Fear And Loathing Under The Podium

A friend recently asked how I would describe my work at The Plutopia News Network. My first response was “Noise Maker”. Much of my time is spent in my studio, recording and editing our interviews. Most of the interviews are conducted in the PNN “Virtual Studio”, our term for online interview sessions with our guests.

In recent months, I have ventured out of the virtual studio into the “real world”. In my early years as a broadcast journalist my favorite thing was field reporting, lugging a tape recorder and microphone to press conferences, large public events and face to face interviews. Like most of my peers, I learned field reporting the old fashioned way. The news director tossed me a little reel to reel recorder, told me what he wanted and when he wanted it. My first remote was interviewing the local fire chief as his new fire engine was unloaded from a train. I conducted a fairly normal interview, despite being terrified that I was going to blow the assignment. It was a real confidence builder. I enjoyed being out of the newsroom, pretending I was “the next Dan Rather” (the patron saint of all Texas radio reporters). That delusion was shattered when I finally got a major event assignment.

One of the NASA astronauts was scheduled to address a large gathering in Odessa, Texas. The news director tossed me a little battery operated recorder and an address. How difficult can this assignment be? Upon arrival at the venue, I found the answer was…very! My recorder was one of those cheap, plastic reel to reel portables. The microphone was wired directly into the recorder with a six-foot cable. The astronaut was speaking from a podium on a raised platform. The camera crews from area TV stations had long cables for their mics. There was no way my short microphone cable was going to reach the podium! I sat behind the speaker’s platform, contemplating my impending doom. Were news directors allowed to execute reporters who failed their assignment? I looked behind the skirting that covered the platform. The platform had a small crawl space that led to an open area beneath the podium.  In a moment of uncharacteristic inspiration, I pushed the little microphone through a gap in the platform skirting and was barely able to reach the podium. A sympathetic TV cameraman strapped my little microphone to his stand. I was in business…sort of. Under the platform, my recorder was dangling in mid-air, supported only by the microphone cable. I never actually saw the astronaut, whose name escapes me. I spent the entire speech under the platform, holding the recorder and swapping tape reels when the tape ran out. After what seemed an eternity, the speech was over and I crawled from under the platform soaked in sweat, clutching my bag of tape reels. The TV camera guy helped me retrieve the microphone.  I started to apologize for my less than professional gear. He stopped me, saying “Don’t worry about it young man. You got the story. In this business, that’s all that matters. You found a great solution to a tough problem.” I entered that arena as a scared rookie reporter. I left as a more confident rookie reporter. I wasn’t the “next Dan Rather” but I was, at least, the next Scoop Sweeney.

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Forward Into The Past: The Cult Of Intelligence

John D. Marks was the unlikely featured speaker at the 1977 Libertarian Party National Convention in San Francisco.  Marks, the former staff assistant to the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in The State Department and Victor Marchetti, a former special assistant to the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency wrote the controversial 1974 book, The C.I.A. and The Cult Of Intelligence.  Marks and Marchetti’s book was responsible, in part, for the 1975 Congressional investigation of intelligence agency abuses by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations a.k.a. The Church Committee. That landmark investigation led to substantial changes in the way the U.S. government handled it’s various intelligence agencies. In this program, Marks discusses the numerous abuses of power he and Marchetti uncovered in their research.  Central to his speech is the fact the C.I.A. and F.B.I., under various administrations, had become tools of political power, often used against legally elected foreign governments and citizens of the United States.  In this program, John Marks details how his book was the first to ever be censored by the government PRIOR to publication.

Why are we going so far back in history?  Given the recent political changes in the United States and the possibility of many more changes to the way things are done in Washington D.C.,  it may be helpful to be reminded what can happen when a U.S. President decides to step outside the legal limits placed upon the intelligence agencies.  The current administration insists the F.B.I. and intelligence services should be loyal to the President and support his policies.   Philosopher and author George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Are we about to have a deja vu experience?

Click the link below and listen to the entire program.

The Cult Of Intelligence






To learn more about Marchetti and Marks’ book “The CIA and The Cult of Intelligence”, read the Wikipedia entry and follow the accompanying links.









Journalist Bill Moyers’ 1987 documentary, The Secret Government, provides a chilling account of the continuing abuses of power by the U.S. Government, it’s military and it’s intelligence agencies.




Click this link to view The Secret Government



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A Not So Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Dealey Plaza

I’m re-posting some of my past blog entries plus artifacts from my extensive archives (my wife might say, overly extensive). Included with this past blog post is a link to an excerpt from a podcast interview with author Tom Miller.  My friend Jon Lebkowsky and myself interviewed Tom on a variety of subjects, including the JFK assassination.

