The Sporadic Beaver

Legal Marijuana and Tobacco Industry Paranoia:
A 1979 Time-Capsule of Investigative Journalism

July 12, 2017

Tags: marijuana, tobacco, 1970s, investigative journalism

A tin of marijuana cigarettes from the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina.
I wrote the article and sidebar below, about the tobacco industry's efforts to gear up for the legalization of marijuana, on spec for The Nation, in 1979. Since I couldn’t definitively prove that the tobacco industry was gearing up for marijuana legalization, The Nation passed.

A few weeks ago, I read the story for the first time in 38 years and found another flaw: I’d buried the lead. I should have begun with the Philip Morris corporation’s legal action against a small Long Island drug-paraphernalia manufacturer. But who knows if even that would have made a difference?

This time capsule of amateur investigative journalism has never been published. I’m publishing it now, exactly as I wrote it then.


Armies of journalists have invested a great deal of time during the past 15 years attempting to unravel a web of marijuana rumor and misinformation so complex it defies clarification. They’ve met with little success. Chasing bizarre leads into every segment of government and industry, occasionally managing to dispose of some of the more ludicrous rumors, they’ve created a paranoiac atmosphere where new rumors—as absurd and tantalizing as the ones they’ve put to rest—breed like bacteria in a petri dish.

The most widespread, persistent rumors concern the tobacco industry’s plans to gear up for the inevitable legalization of pot. It’s not true, for example, as Time magazine reported on January 11, 1971 that “One of the very biggest cigarette makers is experimenting with pot cigarettes in Puerto Rico.” Nor is it true, as James Ridgeway reported in the April 1971 Ramparts, “Justice Department officials asked Philip Morris to design and make a marijuana cigarette for test purposes.” It’s entirely believable, but probably not true either, as Jack Anderson said in his syndicated column of July 22, 1976, “Tobacco companies have set aside choice southern land for future marijuana harvests, competent sources say.”

No solid evidence has ever been documented linking the tobacco industry to marijuana. Yet, they remain terrified of even the vaguest associations, and vehemently deny everything. Stories like the ones printed in Time and Ramparts have provoked the industry to treat the press with contempt and hostility, an attitude that invariably spawns more rumors.

The trail of every rumor linking the tobacco industry to marijuana always leads to the same place: the Research Triangle in the pine woods near Durham, North Carolina. An industrial park conceived 20 years ago, its purpose was to stop the “brain drain” of PhDs from North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University to greener, out-of-state pastures. The Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is one of the many corporations located within the park. Its research ranges from the “study of catastrophic illness addressing spinal injury” to “data analysis and survey procedures for measuring pupil’s English language proficiency” to clinical studies of marijuana, which have been going on since 1969, funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to the tune of $220,000 per year. It has a reputation of being one of the top research laboratories in the world. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that this is where the government has chosen to set up its joint-rolling factory—in the heart of tobacco country.

The government has chosen to set up its joint-rolling factory in the heart of tobacco country.


Commonly known as Durham’s third cigarette maker (along with American Tobacco and Liggett & Meyers), it’s no secret what’s being manufactured in RTI. Rumors of potential rips offs, hijacked marijuana shipments, kidnapped employees and links to tobacco companies abound.

“Security is a delicate area,” said Dr. Monroe Wall, President of Chemistry and Life Science. “You don’t want the Mafia to come down here and raid the area.”

“Our attitude isn’t one for paranoia, but we have reason to be apprehensive sometimes,” added C.X. Larrabee, Public Relations Director, referring to the rumors.

Three years ago, RTI acquired from one of the local tobacco companies an old cigarette rolling machine and a retired employee familiar with the “Rube Goldberg–like” instrument who helped convert it for the production of marijuana cigarettes. Originally, Dr. Wall said that they appealed directly to the tobacco companies for assistance in setting up the operation, but “paranoid” about any associations with marijuana, they refused. It took several months to get the machine operational.

