Archive for February, 2012

A Very Powerful “Extinct” Woodpecker

February 27, 2012


That picture is the one I  featured on my Facebook PIC QUIZ feature. It’s a porcelain sculpture of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that is one of the extraordinary pieces in the Massee Lane Garden’s collection at Fort Valley, Georgia. It was sculpted by the world-renowned sculptor Edward Marshall Boehm.

The reason that the sculpture jumped out at me was that it triggered my memory of the story that I did while working at WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1970s. There is a whole chapter in my memoir The Newsman about it.

A logging company was on the verge of cutting timber in the Santee Cooper Swamp, something young attorney Alex Sanders, a state representative and environmentalist, opposed the cutting so much that he introduced a bill in the South Carolina House to stop timbering in the swamp. Alex, who went on later to become Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Appeals and ended up before retiring as President of the College of Charleston, invited to meet him and some other environmentalists, including a representative of the Audubon Society one Sunday morning at a boat launching site at the edge of the swamp.

In a flotilla of small flat-bottomed boats, we roared off into the swamp looking  for the believed extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  Alex and his environmentalists friends said cutting the timber would certainly negatively affect survival of the big woodpecker, which had a wingspan of 30 inches. The Audubon Society man had a tape recorder with him that had an old scratchy record of the woodpecker’s call.

As I wrote in my memoir, “We came to a predetermined spot in the swamp and all outboard motors stopped and everyone was told to be real quiet. All of a sudden we heard the recording of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker crashing the silence. Then we heard all sorts of bird calls coming back to us. Out of that symphony of swamp birds, the Audubon Society declared that he heard the Ivory-billed Woodpecker answering back. I was in another boat shooting the event with a sixteen millimeter Bolex movie camera. My audio recorder was running when the bird racket broke out. Alex, who could see the bird man’s face from his boat, said that tears rolled down his cheeks as he claimed he had heard the bird. After we got back to the boat dock, I interviewed the expert and Alex. Monday night the report ran. Timbering in the Santee Swamp stopped.

“Recently, when I asked Alex about the event, he told me that he doubted that I ever did a more important story than the ‘woodpecker caper.’ He said that after I aired the story it literally went around the world.  People sent him hundreds of newspaper clippings from around the country and a number of foreign countries. Not only did timbering stop in the swamp, but the whole environmental movement took off in South Carolina,ultimately leading to the establishment of the Congaree National Park.” 

There have been other sightings of the Ivory-billed reported over the years, but none confirmed.

You can read that story and others in The Newsman: A Memoir, which can be purchased in hardcover or softcover form at

CALL Goes to Robbins AFB Museum of Aviation

February 22, 2012

As promised, here’s a post on the Saturday Columbus Academy of Lifelong Learning (CALL) trip to the Robbins U.S. Air Force Base Museum of Aviation..

I have been wanting to go to the aviation museum for years, but never got around to until CALL folks decided to go.  I’m really glad I got to see it.

When you first walk in you are really impressed with a display of one of the world’s greatest jet fighters, an F-18.

The Stearman World War II trainer hanging above the F-18, though, was the one that really resonated with me. That’s because I flew in the front cockpit of one as it did aerobatics for a TV news feature many years ago. It was a hoot. .

If I remember what Chief Anderson, the original flight instructor at Tuskegee University, who trained Red Tail pilots, told me, the bi-plane was used for early training of the Tuskegee Airman,  but the trainer shown below replaced the bi-planes.  This display honors the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

There are so many great aircraft to see, but no doubt one of the most impressive is a B-29 like the one that dropped atom bombs on Japan to end World War II.  Sitting in front of it is the casing of an A-bomb.

If you like airplanes, especially military airplanes, you’ll really enjoy a visit to the Robbins Air Force Base  Museum of Aviation.

CALL on the Road

February 21, 2012

We don’t just sit around classrooms all the time listening to lectures, having discussions, and playing bridge. We also go places and see things together. When I say we, I am talking about members of the Columbus Academy of Lifelong Learning of the Columbus State University Turner Continuing Education Center.

Check out this incredible porcelain art.

A bus load of us saw that at the Massee Lane Gardens Stevens-Taylor Porcelain Gallery at Fort Valley, Georgia.

I was able to get a lot of the folks together for this group shot.

They had just returned from touring the gardens, looking at beautiful flowers like the ones Betty Auten is checking out.

There were more men in the group than usual, it seemed. It could have been because the next stop on the tour was the Robbin’s Air Force Base Museum of Aviation.  Not that the men didn’t enjoy great porcelain art or beautiful camellias, nor that the women didn’t enjoy great aircraft, because everyone seemed to enjoy both.  I’ll show you some of those great aircraft on our next post.

The Rotary Club of Columbus was the Center of the Rotary World Today

February 15, 2012


Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee speaking to Columbus area Rotarians

What a day at Rotary today. As my old broadcast journalism friend Phil Scoggins – I brought him to Columbus from Albany when I hired him as Sports Director for WRBL back in the early 1970s – said the top story for our area today was happening as he spoke.  He gave a short newscast at the beginning of the Rotary Club of Columbus meeting.  That was something I did for many years until I passed the baton to Phil.