(Originally published November 25th, 2010)
It is strange how certain dates take on a special significance that transcends the usual “special” days…birthdays, anniversaries, holidays.  November 22nd is one that never fails to trigger a multitude of feelings in me.  I know I am not alone in this, since the media tends to bludgeon us with JFK features from all sides.  It has long been assumed that everyone remembers what they were doing on that Friday, just as many remember with great clarity, what they were doing when Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King or John Lennon died.  It is one of those shared memories that has entered the realm of mythology.

I have discussed that day and it’s impact with many of my friends.  Everyone has a story, if they are of a certain age. The rest generally roll their eyes and change the subject.  Most of us (my generation, if you will) were in school.  The shooting occurred during the lunch break.  By the time I entered my fourth period class, the radio broadcasts were playing over the school’s loudspeakers.  It was very quiet. Many were in tears, while others were non-committal in their reaction.  This was West Texas and JFK was looked upon in one of two ways.  The budding progressives were stunned and saddened. Others were either unmoved or openly celebratory.  That’s right, celebrating the murder of The President of The United States.  Sound familiar?  They were the ones who helped their parents circulate Anti-JFK propaganda.

Have you seen anything like this lately?  At a Tea Party rally or KKK demonstration perhaps?  It seems we are fated to continue repeating the same scenarios and it’s not just a right-wing, gun nut thing.

Does anyone remember Squeaky Fromme ?

How about this one?

Obviously, baseball is not the “National Pastime”.


For quite a long time, I have stayed out of the “Where were you when…” conversations.  I stopped doing that in 1977.  That was the year I spent researching a chapter for my friend Tom Miller’s book “The Assassination Please Almanac”.  Myself, Tom, investigative journalist Chip Berlet and artist Paul Mavrides spent that year compiling a book that was alternately informative, puzzling, hilarious and, in the case of my chapter, horribly depressing.  Tom asked me, in the spirit of the recent Bi-Centennial, to find at least one political assassination for each year from 1776 to 1976.  From the beginning, I doubted that I would be able to deliver on this commitment.  How many political assassinations could there have been?  Sure, we have killed off the occasional political figure or labor leader but 200 assassinations?  This can’t end well.
I remember that first day I hiked across the U.C. Berkeley campus, headed to the library to begin my research.  My old buddy Doom walked with me in lockstep.  “You’ve really outdone yourself this time”, Doom whispered.  “This is worse than the time you told that girl you could drink a fifth of tequila and still be able to make it home!”, he cackled.  I stepped into the library and headed for the Reference Room.  My old friend, the Reader’s Guide To Periodical Literature, lay before me. Published yearly from 1890, the Reader’s Guide had saved me on countless occasions during my college years.  My checklist of 200 years in hand, I began looking up assassinations, lynchings, political murders, every variation on the subject that I could imagine.  The bodies began to stack like firewood upon the library table.  It soon became obvious that my challenge would not be to find one political killing for each year.  Instead, I realized that the real challenge would be to pick just one.
Soon my writing desk, an old, classic newspaper layout table, inherited from Tom Newton’s defunct Zoo World News Service, groaned under the weight of dozens of reference books, clippings, xerox copies and the occasional tequila bottle. The tequila came into play when the weight of 200 years of political murder became unbearable.  I stopped sleeping at one point because the nightmares invariably culminated with a lynching, sniper shot, beating or some other gruesome means of eliminating the real or imagined opposition.
Some may quibble over our definition of political assassination.  We included lynchings and not just the ones in the Deep South.  Southern Man didn’t hold the copyright on lynching.  There were lynchings in New York City, the Mid-West, California, Texas…you name it, they had it.  The lynchings were not just African-Americans. They were lynching the Irish, Asians, Native Americans, labor organizers, just about anyone who threatened the status quo.  The slaughter of Native Americans helped me check off many years in the 1800’s.  Were these political assassinations?  Assassination is defined by many references as “the killing of a prominent person for political or ideological reasons.”  Were these black sharecroppers or Native American women and children “prominent persons”?  I am certain they were prominent persons to their friends and families.  The reasons were definitely political or ideological.  Our view was that assassination is not reserved for the politically powerful.  Any time someone is killed because their politics or skin color or religion were “wrong”, that is an assassination. Webster’s can kiss my ass!

