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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


I’m sure the ancients must have wrestled with this, but I’m just a plain and simple guy, and I wonder how can there possibly be a world without a “me” in it.  What is consciousness anyway?  And who can prove it one way or the other?  Not a single person among the billions who have died has come back to bring us a viable answer about what happens after death.  Logically, you have to feel you’re getting close to an answer of nothing.  No one really knows, and anything more must be relegated to faith. 

Was my having existed at all dependent on the chance of my being born or born where I was when I was or even being born at all?  What if the factors of my birth – if my father and mother hadn’t come together when they did?  What if my parents’ seeds had come together in the next instance from when they did?  Who would I be?  What if I really had never been born at all?  Does this mean there would have been no consciousness and therefore no world, no existence, no me? 

When the light goes out for me, when I die, it will be the end of consciousness, at least for this me.  Does that mean that the world will end right there?  I guess my world will, will it not?  Is there nothing more?  What happens to all the skills that have taken a lifetime to acquire?  What about all the knowledge and learning unique to my brain?  Does it all, in the moment of death, dissipate and disappear into a vast nothingness as if it were never there in the first place?  You mean to tell me all those songs I learned will be lost?  That it won’t matter that I can tie perfect trout flies?  Cook a gourmet dinner?  Make love?  Play the guitar?  Learning history, geography, math, proper English, typing, carpentry, planting, telling stories?  How about Shakespeare?  Will all my memorizations of Shakespeare be gone?  Poof!  Puccini?  Bach?  Albinoni? Vivaldi? Scarlatti?  All the great artists and architects?  Little children yet to grow left behind but without me?  Who will lead us?  Who will inspire us?  Who will make us better than we are?  Does it all stop?  Who would know?  Who is to say? 

All those other people out there are walking around with their consciousnesses, thousands of consciousnesses, billions of consciousnesses but none are mine, will be mine.  I will be gone.  My world will be dark, empty, nothing.  As far as I am concerned, there will be no more consciousness.  Am I right?  Who is to say? 

Is it possible that I will come back into the world somewhere as someone or something else?  Will I -- this “me” I will then carry around with me -- be conscious of former “me’s,” if any?  If so, why hasn’t this been true in this life?  Why not in anybody’s life?  If not, will all consciousness end after this “me” dies?

In 1978, a very learned, imaginative friend took me on an age regression back to colonial times.  I saw things I never knew existed, little things, like a tall basket of apples wider at the bottom.  I instantly knew why.  I recognized the clothes I wore.  It was an exceptional return to a place I had never been.  Or had I?  All the memories of it are still as sharp as the most vivid dream I could ever imagine.  Was it nothing?  Was it just a result of overactive brain cells and synapses running around with an abandon brought on by the skill of my teacher.  Was it nothing more?  Who knows?  Who is to say?

You see, I find it hard to believe in pearly gates, St. Peter checking names, all those who went before me somewhere waiting for me, or God on a throne keeping tabs on everybody.  There was a lot of stuff like that concocted in simpler times when everyone had a need to know, to believe in something to explain what he couldn’t understand in the ordinary context of his life.  This is why Jesus spoke in parables.  But is it all a fairytale?  Is there nothing more?  I find it just as hard to believe that there isn’t something else.  Maybe we are all in for a wonderful surprise.

Who knows?  Who is to say?



It would not stretch things too much to say that the great thinker Marshall McLuhan saw things at least fifty years ahead of anyone else.  I never read McLuhan very much.  He is required reading for all communications majors which doesn’t include me, but I’ve been around a lot who were.  McLuhan added catch-phrases like “global village” and “the medium is the message” to the language.  He was a thinker, and like the Red Queen, a word meant exactly what he wanted it to mean – to him.  Nevertheless, I do know that he saw far beyond the rest of us.  

Global Village indeed.  Can anyone doubt that that term is descriptive of where this world is headed?  McLuhan coined it in 1961.  We can never know exactly what McLuhan saw, whether it was crisp and clear or more nebulous, but he was definitely a seer.  Even I can see a day will come when every shepherd and prospector will be able to communicate with anyone else on the planet.  We are almost there now.  We can only begin to imagine what kind of world lies ahead. 

I had a chance to have dinner with Marshall McLuhan at his home in Toronto once and blew it by missing the airplane, the only plane I ever missed.  It’s one of the regrets of my life which I have countered by thinking about the inadequacy I would have felt at the same table with him stuttering and sputtering and nodding, trying to fake that I knew what he was talking about. 

