medium:
“… our history will be what we make it.  If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

“We are to a large extent an imitative society.  If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure--exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

“To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention.  But even if they are right, what have they got to lose?  Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire.  But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.  Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.  There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.”

Ed died in 1965.

Monday, December 17, 2012



I got a message from a guy today, who said he didn’t want it to seem like he was “whiping a dead horse.”  Eeeww!  I certainly hope not, all those maggots and everything.  And then I thought, “I’ll bet that dumbbell mean to use two p’s, which is almost as disgusting to think about.

One time many years ago, I took my son to visit the set of The Electric Company.  One of the segments that day had actor, Skip Hinnet, dressed up as Supperman and made a big thing out of how much a single letter can change things.  Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything.

There is a place on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, that calls itself the WAFFLE HOUSE and such is painted in a broad band on the front of the building.  Yet, in the window, there is a bright red neon sign announcing “WAFLES.”  I have often been intrigued by the posibilities here:

Did they simply not notice?
Were they offered the sign-maker’s mistake at a mark-down?
Were they never financially able to afford a replacement?
Was this a full talking point for patrons who wanted it unchanged?
Did the novelty of the thing actually attract business?
Was there no apparent reason it was never changed because the owner was dilatory?
Some reason no one has thought of. 

And how about the sign on a post in West Virginia that announced, “APILS?”  I’m sure they were just as sweet as the ones that were spelled right.  Or maybe people stopped to see what the character was like who didn’t know how to spell “apples,” take few pictures…buy some apils –Hmm.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012


THE END OF AN ERA (and none too soon)

Following on to my story about Daniel del Solar, this is a different slant on our Soviet neighbors.  The time is that period before the collapse of the USSR, but it was in the air, and the world was beginning to breathe easier.  The Soviet Embassy was only a few feet from my office at 1111 Sixteenth Street but had always been forbidden territory.  I quit looking at it for so long, it sort of disappeared from my radar to the point that I had no sense of its being there at all anymore.

Then came Gorby and glasnost and perestroika – openness and dynamism became the watchwords of the day and the gloomy Soviet monolith was dragged blinking into the sunlight.  The wall came down.  Change and promise were in the air.  The old Soviet intransigents made a last stand to maintain the status quo and failed.  The shackles were falling away and relief and fresh air invigorated everyone.  You had to experience that era to know how incredible it seemed.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, it must have been somewhere around the leading edge, because I do remember things were still tenuous, a lawyer friend of Sundi’s came to me with a proposition.  Bruce was, among other things, an entrepreneur.  He had just returned from the Soviet Union and reported that the entrepreneurial fever was sweeping the country, and he thought we should see how we might profit by it.  He had floated the idea with a few Soviet officials about producing a series of educational programs about how to be an entrepreneur.   

Bruce asked me to bring my experience with educational television to the mix of talents that would be needed to pull it off.  I told him I had no direct experience as such but knew some who did.  I could handle certain aspects of project management and would at least help him put together a simple business plan.  Bruce had arranged for us to meet at the Soviet Embassy with a young Soviet official in an appropriate role. 

Going there was unreal.  I had eschewed the place for so long now suddenly I was inside.  We were ushered into a room by our host, a quite pleasant and handsome young man named Sergei.  The room was spacious and furnished ornately with gilded furniture, tapestries and paintings.

I explained what I proposed to do, e.g., to set up a steering committee, enlist professionals in the fields of instructional television design and production, higher education, vocational education plus a business plan and overall direction from the U.S. end.  I further stated that I thought we should get the imprimatur of our state department, and that Sergei should seek to identify corresponding Soviet members in education and government.  Sergei spoke.

“Well, George, when you say someone from a university, someone from a trade school, and a businessman, et cetera, I agree with you that these are all very appropriate, but when you say someone from our government, I must disagree.”  Then he said this with fervor.  “These days we tell those guys to GO TO HELL! 

My God, I thought!  Am I really hearing this in the Soviet Embassy! 

Out on the street, I said to Bruce, “The times, they are a-changin’!”  And they were, and they did.



There was a fellow named Daniel del Solar who worked at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and whose job it was was to administer a program of modest support grants aimed at placing women and minorities in professional or managerial positions at public TV and radio stations.   I regret to have learned recently that Daniel died earlier this year. 

Daniel was cheerful, diligent and responsible.  He was of Chilean and Venezuelan decent.  His large mustache gave him a rather bandito look.  He had one major flaw which was an uncanny talent for showing up desperate to talk at the worst possible times.  His feelings were easily hurt, so I’d say, “Come in and sit down, Daniel.  How ya doin’?”when in my heart I wished he would disappear. 