Deadlines, as they tend to do, loomed.  The checklist of doom was down to a half page.  Could it be that this handful of years were the true “Golden Years” when all was right in the world, the lion indeed lay down with the lamb, peace ruled the land, Democrats and Republicans danced the Lindy Hop under the Capitol Dome? Nah!  They had just learned to hide it better!  Tom was on the phone daily, anguishing over the missing atrocities.  The research sessions at the UC library became marathons.  One night, the sweet little woman who worked the late shift in the periodicals room came by to chase me out.  It was closing time and I was frantically spooling through microfilms of The New York Times.  “Closing time, dear”.  Then, “Damn! You look like hell tonight!”  I apologized for losing track of the time and started to gather up the microfilm cassettes.   “Don’t bother with those, dear”, she said.  “The library science kids will put them away in the morning.”  She, like most of Berkeley, was a writer and researcher.  “Put away the notes and do what I do.  Go over to Larry Blake’s and have a beer.  That’s what I do when the deadline monsters are closing in on me.”  She walked me to the front desk, then looked up at me.  “Trust me.  When you finally type that last period, you’ll feel the weight of the world lift off your shoulders and fly away.”  I thanked her, stumbled out of the library and headed for Larry Blake’s.  Six or eight beers later, I began to understand the librarian’s wisdom.  I looked at the checklist of doom and it appeared much less intimidating…and quite blurry.
The deadlines continued looming and I continued searching for murder and mayhem.  Each time I found a new assassination and checked a year off the list of doom, I felt conflicted.  I wanted to jump up and celebrate but the fact that someone was horribly murdered made that seem just a little inappropriate.  Finally, the last year was checked off the list.  The final act of political murder was chronicled.  I typed that last period.  I’m not certain the weight of the world had lifted but I definitely heard the fluttering of wings.  I called Tom and read off the final crime of political murder.  We congratulated each other for having survived this ordeal.  I hung up the phone and began packing all my notes, photocopies and books into a box.  Then I popped open a beer and sat staring at that box for an hour or more.  Months of my life were jammed into that cardboard box, along with a wife and a couple of girlfriends who couldn’t handle being with an obsessed maniac.  I still have that box.  I have moved it from that humble home in East Oakland to successively nicer homes.  It never occurred to me that I should toss it out.  Sometimes I spot it, when I am out in my storage barn.  I usually open the flaps of the box, peer inside to make sure it’s still all there, sigh and close the box.  I imagine some old soldiers have a similar ritual when they go through their memorabilia from whatever war they survived.  Look in the box, remember what it was like and pray you never have to go through that again.


Learn more about the book project and be amazed when Tom Miller reveals the identity of the “Real” assassin. This is a short excerpt from a lengthy interview with Tom, conducted by myself and Jon Lebkowsky.  The full interview will be posted in the future.

Click below and be amazed(ish)!

Tom Miller Interview from 20 Minutes Into The Future


Illustration by Paul Mavrides


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Roy Orbison (with a little help from my big sister) Made Me What I Am Today!

(Originally published Jan. 2010)

For quite some time, it has been the vogue to blame one’s problems, faults, psychic disturbances or what have you upon someone or something else. I blame Roy Orbison! There! I’ve said it and I feel much better having done so. There I was, wandering aimlessly in the thrilling desert wasteland that is West Texas. I was perfectly content with my lot in life. I had a nice home, two loving parents, food on the table, few responsibilities beyond the usual “take out the trash, clean your room, walk the dog” chores. I was set, or so I thought, until Roy Orbison stepped in and ruined an otherwise fine future filled with ennui and minimum-wage employment.
Little did I know that fate was working overtime to derail my head-long rush to obscurity.  A mere 116 miles to the west, a group of high school musicians, James Morrow, Billy Pat Ellis, Charles Evans, Richard West and Roy Orbison had formed a band, The Wink Westerners.

The Westerners performed covers of country-western hits, playing at local high school dances, civic events, even the local Lion’s Club.  The band began including more rock covers in their sets, which only helped fuel their popularity. By 1955, the Westerners popularity led to an appearance on KMID-TV in Midland…a mere 40 miles west of my hometown.  The Saturday afternoon, live music program featured mostly country bands from the area.  The Wink Westerners were an immediate hit on the show and were quickly offered their own show, which aired Friday nights.

My sister Dee has to share some of the blame, along with Roy.  She introduced me to most of the fun things that the Fifties had to offer but usually didn’t share with the likes of me.  One Friday afternoon, I was rambling aimlessly around the house when she grabbed me by neck and dragged me into the den.  “You have got to see this!”, she said, in “that” tone of voice.  “That” tone of voice was the one that was not to be ignored, unless you enjoyed pain.  Playwright William Congreve wrote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”. He obviously had not encountered Dee Ann Sweeney.  Given the choice, I would go with the woman scorned any time!  I learned at an early age that big sister trumps everything.  Dutifully, I trailed her into the den.My parents must not have been home at the time because the t.v. was cranked up to maximum volume.  Five guys were playing rock and roll on television…in West Texas!  Things like this didn’t happen in West Texas!  That trusty old RCA television, that usually spewed forth the likes of Perry Como and Lawrence Welk, was blasting songs like “That’s All Right Mama” and “Rock Around The Clock”!  I froze!  Did the police know about this?  I checked outside to make sure the neighbors hadn’t called the John Birch Society.  No crazed picketers yet!  We were safe for the time being!