His daughter, Teri, assured me there was nothing to worry about and that he was a man of simplicity and uncluttered innocence and that we would find each other refreshing.  While I find that hard to believe, I regret I’ll never know.  He died on New Year’s Eve a few years later.

Teri is a different matter.  I met her as a consequence of a book I was given in 1972 entitled Touch the Earth.  It may be my favorite book.  In May of 1973, I was sitting across the desk of a TV station executive who was rambling on about this marvelous young woman who was making a film and would CPB be able to help fund her efforts?  I spied Touch the Earth among other books on his desk and commented about it.  He said if I had been paying attention, I would have realized that the author, T.C. McLuhan, was who he had been talking about.  That’s the first time I knew T.C. McLuhan was female.  With that, his phone rang.  He answered and said, “Hold on, Teri, I have your biggest fan right in front of me.”  He handed me the phone, and we fell in like in that moment.  I was completely captivated by this talented and beautiful young woman with a beautiful heart.

I was able to get a little money for Teri to cap off her film project, a beautiful film she was making to run on PBS about the work of photographer, Edward S. Curtis, entitled Shadow Catcher recreating Curtis’s epic journey and masterful photography of Native Americans.  Teri and I were fond friends for a while.  We had her home to dinner and Hannah and I were invited to her film party when in July of 1975 Shadow Catcher ran on PBS. 

I had so many life-changing events after that, and Teri and I drifted incommunicado for a long, long time, perhaps thirty years.  She is a superb writer and has written a number of books, all of which can be found on Amazon. 

Her filmmaking has taken her to a part of the world that many eschew as too dangerous.  Her film was twenty-one years in the making, is entitled THE FRONTIER GANDHI: BADSHAH KHAN, A TORCH FOR PEACE (a feature length documentary – 92 minutes) launches into orbit the epic story of a remarkable Muslim peacemaker born into Pashtun warrior society of the strategic North-West Frontier Province of the Indian subcontinent — now Pakistan’s frontier region Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa.  Pronounced “a miracle” by Mahatma Gandhi, Badshah Khan (1890-1988) raised a 100,000 strong nonviolent army of men, women, and young people — the Khudai Khidmatgars, or servants of God — drawn from the multi-ethnic traditions of Afghanistan and India. Muslims, as well as Hindus, Christians, Parsees, Sikhs, and Buddhists came together in the cause of peace, social justice, religious tolerance, and human dignity for all.

Through the miracle of email, I found Teri, and we have reconnected.  A wonderful old friendship has been rediscovered and reborn with a freshness as if all the intervening years had disappeared.  Her father saw it coming half a century ago.



Snow came down all night,
And from my morning window,
All the world had changed.

Whether by chance or by Providence, the Earth’s axis tilts 23.5 degrees.  It is this phenomenon that gives us our seasons.  When the Earth’s axis points directly toward the sun, that hemisphere experiences the summer solstice, the center point of summer.  Conversely, when the axis points away from the sun, that hemisphere experiences the winter solstice, the point at which the direct rays of the sun reach their lowest ebb.  The perigees of the interim orbital segments are known as the vernal equinox, or “spring,” and the autumnal equinox, or “fall” (the word “equinox” means equal day and night).

Ecclesiastes tells us, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Winter is cold, dark and ugly and will be here again before you know it.  A lot of people dread the advent as harsh and unforgiving.  You seldom hear anyone praising winter; yet winter may be our most important season.  I admit that along about March, I’m sick to death of winter.  One year we had a heavy, wet snow the first week of March.  Next day it froze solid.  All the ruts and footprints made it hard to walk and stayed around the whole month.

Winter does have certain magic qualities in the beginning.  Who is unmoved by the sight of falling snow at Christmas time, particularly if there are little ones in the family for whom this is a newfound experience? 

There are other things to enjoy about winter – particularly for the young.  Children make snowmen and snow angels, go sledding, have snowball fights until hunger, cold or exhaustion beckon them home.  Old people have long before surrendered winter to others still young enough to ski and ice skate then repair to hot buttered rums before an open fireplace where they will often find old people as well enjoying the fire and rum sufficient to ease the passing of youth.