It was a day like that when he came to me claiming the Russians were radiating his office and that he was having hot flashes and losing his hearing as a result.  “Why are you coming to me with this, Daniel?”  I asked.  “Because you are the only person around here who pays any attention to what I say,” he said. 

Without going any deeper into the details, I asked PBS to send over a technician to measure the level of radiation in Daniel’s second floor office.  We went there to find that Daniel had covered every possible square inch of his office with aluminum foil to shield the alleged radiation.  The technician passed a wand around the large window and fiddled with his instrument.  The Soviet embassy was next door then, and I’m sure they monitored our every move.  “So what have you found?”  I asked.   He gave some data.  “I don’t know what that means,” I said.  His answer was clear.  “It means I sure wouldn’t want to sit here.” 

Then we repaired to the fifth floor and the measurements were taken at the window directly above Daniel/s.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nothing registered.  The PBS guy said, “Well, it’s obvious they saw us and turned whatever it was off.”  The woman who occupied that office came in and asked what we were doing in her office. I explained.  “Well I thought I wasn’t old enough to be having hot flashes but have been lately.  With that, I went right to President Henry Loomis’s office with the story.  Henry reached for his phone and said, “I’ll call Stan Turner (Stansfield Turner was head of CIA at the time).  “Hold off on that for now, Henry,” I cautioned.  “Let’s lay low until we know more about what’s going on.  This was pre-Gorbachev and our relations with the Soviets weren’t all that great.  I tried dropping a friendly word to those I would pass on the street or in the alley now and then and never got any response whatever.

I wrote the thing up for the record, marked it confidential and copied Henry and Daniel and kept the story under wraps.

Next day, I got a call from Lisa Myers requesting an interview about CPB’s training grants  program (Lisa was with the Chicago Sun-Times then and went on to NBC in 1981.  She is now NBC’s chief investigative reporter).  We made an appointment for that afternoon, and she came to my office.  We discussed the grants program for a few minutes, and then she said, “Tell me about the radiation from the Russian Embassy.”  She caught me completely of guard.  I figured evasiveness would whet her appetite, so I simply stuck to the facts and low keyed it and hoped it would go away.

At home that evening, I was watching Roger Mudd on CBSNews and noticed the camera was panning our offices and the Soviet Embassy.  Roger intoned, “And in Washington today at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, employee Daniel del Solar alleged his hearing had been impaired due to radiation coming from the Soviet Embassy.”  This was the day after Daniel came to my office.

You sure didn’t waste any time, Lisa!

NB/ There was this creep on the human resources staff that no one could stand.  We found out later that it was his practice to rifle the mailroom pigeon holes every evening after hours to look for things with which to ingratiate himself to members of the Press.  No one could stand him to begin with.  It wasn’t long before he was canned but was successful in finding another job within the Washington structure.  Where you say?  Sorry; I forgot to mention – The White House.

And we wonder where all the leaks come from.

Friday, December 7, 2012



Years ago, the CPB Board had agreed to hold one of its regular meetings in Lincoln at the invitation of the Nebraska Network’s Director, Jack McBride.  We all assembled for dinner at the Nebraska Club on the penthouse of some edifice there.  Jack was the keynote speaker.  His subject was “I am Concerned.”  His opening line was, “I have sixteen things that concern me about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”  As he spoke from the podium, Cal Watson kept score on the tablecloth with little tick marks in sets of five. 

Our table at the time included Cal and me and others, including a rather prominent television producer, erstwhile of WBGH/Boston whose career was on the wane.  This gentleman was somewhat heavily into his cups that evening which provided no constraint to his rhetoric and exacerbated his lack of attention to the issues being hurled down from the podium; thus his focus wandered.

One of the items on the fine menu of the evening was Baked Alaska which was brought in and placed before this man for his consideration.  As his consciousness faded, he sunk lower and lower towards the limits of his plate until his nose lightly touched the Baked Alaska, whereupon being urged awake and suddenly returning to an upright position, came up with a small white peak of Alaska for all to see (except him) on the end of his nose that everyone at the table found uncontrollably amusing.  But he, misinterpreting the true circumstances and assuming the jocularity to be due to his own irresistible charm, continued to wax eloquent which only served to make worse what already had gone hilariously awry. 

Mercifully, before long his head sunk to his chest and stayed there where we left him and his little white peak in quiet repose while Jack continued to iterate his concerns without further interference and distraction.