This was unprecedented in my experience!  My sister was bouncing around the room like a crazed monkey!  Then, the band, now known as The Teen Kings, kicked into a song I had never heard before.

Hey, baby, jump over here
When you do the ooby-dooby, I just gotta be near

Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby

Well…it wasn’t Cole Porter or Rodgers & Hammerstein, but those guys couldn’t play guitar like the guy with the thick glasses! Thick glasses? Rock and roll on television? My little brain was swimming!  Then my sister shouted, “These guys are from Wink! Can you believe it?”.   Wink?  Wink, Texas?  Compared to Wink, our little two stoplight town was Metropolis! I remember one of my Dad’s friends joking that he “spent a week in Wink one night”!  I clearly remember hearing a sound from deep in my brain. “SNAP!!!”  Ordinary looking guys from Wink, Texas playing rock and roll on t.v.?  Rock musicians were all from Memphis or Hollywood…not Wink! My little brain was scrambled! I was never the same after this experience.  Friday afternoon became a special time for my sister and I.  We never missed a single show.  Every time we watched, it seemed the band was better than the week before.  It never occurred to us that these guys would go any further than this t.v. show.

Finally, it all came to an end.  Roy announced that this week’s show was the last.  The band had been signed by Sam Phillips record label, Sun Records.

The band from Wink was going to Memphis!  We didn’t know if we should be happy or sad.  Ultimately, happy won out.  My sister and I went back to our everyday lives, although Friday was always a little strange without our rock and roll ritual.  My sister and I had always been close, but this experience made us more than friends.  We became co-conspirators.  I turned her on to Wolfman Jack and his legendary radio broadcasts from XERF in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico…a location that would be significant in another way, later in life (we will save that story for another time).   She helped me pick out my first black leather jacket.  I provided her with a believable cover story when she wanted to go to a “sleep-over” with her friends.  She took the rap for the beer bottle that rolled out of my glove compartment and landed in my mom’s lap.

Over the years we continued to look out for each other.  After I graduated from high school, I was drifting.  I had broken up with my girlfriend.  My friends had gone away to college. I was working the late night DJ shift at a radio station that no one listened to after 6 PM.  I was stuck.  I ended up at Dee’s house…she was married by then.  I was well into a self-pity, whine thing, when she finally snapped.  “Boy! Have you totally lost your mind!”, she barked.  I had been whining about staying in town and trying to patch things up with my lost love.  “If you stay here, you are going to end up being the world’s oldest DJ, in a town that doesn’t want to hear what you’re playing!”.  We talked for hours about doing what you want to do, not what other people want you to do.  “I should know”, she said.  We didn’t talk about that.  Her eyes told the story.  Two months later, I was gone.  I finally followed a path that wasn’t plotted out by someone else.  I’m not even sure that I plotted the path…I just followed where it was going.   I became something that I wanted to be.  Sure, I came home for special occasions…weekend parties, weddings, holidays, funerals.  I came home for Dee’s funeral, then I didn’t come home again for a long time. I stayed away, but took her advice and her Roy Orbison albums wherever I went.

So why all this babbling about Roy Orbison?  Much better writers than I have detailed Roy’s career.  There are no new revelations here.  Roy Orbison made music that touched millions of people. He influenced many of the great musicians of our time.  He reinvented himself after the music business had written him off…several times.   He kept coming back and giving us a new version of Roy Orbison.  Nothing new there.  I guess the point I am trying to make is, Roy Orbison, without knowing it, changed a shy, socially retarded boy into a shy, socially retarded rock and roller!

I decided to write this little rant the other day, after I watched the dedication ceremony for Roy Orbison’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  January 29th, 2010 Roy finally received a star.  He joined great musicians like Chuck Berry, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and The Beatles on the Walk of Fame.  Of course, he had wait until P. Diddy, Kenny G., Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Big Bird and Paula Abdul had received their stars.  Paula Abdul??!!! Big Bird?  Hollywood has it’s priorities!

It was bittersweet watching the ceremony.  Roy was gone.  My sister was gone.  I was still hanging around.  I punched up the ceremony on the internet and watched.  After the event ended, I pulled out a well-worn vinyl copy of Roy Orbison-The Sun Years, tossed it on the turntable in my studio and cranked the volume…a lot.

Hey, baby, jump over here
When you do the ooby-dooby, I just gotta be near

Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby

Well, you wiggle to the left, you wiggle to the right
You do the ooby-dooby with all of your might
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby

Well, you wiggle and you shake like a big rattlesnake
You do the ooby-dooby til you think you have a break
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby

Well, you’ve been strutting cause now you know
Let’s do the ooby-dooby, baby let’s go
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby
Ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby, ooby-dooby



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