Now, also under NIDA contract, Columbian, Mexican and Jamaican dope is shipped in 60 kilo barrels and crates marked “First Class Registered Mail” to RTI from the government pot farm at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. There, under the auspices of project director Dr. Carlton Turner (who denied rumors that tobacco companies frequently request information on growing marijuana), about 1,000 kilograms of 50 to 100 varieties of the most potent pot on the planet—some five times stronger than anything you can cop on the street—are growing on 5½ acres or rich, Mississippi topsoil.

The Research Triangle Institute rolls about 100,000 joints per year.


RTI rolls a ton of marijuana per year, about 100,000 joints, and processes some into liquid and pills, which are mostly used for glaucoma research. It’s a five-man operation and two people are needed to run the machine which, churns out 1,000 perfectly rolled 9-gram joints per minute. The size of non-filter cigarettes, stamped at one end with a thin red line and an “M” for marijuana, the carefully monitored THC content (the major psychotropic agent) ranges from 1% to 2.5%. (Average street dope, according to NIDA is .8% THC content.)

“If we sold the 2.5% THC marijuana on the street for $75 an ounce,” Richard Hawks, a chemist in NIDA’s research division commented, “people would be getting a bargain.”

Rolling goes on four or five times a year. Joints are packed 350 to a container the size of a coffee can. Some is stockpiled in a bank vault. The rest is distributed at no expense to researchers in the United States and Europe—provided they’re licensed and involved in legitimate research programs—and to a government pharmacy in Washington DC where Bob Randall, a 28-year-old glaucoma victim, the first and once the only legal pot smoker in the country, fills his prescription for 70 joints per week, which he receives in brown prescription jars with “child-proof” caps.

RTI officials stressed that their research is “legitimate,” “there’s nothing to hide,” and there are no links with the tobacco industry. Yet, they did everything possible to hide two simple, perhaps even trivial facts: Who supplied the rolling machine and who supplies the rolling paper. In tracking down this information, it becomes clear why a cloud of rumor hangs over RTI. Why should it take one month and more than 100 phone calls to ascertain information which in the end seems meaningless? The search for the information, not the information itself, indicates somebody is working very hard to cover up links between RTI and the tobacco industry.

As it turned out, the rolling machine came from the American Tobacco Company via Gonzalez International of Baltimore, a used machinery firm that specializes in tobacco machinery. The rolling paper is supplied by Ecusta Inc., a division of Olin Inc.—hardly astounding information.

Originally, officials at American claimed they knew nothing about one of their cigarette rolling machines being used to roll joints at RTI. Though, after being told his company was identified as the source of the machine, Cleveland Kern, the manufacturing director, recalled the entire transaction and remembered that RTI even asked to borrow one of their employees to set up the machine. But a superior in the corporate hierarchy quickly contradicted him. “We disposed of the machine to Gonzalez,” Robert Stinnette, assistant to the chairman of the board, claimed. “What they did with it after that is their business.” He was not able to explain how Mr. Kern knew the machine was being used at RTI.

The case with Ecusta was more complex. “They are doing a favor for the government and for science,” Dr. Wall explained. “The amount of paper they supply us with is negligible. They make no money off it. They don’t want their name associated with marijuana. If it is, we’re afraid they’ll withdraw the supply. Because of what the paper is used for, it was difficult to find a supply.”

Ecusta, located in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, the largest of three rolling paper manufacturers in the country, wasn’t difficult to find. A secretary answered the telephone. She thought I was a potential customer referred to them by RTI, whom she recognized as a customer. Then she realized I was a reporter and transferred me to the marketing director who claimed he “wasn’t aware RTI was an account of ours.” Later, though, he confirmed it.

If the amount of paper they supply to RTI is “negligible,” why did a secretary immediately recognize the name? Perhaps the amount isn’t negligible. One of the many rumors flying about suggests RTI manufactures 500,000 joints per year, not 100,000.

RTI felt confident if Ecusta was publicly identified as the source of their rolling paper, the company wouldn’t hesitate to cut off their supply and legitimate marijuana research would be “seriously damaged.”

An Ecusta spokesman said they wouldn’t cut off the supply under any circumstances, but quickly added, “We don’t pander to the marijuana trade,” implying his concern for rumors that they did pander to the marijuana trade. Ecusta supplies paper to US Tobacco, the makers of Zig-Zag, a perennial joint rolling classic.