The President of Rotary International, Kalyan Banerjee of  Calcutta, India, chose the Columbus club for his visit to the state of Georgia.  He did that because the Rotary Club of Columbus is the largest 100% Paul Harris Fellow Club in the world.  That means that every one of the clubs more than 300 members is a Paul  Harris Fellow.  Rotarians who give $1000 to the Rotary Foundation become Paul  Harris Fellows. 

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who is now a Paul Harris Fellow beacuse she was given the award by the Rotary Club of Columbus, honors RI President Banerjee by declaring Kaylan Banerjee Day in Columbus, GA. She's not a Rotarian, but President Banerjee says she should become one.

RI President Banerjee and Mayor Tomlinson displaying proclamation honoring President Banerjee. (Photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1.)

The Rotary Foundation is a major contributor to eradicating polio  in the world. President Banerjee told of how India,  his country, went from being an endemic polio country to a country virtually free of the disease. It went from 40 cases in 2010 to 1 case last year.

Polio  is not the only beneficiary of  the Rotary Foundation. President Banerjee told the story of a 12-year-old girl in Nigeria who couldn’t see. Her sight was restored by Indian Doctors who operated an Eye Camp sponsored by the Rotary Foundation. Banerjee said nothing we do is more important than things like that.

He also told of how such efforts can bring countries together. He reported on a meeting in India of the last 4 countries that still have polio problems, with one of the those countries being Pakistan. Pakistan, an enemy of India for a long time, was represented at  that meeting as the countries came together to fight polio.

As a gift to President Banerjee, the Columbus area Rotary Clubs gave $99,200 in his name toward the refurbishing of one of the cabins  that can be used for recuperating patients at Warm Springs in connection with the polio museum. Club President Jimmy Elder said he was sure that the $800 to raise it to $100,000 would be donated before the day was over.

I have been a Rotarian since 1972.  I can’t recall a bigger Rotary day than this one. The Columbus club is one of the largest in the world, the largest one that President Banerjee has visited. And, no doubt, it  has one of the biggest hearts in the service club world, which makes me extremely honored to be a member.    


The Economic Elephant in the Room

February 13, 2012

What the Republican candidates are not talking about in their knock-down-drag- out fight for the presidential nomination is really the biggest problem facing this nation right now, the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Trying to just dismiss the subject by charging “class warfare” does not address the problem, and certainly is not going to solve it.

The class war is over. The wealthy won, just like they did in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and in 1929 right before the Great Depression. But all one has to do is look at history to know that odds are very high that the victory will be Pyrrhic. Prominent Columbus attorney Morton Harris, in his talk to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, quoted 1st Century Greek historian Plutarch, who said: “Too great a disparity between the rich and the poor is the most fatal malady of a Republic.”

Mort and I, and another attorney friend of mine, Milton Jones, were in the Columbus Jaycees together back the in the 1960s. Milt introduced Mort Sunday. In that introduction we learned that Mort was a pitcher for the Jaycees’ softball team, and Milt was his catcher. I won’t tell you what Milt said about Mort’s pitching since both are lawyers. But I digress. Back to the income and weath gap mess.

Believe me it’s not crying wolf or saying that the sky is falling, or even making a poltical statement. It’s fact. It is really a gigantic problem. As Mort said, “Poverty and the feelings of injustice can become the ‘fuel’ for ‘revolution,’ either at the ballot box or in the streets.

“The risk of too wide a gap is that our country could lose either its private economic system or its democratic political system, or both, if too many are living in poverty and believe ‘there is no way out, no matter how I try.'”

Mort says, “There is too little awareness and even less understanding of this growing ‘Elephant in the Room.'” That’s probably going to change once Republicans nominate thier presidential candidate and the actual campaigns for president start. In the meanwhile, let’s take a look at what created this problem and just how bad it is. Stay with me, and I’ll get into the specifics that Mort passed along today in future posts, and we’ll discuss possible solutions.  If you have any, let me know.

My Trip to Mars

February 7, 2012

"Mars Control"

It was me serving as communication’s officer on the space ship heading for Mars, and my old friend and venerable retired music educator Dr. George Corradino serving as my counterpart on the planet.  We were assigned that position as we participated in the Challenger Learning Center Mars Mission.  We got to press the mike button and pass along important travel instructions and end our messages with phrases like “over’ and “over and out.” 

"Mars Transport Vehicle"

 It was all part of a program for Coca-Cola Space Science Center Members. About 30 of us flew the mission just like sixth grade school kids do every year.  It was  more than instructional. It was a lot fun.  The instructors at CCSSC are really good at their jobs,  and I can see how the school kids would love participating in the space missions. I recommend it to anyone interested in the wonders of the universe.

"Mars Transport Vehicle"

 The universe is fascinating place, and though a lot has been learned about the plants, galaxies, black holes, and stars, a lot continues to be learned because there is so much we still don’t know.  I can’t think of a more enjoyable way of learning about it than at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center.   The Omnispehere, a world-class, state-of-the-art planetarium, alone is worth a trip, but I would also recommend the space travel missions, also, especially for the kids.

I’m just about to renew my membership because it’s a bargain, with special privileges and special events, and because the CCSSC deserves the community’s support. You Can learn all about it by clicking ont his link.