Winter sometimes steals upon us quietly, and you notice one day the world has changed.  All the leaves are down and an overriding barren brownness covers the land.  A sharp crispness in the air foretells that the front edge of winter has arrived and has cast everything in its own peculiar light and character.  There are other times when winter comes roaring in hell-bent on angry clouds of steel wool racing across the sky, bearing frigid temperatures and penetrating winds direct from the North Pole.  Snow and ice paralyze all movement and make clear that winter means to have its way.

Winter is most importantly a time of rest, a time when the farmer stores the harvest and retires from the field, when plants of every kind close down and rest until spring.  A tiny seal closes the wound where each leaf falls away.  Trees send sap deep into to the earth.  In late winter, the Great Horned Owl, one of the first harbingers of spring, announces the time to nest.  Tiny buds appear, the sarvisberry blooms and stream ice gives way to a rush of translucent blue-green water. 

Winter bestows a gift essential to the health and growth of all living things: a time of repose, a time of restoration, a time to rest and await the renewal of the life-giving sun. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012



The budget officer at CPB was a very able fellow named Joe Widoff.  I respected and admired the quality of his work and his ability to stick to his guns under pressure.

Customarily, when I routed a memo or piece of mail, it was my practice to identify the intended recipient by using his or her three initials.  Thus Admiral (William D.) Houser was “WDH.”  Cal Watson was “CAW,” etc.  One day, I forwarded a piece of mail to Joe Widoff and didn’t know his middle initial and simply wrote “JW.”  Later, I asked Joe what was his middle name and why I was asking.  He replied, “Edward.”  We stared at each other a few seconds while that sunk in. Then he said, “Can you imagine parents doing that to their child?”

I responded, “I take it you never buy monogrammed shirts.”


In the early days of PBS, the director of technical operations was a very pleasant Jewish fellow named Arnold Labaton who had a smile like sunshine.  His manner in dealing with people was kind and patient.  The girls all said he was “precious.”  Everyone loved Arnie.

At a PBS convention reception, a group of us were standing in a circle, drinks in hand and shouting to be heard above the din.  The group included Arnie, me and three or four others.  I began to extol Arnie for his universal appeal.  I said, “Everyone agrees that Arnie Labaton is an absolute jewel.”  The festive manner of the group fell off and everyone who had been talking went silent and drifted off. 

A few minutes later, it dawned on me that my last syllable had been swallowed in the noise, and I had shouted that Arnie Labaton was an absolute Jew.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012



The day will come when these old hands
Won't sip the morning coffee
Made just right

My prized old cup before me stands
And waits for other hands, but
That's all right.

They've had good times down here on earth,
For many, many years, but
What's it worth?

In times of grief or times of mirth,
They understand all pass to
Death from birth.

These old spotted hands have caressed
And held the hands of untold
Ladies fair.

And each and every one was blessed
To culminate a lovely
Sweet affair.

Soon these old weathered hands must rest
And things within me whisper
Is it time?

And most of all I feel twice blessed,
For knowing you has been and
Is sublime.

Saturday, November 24, 2012



I know that some of you knew I was once close friends with Richard Bach.  Nothing about that changed except for time, distance and circumstances.  We passed an occasional email message to each other.  There were times of fun and high adventure, but that was long ago.

You may also have heard that he crashed his plane while landing at one of the locations in Puget Sound he loved so well.  I flew with him there almost thirty years ago.  I thought it was so ironic.  At last count, Richard had flown about 150 different aircraft of all kinds and was an extraordinarily careful flyer.  I heard he hit some wires while landing. 

I had not been able to find out anything about his current condition.  Then, a day or so ago, his former wife, Leslie, called after a long absence, and I asked her.  What she told me was not good.  Richard is clearly brain-damaged, and at 76, in my opinion is not likely to recover very much.  Leslie was asked by his present wife if she would come see if she could help him.  Apparently, he often screams in pain.  Leslie was able to communicate with him which seemed to please him.  The accident happened almost three months ago.
The irony is that it was Richard Bach who urged me to write.  We mused a few times that, by God, I had bought and read all his books, and he was going to have to buy and read mine. 