A lot of people believe a rumor fueled by ex–California Governor Ronald Reagan, who said, in 1972, that 14 tobacco companies have already registered trademarks like Acapulco Gold and Panama Red for use on marijuana products after legalization. Mr. Reagan was apparently unaware it’s impossible to register a trademark for a non-existent, or worse yet, illegal product.

It is true, though, that the General Cigar and Tobacco Company has registered the trademark “Tijuana Smalls” for their commercially successful little cigar. It’s been suggested that this trademark is being used only temporarily. Once marijuana is legalized, General Cigar can switch the trademark from cigars to pot. Though possible it’s unlikely. Switching names is a terrible business practice that only leads to consumer confusion. Imagine the shock of a loyal Tijuana Smalls smoker whose favorite little cigar suddenly appears on the market with a 2% THC content and has him hallucinating long before his fifth puff.

The latest breaking marijuana rumor, though, is the most believable to come along in years. It’s public record that Philip Morris Inc., an international conglomerate with revenues of $6 billion per year, has blocked a trademark application for “The Lid,” by Brasshead Inc., a small Long Island paraphernalia manufacturing company. Philip Morris claims it interferes with its product, Lido cigarettes.

You’ve probably never heard of Lido mentholated cigarettes. Philip Morris originally registered the name in 1957. Test marketing of the product began in 1969, in Venezuela, Costa Rica, and the United States, and still continues today. Though Philip Morris marketing executives prefer the term “diminishing results,” Lido has been a commercial disaster. Twelve hundred packs were sold in the United States in 1978. In Venezuela, sales between 1974 and 1977 dropped from 36.5 million packs to 9.9 million. Clearly, Lido cigarettes are going nowhere fast. Yet, test marketing continues, and in 1975 the trademark was renewed for another 20 years.

Brasshead Inc. of West Babylon, Long Island, a tiny member of the $350 million a year drug paraphernalia industry, was formed in 1970 by Mike Michaels, its 30-year-old president. Michaels, in 1975, came up with a relatively innocuous product called “The Lid,” classic street slang for an ounce of pot. In a zip-lock plastic bag, he packages a small, wooden hash pipe, extra screens, a roach clip, and rolling papers. It retails for $1.99. When he tried to register the trademark “Lid,” Philip Morris formally objected, in part because it said that Lid so resembled Lido that it was deceptive, would cause the consumer to confuse the two products, and would lead to the belief that Philip Morris manufactured both products.

“We’re not interested in marijuana because we can’t make enough money on it,” a Philip Morris spokesman said. “People can’t smoke 20–30 joints a day.”


How anybody can confuse a kit for getting stoned with a pack of mentholated cigarettes known mostly in Venezuela and Costa Rica may very well be one of the more intriguing questions of the day. Philip Morris doesn’t have a particularly good answer. “We’re not interested in marijuana because we can’t make enough money on it,” a spokesman said. “People can’t smoke 20–30 joints a day.” It’s a straightforward trademark case, they claimed, and as always, they’re ever-vigilant in protecting trademarks because they don’t want to see the laws eroded.

Michaels finds the case absurd. “Why should Philip Morris bother us on a trademark they’ve more or less abandoned here?” he wondered. “Maybe they’re trying to save the name in case marijuana is legalized. To me the name isn’t even important. I can call it ‘Bib’ and still sell the same amount. It’s a matter of principle.”

A number of patent lawyers agree the case is “peculiar.” Nobody has ever heard of one quite like it, in which a major conglomerate, protecting a trademark for a doomed product, contests a distantly related trademark by a much smaller company.

It seems entirely possible that when marijuana is legalized, Philip Morris could simply drop the “o” from Lido and call a marijuana product “Lid.” If Lido cigarettes should suddenly vanish from the marketplace, unlike Tijuana Smalls, you can be sure nobody will miss them, not even Philip Morris. A phone call to its Park Avenue headquarters revealed only one person who ever heard of the product. It took several days to locate him.

