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.