Another example in my life of waiting too long.                                                                                     

Thursday, November 22, 2012



In 1942, Thanksgiving Day started out as a day of great promise and turned into a horror I will never forget.  I had just turned ten.  Mom had put the two kitchen tables together to hold her huge and comprehensive feast.  Roberta, my stepsister had invited her friend, Jodie, to join us, and we were all about to say grace and tackle the meal of the year.  The tables were full of hard-to-get stuff because of rationing, and we all sat there beaming at what Mom had put together.  She had the day off and had been up working on that feast since before dawn.

People were thankful for whatever they were able to scrape together for Thanksgiving in the war years.  Everything was rationed and impossible to get.  Somehow, for this special day, and through her own special devices, Mom had been able to put it all together, and I was starving to pounce on it.  After all these  years, I can still remember what was on the table: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, buttered lima beans, Mom's wonderful cloverleaf rolls and two rhubarb and strawberry pies marking time over on the cupboard. 

In all my years, I have never known anyone who could cook like Mom or somehow make something wonderful out of nothing.  We raised what we could, but the turkey was a special acquisition.  We were all smiles and waited impatiently for my stepfather to come to the table and take his seat. 

When he did, I could tell something about him was amiss and apart and anything but festive.  I never liked my stepfather because of the cruel side of his character.  On the one hand, he was strong, resourceful and capable of hard work.  He had a sufficient number of useful attributes but a dark one negated all the rest.  He turned into Mr. Hyde when he was drinking.  He only drank beer (whiskey was like poison to him), but once he got started, he drank whatever good was in him into oblivion.  His name was Bill, and Bill #1 was tolerable, but Bill #2 was a monster.

He had started drinking early that day and brought Bill #2 to the table.  I never figured out what it was that set him off, but something did.  He stared glumly at what was before him.  We paused in our chatter and all bowed our heads except him.  He stood suddenly, grabbed each table by its edge and overturned both dumping all that beautiful feast crashing to the floor in a heap of broken dishes.  I beseeched God to strike him dead on the spot. 

Our young guest ran screaming out the door with my stepsister following.  I never saw her again.  It was a final blow for my stepsister, who hated her father, and she went to live with her grandparents.

In 1946, my grandmother loaned Mom $500 to pay off that asshole for his share of the common property and Mom divorced him.  I remember the remarkable sight of those twenty-five, twenty-dollar bills.  Mom paid back every penny.  I would enter active duty with the Marines four years later, but, until then, the peace and quiet and the absence of fear in the house was wonderful.

Many years later, I saw him one last time.  I was trout fishing Lake Koon in nearby Pennsylvania.  As walked along the bank, I saw ahead of me a little old gray-haired man sitting on the bank fishing.  He looked bent and feeble, but the profile was unmistakable.



"It's George."

"Oh.yeah"  He looked befuddled while he fumbled among old memories.

Even in those couple words, I could detect his unmistakable Johnstown accent.  I was tempted to say, "How would you like it if I threw your worthless ass in the lake for the way you mistreated all of us?"  I knew I wouldn't, but it was a comforting thought.  But I turned to old Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes,

"I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands.but time and chance happen to them all."

So I passed him on by and let the old bad memories be free to take a quiet place way in the back.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


My friend, Sam Cohen, was a Jew, and you will see later why I mention it.  Sam was a nuclear physicist who was famous in nuclear circles as the Father of the Neutron Bomb.  I wrote this piece awhile back and have had to change all the “is” words to “was” words, because I learned a few weeks ago that Sam died a few months ago just short of age 90 by a little bit.

It about broke my heart, because Sam and I called each other three or four times a year, and it was his turn, and I hadn’t heard from him, which foreboded bad tidings.  So I called him at his home in Pacific Palisades.  I got a no-longer-working message and thought, uh-oh.  I Googled him and there found his obituary.  Look for it, if you like.  He was quite a guy.  I was always proud of the fact that he called me his good buddy.  Sam was a tough pisser to deal with, but he and I never had a cross word.

I have a million stories about Sam, like the one he told me and Sundi at dinner one evening about the time Curtis Le May told him he wasn’t satisfied with a bomb that would take out Minsk or Pinsk or even Moscow.  He said, “You know what I want from you nuclear guys!”  He clamped down on his cigar and growled, “I want you to make me a bomb that will take out the whole goddamn Soviet Union!”  I asked, “Was he serious?”  Sam said, “You’re damn right he was serious.”  That danger was a real one back then and someone over there was having the very same conversation.  I said that this made all those guys who were digging bomb shelters back then not look so silly after all.  Sam said, “They weren’t.”  Sam was interesting to be around.