There’s one provocative rumor that will probably never die no matter what’s proven or disproven: Tobacco companies stand to make the fortune of the century when marijuana is legalized. Pot, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a $48 billion a year business, the third largest in the country, behind only General Motors and Exxon, which are tied for first at $53 billion. Naturally, like good businessmen, tobacco moguls are gearing up on all fronts—production, advertising, marketing, and agricultural. When legalization hits, they’ll be ready to roll joints within the hour.

Tobacco companies have already made one of the fortunes of the century. In the process of promoting lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, they’ve also drawn intense criticism from such people as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano, a vigilant anti-smoking campaigner. Companies insist that the last thing they want is more government heat from marijuana, which some studies show is more harmful to the lungs than tobacco because it’s inhaled more deeply and remains in the lungs longer.

“We don’t need marijuana,” tobacco companies say, claiming they’re so rich and diversified, if cigarettes were outlawed tomorrow, they wouldn’t go out of business. Philip Morris, for instance, not only makes Marlboro, Benson and Hedges, Merit, Parliament, Virginia Slims, and Multifilter, but also Miller Beer, Lowenbrau, and 7Up.

Rumor naturally lurks behind the DEA’s claim that pot is a $48-billion industry. The enforcement of marijuana laws, the DEA’s principle obsession, is as much a business as selling marijuana itself. It keeps men working. They claim $48 billion in order to wangle a bigger budget from Congress. Without grass, the agency would be forced to exclusively pursue more dangerous drug criminals, like heroin and cocaine smugglers, who are more difficult to collar because their contraband is trafficked in much smaller quantities.

More realistic estimates from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORMAL) and Penthouse magazine peg marijuana sales somewhere between $4 and $12 billion, which at least holds a respectable position on the Fortune Top 100.

For the time being, at least, it’s possible that tobacco companies really aren’t gearing up for marijuana. Legalization, according to NORMAL—who already has brought about decriminalization in 11 states—is at least 7–15 years off. Before legalization can occur, international treaty obligations, which call for the prosecution of drug criminals, must first be repealed, and then, legalization would still be two years off. The tobacco companies know there’s no reason to stand poised with a finger on the joint-rolling button. If a crash program were invoked, it’s estimated that they could be rolling marijuana cigarettes in six to nine months.

Getting High in the White House
Only God knows how many reporters have been looking for drugs in the White House since Jimmy Carter took office. With a son who was thrown out of the Navy for toking up on board ship, a Rolling Stone endorsement by notorious gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who promptly told High Times about snorting cocaine with the White House staff and press corps, and the sudden departure of Drug Advisor Dr. Peter Bourne for writing bogus Quaalude prescriptions for a White House secretary and snorting cocaine with NORMAL Director Keith Stroup, the paranoia there is intense. Just call up the press office and ask about pot. It doesn’t matter what the question is. As soon as they hear “marijuana,” the answer is, “No drugs are used inside the White House and anybody found doing so will be fired.

Former speechwriter for the Secretary of the Air Force, Bob Rosen, a New York based freelance writer, recently completed a book on the Pentagon, Ground Zero Paranoia.

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Journey Through the Past

June 13, 2017

Tags: Robert Attanasio, Erotic Review, Observation Post, City College of New York, 1970s, art

All three parts of "The Provocateur," my series on artist and filmmaker Robert Attanasio, are now posted on Erotic Review.

In the 1970s, I worked with Attanasio on Observation Post, the radical student newspaper at the City College of New York. We published a lot of controversial material, much of it having to do with pornography and religion. Working on OP changed the course of our lives, but we drifted apart after graduation and eventually lost touch. I hadn’t heard from Attanasio in 30 years. Then, in February 2015, he contacted me and we reunited. By November he was dead—from cancer.

“The Provocateur,” adapted from a book I’m working on about the moment in the 1970s when the student left gave way to punk, is a retrospective of my relationship with Attanasio, and a journey through his art and film.

Click here to read Part I, Part II, and now Part III.

Attanasio appears at the beginning of this episode of The Madness of Art.