But one of my favorite stories about Sam is a short one.  In the 1940s, when Sam was a young man working on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, he hitched a ride with an old farmer in a pickup truck.  Sam played tennis a lot and tended to tan pretty quickly, and the desert sun had him pretty dark.

They had ridden along for a spell, when the old farmer asked, “What tribe are you with, Sonny?” 

I said he should have told him the Levites.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


WHERE ARE WE HEADED?                                                                                            

The longer I live the more I realize how tragic and futile it is that we fight so much among ourselves.  Nothing is ever made better this way; only a productive argument leads anywhere, but that’s rare and another subject and not what this paper is about.   

It is said that the population of Earth in Jesus’s day, was about 16 million people.  The population of the Earth today is close to 7 billion – more than 400 times as many people gobbling up the world around them and fighting over all manner of differences most of which are small in substance and of little consequence (except as we believe them to be otherwise), real and imagined, trivial yet essential to sustain the basic premise of certain beliefs.  Whether Jesus was the Son of God or not matters very little to the efficacy of the Earth as a place to live; but it means everything to someone who fashions himself a Christian.  It is of no real consequence to the Earth if one man believes in Jesus and another does not.  The question is, of course, completely irrelevant to all non-human species that inhabit the Earth.  The trouble for humans lies in the stress field between opposing poles of thought.  Remove the human being from the paradigm and most differences no longer seem real or never existed in the first place except as a consequence of imagination.  Most of the issues that perplex us have been classified as real or imagined only by human thought.  Consequently the distinction is often irrelevant. 

If there really were other intelligent beings sharing the Universe with us, what a marvelous and thrilling sight our beautiful planet would provide them once it came into view.  Amidst all the nebulous, gaseous, hostile and fiery wonders passing by the portals of their spaceship, this blue, radiant, pristine sapphire of the Universe would shine forth in beauty and in iridescent wondrousness.  And then, what if by some magic beyond what we terrestrials understand, our visitors were to discern that of the several million differentiated species crawling, creeping flying, swimming and abounding thereon -- and merely scratching the outer skin of this miraculous globe -- that just one species of all the millions stands out in supreme intellect, imagination and aspiration – except that this dominant species – and only this one  -- subdivides itself into absurd differentiations by means of the most subtle variations in color, hue, stature, displacement and other differences largely imagined or indiscernible (whereby it calls one “white” and another “black” when side by side, no distinguishable difference can be seen between the two and neither bear any relation to the customary meaning associated with either word), and most puzzling of all, intrusions into the sanctity of that superior intellect whereby coercion will identify and disclose a thought found eccentric enough and deviant from the norm to be declared heresy and thus justify destruction of the one holding it (an Afghan woman who renounces the burqa, for example).  Thus superior intellect has the propensity within itself to corrupt and destroy that by which it can be at once marvelous and at the same time lethal.  Whereas religious piety should stand at the core of man’s morality, more deaths throughout history can be attributed to religious extremism than for any other reason.

The concept of God varies widely among those of you who will read this, from a long and thorough intellectual conclusion of atheism by one friend to fundamental and absolute acceptance of the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures contained in the Christian Bible by another.  Both are beloved friends.  I am somewhere in between.

Contradictions, permutations and aberrations about God are so pervasive throughout the world, ad nauseum, that there is little recourse for the individual except to seek enlightenment within his or her own heart.  Life requires a commitment to yourself.  Don’t blame God for everything, and don’t ask God for everything except the God that dwells within.

I believe survival begat necessity; necessity begat trial; trial begat discovery; discovery begat habit; habit begat practice; practice begat custom; custom begat tradition begat religion; religion begat God.  But the answer does not end there.  We are some sort of creature on an evolutionary path just past the point of discovering the causes of thunder and lightning and headed hell-bent to the ends of the Universe, if indeed it has an end.  I instinctively believe that it does not and that it will perpetually unfold to much greater things than we can imagine now.

God is a search for understanding what we don’t understand, a search for comfort in a world of pain, a search for love in a world of rejection, a search for succor in a world of danger, a search for reassurance in a world of doubt, a search for light in a world of darkness, a plea for mercy in an unforgiving world.  The search for God expresses also a different kind of need, one that cries out in gratitude for the abundant, superfluous and indescribable beauty of the world that rises above crassness, folly, exploitation and evil.  God is the need to believe that someone or something far greater than anything we know or can understand is master of the universe.

And insofar as a belief in God causes us to heed our better selves and do better things, perhaps we will have found all the God we need.

Thursday, November 15, 2012



I resigned from CPB effective June 30, 1980.  It had got so I couldn’t stand the place and the Board any longer, and my last couple weeks were an agony of impatience wanting to get out of there.

It was next to my last week, and Cal Watson called me into his office.  “George, they’re having a CEN (Central Educational Network of 35 or 40 TV stations) meeting in Chicago on Friday, and I’d like you to stand in for me.”

“Oh, Jesus no, Cal, I want to get out of here.  It would be just my luck the damn airplane would go down.  No.”

“Now come on, George, CPB should have a presence there, and I’m just not able to make it.”

“Cal, I just don’t give a shit about CPB’s presence at this point.  I can’t think of any reason my presence would enhance anything they might be doing out there.”

Cal had been my friend for some years, and when the television department fell in his lap, he asked me to be his assistant.  We worked together wonderfully well for several years.  Then, due to the exigencies of the times, eventually, I became Cal’s boss.  Nothing changed in our relationship, and our respect for each other was the same no matter who was in charge.  I loved the guy, and he kept after me to go to Chicago, so, begrudgingly, I agreed to go.

I had planned to spend the weekend at my mountain cabin in West Virginia, and the closer it got to Friday, the more enticing that became.  It was never characteristic of me to welch on a deal, but, on my way home on Thursday, I gave into temptation and said to hell with CEN and Chicago and just drove the hundred miles straight to the mountains.  I had a wonderful relaxing weekend, albeit with a few pangs of guilt for not letting Cal know what I had done.

On Monday morning my office phone rang.  It was Cal.

“George, you sonofabitch!  You sonofabitch!”


“You sonofabitch!  You didn’t show up in Chicago!  That meeting was intended to give you the CEN Man of the Year award.  They had arranged a banquet and had a plaque made for you, and you crapped out on them.  You sonofabitch!”

Jack McBride was CEN chairman that year and sent me the plaque in the mail.  I could never bear to look at it. 

The only time I was ever a man of the year of anything in my life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I’ve heard people speculate about what it must have been like living in New York for days without power.  Well, now I know. 

My dear friend, author and filmmaker, Teri McLuhan, lives in a ten-apartment brownstone on East 19th Street in lower Manhattan which was without power for days.  I was quite worried about her and finally got an email from her.  This is her experience in her own words.

Dearest George,

So many thanks for your emails but especially for your loving concern. I have just returned from Vancouver where my movie was launched --- the West Coast premiere!!!
Yes, I was here in New York for the worst of it. 5 days and nights without ANY power (no cell, no internet, no heat, no hot water etc.etc.). Very cold. And pitch dark; really dark. I was the only person left in my bldg --- a small brownstone with 10 apt. units. Everyone got out as things got worse and worse. I'm on the very top --- 97 steps up no elevator!
I managed to get a flight out late Friday night, the 2nd, to make it in time for the Saturday Nov. 3rd screening event. A Budweiser truck got me to the airport (a fab story)! Buses and taxis were in very short supply --- especially in lower Manhattan where I live. This huge Bud truck dropped from the sky. In other words, it had no business being there!!!!!! Everything was shut tight.
So I will say that I am blessed; truly blessed. And --- I will be better prepared for the next round.
More soon.
Sending love,



There is courage, and then there is courage.

There is the instinctive courage that comes in a split second, the-no-time-to-think courage that throws itself on a live grenade to save lives.  For that they give you the Medal of Honor in exchange for your life.

There is the courage that races through enemy fire to bring back a wounded comrade.  Maybe there will be a Purple Heart in it for you, maybe a Silver Star, or if you’re lucky, your life.

There is the kind of courage that young B-17 pilots, kids mostly, had to have to go up day after day to bomb Nazi factories, flying through “flak so thick, you could walk on it,” with Me 109s and FW 190s coming out of the sun, like a swarm of deadly wasps, after their ass, after their life.

There is the courage of the young men flying those 109s and 190s whose job it was to destroy as many B-17s as they could, knowing that flying into a formation of eighty B-17s is also flying into eight hundred 50-caliber machine guns all seeking your airplane and your life. 