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Los últimos días de John Lennon

May 27, 2017

Tags: Nowhere Man, Los últimos días de John Lennon, René Portas, Random House Mondadori

Yo he estado trabajando en una nueva edición impresa, de Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon en lengua española, programada para salir a la venta el 9 de octubre de 2017, en el 77 cumpleaños de Lennon.

René Portas, quien tradujo la edición original en lengua española, publicada por Random House Mondadori en 2003, ha hecho una traducción actualizada y mejorada, que incluye cinco capítulos extra.

Aquí está la foto de una primera prueba. La nueva foto de portada fue tomada por el difunto Jack Mitchell, en noviembre de 1980, poco antes de que Lennon fuera asesinado.

Si tú no puedes esperar hasta octubre para leer la nueva edición impresa, una edición e-book está ahora disponible en iTunes, Kindle y todas las otras tiendas que venden e-books.

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***

I've been working on a new print edition of the Spanish-language Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, scheduled to go on sale October 9, 2017, Lennon's 77th birthday.

René Portas, who translated the original Spanish-language edition, published by Random House Mondadori, in 2003, has done an updated and improved translation, which includes five bonus chapters.

Here’s a photo of an early proof. The new cover photo was taken by the late Jack Mitchell, in November 1980, shortly before Lennon was murdered.

If you can’t wait until October to read the new print edition, an e-book edition is available now from iTunes, Kindle, and all other stores that sell e-book.

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Birth of a Book

April 25, 2017

Tags: Robert Attanasio, Erotic Review, Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, 1970s, Punk, Rolling Stone, Playboy, writing

The way things are in publishing these days, it's as difficult for me to sell a magazine article as it is to sell a book. So I usually don't bother writing articles because even if I do sell one, it'll be around for a month at best. My books, however, tend to endure. Nowhere Man remains in print 17 years after publication.

Ironically, both my books began as failed magazine articles. In 1982, Rolling Stone and Playboy turned down an early version of what became Nowhere Man--because I couldn't prove to their satisfaction that what I'd written was true. I started writing Beaver Street in 1995 on assignment from The Nation. It was supposed to be an article about the economics of pornography. They rejected it for not being “political enough.”

But sometimes the stars line up and something I write finds its way into a magazine. This month, the first part of a three-part series called “The Provocateur” has been published on a British site, Erotic Review. The series is an excerpt from a book about the 1970s that I’ve been working on, and it’s the story of my old friend Robert Attanasio, an artist and filmmaker who died in 2015.

It was Attanasio’s death that helped me find a focus for the book and made me realize what its central theme should be—the moment when the student left gave way to Punk.

Part I comes with multiple trigger warnings and a big NSFW. Stay tuned for parts II and III.

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The Front Page

March 22, 2017

Tags: Observation Post, City College of New York, Punk, fake news, 1970s

Observation Post, December 20, 1978.
As I contine to immerse myself in the 1970s, reconstructing that time for a book I've been writing, I'm continually reminded of how much I forgot.

Fortunately, I have an archive of Observation Post, a student newspaper at the City College of New York. I joined OP in 1971, as a sophomore; became editor in chief as a senior; remained a contributor as a grad student; and in 1978 and '79, while living with the then editor in chief, I acted as surrogate editor.

OP was a radical, political, pornographic embodiment of First Amendment freedom of expression, underwritten by City College, and produced by both students and former students turned professionals. Its readership extended beyond the campus. By the end of its 32-year run, OP had become a record of the staff and contributors’ emotional turmoil, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a Christmas issue, dated December 20, 1978.

The memory-jogging front-page reminded me how far out of our fucking minds we were.

“OP Editor dies of drugs after being forced to resign” was fake news. The editor in question, the one I was living with, did not die. (As far as I know, she’s still alive.) But in December 1978, her life had descended into a state of chaos and despair. The coup de grâce came when the school forced her to give up her beloved editorship because she wasn’t registered as a student. To share her feelings with the administration (and the world), she died a metaphorical death in the pages of OP.

My book focuses on the moment in history when the student left gave way to punk, and it was in this issue of OP that punk won. The fake-news death of the editor foreshadowed both the real heroin-overdose death of Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, little more than a month later, and the symbolic punk-suicide of OP itself the following year.

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Upon Looking Into an Old OP

February 15, 2017

Tags: Observation Post, City College of New York, Pentagon, Fred Seaman, The Campus, 1970s

For the past few years I've been immersing myself in the 1970s, trying to reconstruct what it was like to live and go to school in New York City at that chaotic time, as the student left was giving way to punk. Lately (in an effort to think about something other than Trump), I've been re-reading old newspapers that were published at City College, like The Campus, The Paper, and Observation Post (OP), which I edited.

In 1975, when I was in grad school, the Pentagon invited me to be a speechwriter for Air Force secretary John McLucas. Despite strong anti-war and anti-military sentiments, I accepted the offer. It was a paid writing gig, an “internship,” the Pentagon called it—the Air Force hoped that upon completing my degree, I’d make the military my career. Gerald Ford was president, the Vietnam War had just ended, and I was an ambitious, rebellious 22-year-old, hungry for experience.

Upon returning to City College for the fall semester, I sat down with three OP editors—Herb Fox, Mark Lipitz, and Fred Seaman—to discuss my stint at the Pentagon. They published their interview with me in the November 5, 1975, issue. Reading it now, more than 40 years later, my unguarded anger and the way I shot off my mouth startles me. I’d apparently not yet developed a filter and did not fully understand the effect my words might have on a wider audience, especially my former Pentagon coworkers. The interview, however, does serve as a window into my unruly consciousness and the mindset of the military in the immediate aftermath of having lost a war for the first time since 1812.

Here are some excerpts from the interview, with the names of my former coworkers redacted.

OP: What was your first day at the Pentagon like?

Bob Rosen: I couldn’t sleep the night before. I didn’t know what I was getting into. In the morning I had to wait at the main information desk with about 20 other interns. After an hour, some Air Force people took us to be “processed in,” which was filling out tax forms, taking loyalty oaths, and having your arms checked for needle marks. Then I went up to the speechwriting office and met the people I was going to be working with. I was terrified. It was the first time I ever came in contact with the military. There were three lieutenant colonels and a captain. Lieutenant Colonel A_____, the chief, asked me to come into his office and said: “Well, Bob, you’ve got to hang loose. This is a very loose place.”

OP: What did he mean by that?

Rosen: He meant speechwriting was a very frustrating job. It takes about ten days to write a speech. It’s a very long process, involving a lot of research and interviewing. You spend entire days talking to people on the phone, running around the Pentagon tracking down “experts,” going through microfilm files, and reading up on relevant material. Then you write a rough draft and finally hand in a polished speech. But McLucas is a callous pig. He looks at a lot of speeches and says: “I don't like this. Do it over!” Then you’d have to do the whole fucking thing over. When he actually gives a speech, he usually reads the first paragraph, throws the rest away, and spins off on his own. It killed everyone in office. It wouldn’t have bothered me if he was a good impromptu speaker, but he was terrible at it. He’d go off on all kinds of boring tangents that put people to sleep. He did it to gratify his ego, to prove to himself he was more witty and more articulate than his speechwriters. He treated us like garbage. A couple of times he said things that got him in trouble. For instance, during a speech to a group of scientists in San Francisco he started to ad-lib and called the Vietnam War a “debacle.” That made banner headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle. It got people in the Pentagon really pissed at him.

OP: You said that at first you tried to be as “truthful” as possible [when writing a speech]. What do you mean by that?

Rosen: Okay. Let me use my first major speech as an example. McLucas had to speak to a group of ROTC cadets who were graduating from college this year and expected to join the Air Force right away. Now these cadets had entered college during the Vietnam War, when the ROTC program was going full force. However, since the end of the war, the size of the Air Force has been reduced by about 30 percent, and there’s going to be no room for these cadets. McLucas had to explain to them they had to wait up to two years before they could join the Air Force, and he had to come up with something to tell them to do during these two years. So I wrote a speech suggesting these cadets should run off and become hippies, and then when the time came they would be able to go into the Air Force with a completely new perspective on life.

OP: I suppose they killed the speech right away.