General Mackey Steinhoff said he was twenty-one when he escorted Nazi bombers in their runs over London.  Returning from those terrible raids, he would go to the back of his fighter where no one could see him and lean over the stabilizer “and puke my guts out."  But he went back up every day.

Admiral Bill Houser told me, when he commanded the USS Constellation off Viet Nam and got the radio reports that his planes were coming back, he would go up on the bridge and train his glasses on the horizon.  "From the bridge, you can see twenty miles at sea, and I would look for holes in the formations.  I would stand there with tears streaming down my face knowing from the empty spaces which of my young men I had sent up to die that day."  And he would have to send them back again and again, day after day.  There is that kind of quiet, lonesome courage.

There is the courage of a mother or father with a disabled child, for whom three meals a day must be prepared – a thousand this year and a thousand next, who, day after day, with no room for error and no time off, administers medications, cleans, dresses, lifts, transports, reads to and finds ways to brighten the life of someone unable to do the same for himself – day in and day out, year in and year out with a little sympathy to help now and then but never much more than that.  There are no medals for this kind of courage, not in this life.

Perhaps the greatest courage is that which comes softly and is held within.  It is the moral courage it takes to send men aloft or into peril.  It is the courage to take risk and responsibility for other lives.  It covers the long day’s journey helping the helpless without complaint.  It will speak the unpopular truth to anyone at any time. 

It is courage that prepares a man to stand tall in his final hour and accept himself for everything he is and everything he is not.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012



Faith is impossible to define, yet everyone knows what it is.  Faith is believing in something you can’t see, touch, hear or feel yet know is there.  What faith means to me is not quite the same as what it means to you.  What I feel will always be at least a little different from what you feel.

No one wants to be told what to believe.  It can’t be done anyway, although many will try.  Faith is an intensely private thing, the essence of which is personal and sublime.  It can carry the spirit soaring above the mundane.  It  can envelope debilitating stress in a healing calmness, bring solace and consolation in times of grief and can give sheltering succor when there is no other place to go.  It can inspire those who tremble in doubt and uncertainty to extremes of courage and dedication.

To me faith is more about what is felt than what is written, what I instinctively believe more than what is prescribed.


LAND THAT I LOVE                                                                                              

Almost from the day I could walk, I roamed the eastern woodlands and fished the mountain streams of this beloved land.  The feel and smell of treasures found therein are impressed indelibly and forever on my spirit and being. 

Here in spring is where the incredibly delicious morel rises peeking from under last fall’s matted leaves.  Here, trout are on the prowl and wait for me in tumbling, translucent blue-green April streams.  Yielding to the warmth of resurrecting sunlight, bluebells spread out in casual profusion along the riverbank.  Here is where May apples pop up in shaded glens like so many tiny palm trees with white waxen flowers and a delicious little fruit some say is poisonous, but I'm still here after eating them for many years. 

The well-named bloodroot, that bleeds as red as a cut artery, rare lady slippers (a species of orchid) trilliums, trout lilies, columbine, salvia and other secrets of streamside and deep woods await discovery in quiet seclusion.  Soon, daisies, black-eyed susans, violets, Johnny-jump-ups and tiny bluets will awaken to the sun and cover the land. 

Here, at day's end, the wood thrush sends forth its clear, sweet song from just inside the forest's edge.

In mid-fall, the first week of November holds magic of a different kind.  All the leaves are down and crunch underfoot with a fresh new pungency.  The weather, bracing for winter, is still mild.  Vacation people have closed and locked their summer homes and returned to urban indentures.  I am alone now with the permeating sweet smell of an oak fire blazing up, left in peace for another season and feeling the blessed richness of it. 

Once, as snow fell dense yet soft and light, I trudged the path to sit beneath the giant old white pine and meditate.  The air was bathed in quiet stillness, so much so, that every flake clung to whatever it fell upon.  Snow piled high and higher upon every stem and twig and upon me as well.  Except for falling snow, all movement stopped with every sound replaced by utter silence.  Afterwards, I traced the tracks of forest creatures that had passed nearby: deer, grouse, rabbit, quail, mice and little feet too tiny to identify.  Their stealth had been so profound that none disturbed the snow on so much as a single twig or blade of grass.    
And in the quietude of this pristine and gentle land that I share with other creatures of field and forest, I find restoration as if returned to a time when the land was surely as it must have been when yet without man.