Rosen: No, they didn’t kill it that fast, which surprised me. Each speech, before it gets to the Secretary, has to go through a chain of about 15 experts. My supervisor, Lieutenant Colonel A_____, actually liked it, so I figured that there really was a chance it might get through. It passed three people before someone realized I was subtly suggesting these cadets go off and become hippies. I got an angry memo from the Pentagon Commandant of ROTC saying: “I don’t think the Secretary of the Air Force should suggest our future pilots become hippies.”

Another weird thing happened to me with that speech. After I had finished writing it, I typed a separate paragraph they wanted to include, mentioning there had been a 69 percent increase of women in the Air Force since 1969. I showed the paragraph to one of the officers there, Lieutenant Colonel B_____, and he said: “You can't use this 69 percent.”

“Why not?” I asked. “I triple-checked it. There’s a 69 percent increase.”

“Well, you see,” he said, “you’re going to be speaking to a group of ROTC cadets and they’re all males. Here you are talking about women. You just can’t use 69 percent when you’re talking about women to an all-male group. Some of their minds might not be in the right place. You have to change that.”

I thought he was joking and started to laugh. When I looked around I saw nobody else was laughing. It wasn’t a joke. I had to change the 69 percent to something else.

OP: Are there many religious people at the Pentagon?

Rosen: That’s another incredibly weird aspect of the Pentagon—the way people there are into religion. This one speechwriter, Captain G_____, tried to convert me to Christianity. He was a Charismatic Christian. He’d tell me how he talks to Jesus every night when he drives home in his car. There’s something very frightening about an officer in a high government position telling you how he talks to Jesus every day. He also gave me religious books to read that painted horrible fire and brimstone visions of hell. These passages would always be followed by a paragraph that said, “But, if you accept Christ you don’t have to go there.”

He told me I was in the Pentagon because God wanted me there.

“Why would God possibly want me in the Pentagon?” I asked, and he said: “Well, when the Messiah comes maybe He’ll want you to be His speechwriter. He has you here to learn about speechwriting and to learn about Him.”

OP: Tell us about your trip to Florida.

Rosen: I’d written a speech for a graduation exercise at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, and I got to fly down there with McLucas, his military aide, and Lieutenant Colonel A_____. [In Florida, A_____ and I shared a hotel room. It] was the first time I’d ever roomed with a lieutenant colonel.

He liked to talk to me about my politics and drugs. A_____ had been in the military for 19 years and he only came into contact with other people in the military. I’d say, “I take drugs and opposed the war.” He’d say, “Gee, I never met anybody who admitted he took drugs. I don’t know people who opposed the war.”

I told him there were a lot of people like me. He had only seen them on TV and read about them in the newspaper, and now he’s suddenly rooming with one. He used to ask me a lot of questions whose answers seemed obvious, like: “How come you didn’t like the war?” I’d give him a pretty standard answer about the United States having no right to destroy a country halfway around the world for its own selfish interests. Then I’d ask: “How come you did like the war?” He’d tell me he’s a patriot and the Communists were the aggressors, the usual story. He’d keep on saying we didn't bomb civilian targets. It was the most “surgical” bombing job in the history of the Air Force. He’d use expressions like, “We didn’t want to destroy the whole country, we just wanted to twist the Communists’ arms till they saw things our way.”

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American Sociopaths: The Rise and Fall of the Mini-Trumps

January 17, 2017

Tags: Donald Trump, Carl Ruderman, Lou Perretta, High Society, Swank, Scott Garrett, politics

Plastic-Pussy Grabber: Mini-Trump Carl Ruderman, publisher of High Society, shows his secretary an artificial vagina, early 1980s.
Fran Lebowitz described Donald Trump as a poor person's idea of a rich person. But Trump is hardly the only rich person who comes across as vulgar, bigoted, and megalomaniacal. There's an entire subspecies of extremely wealthy men, some perhaps wealthier than Trump, who admire his lifestyle and all he stands for. In an effort to be like Trump, they do their best to emulate him.

I worked for two such people—both of whom happened to be porn-magazine publishers (and both of whom went to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that pornography was their primary source of wealth).

Carl Ruderman owned the company that published High Society. Lou Perretta owned the company that published Swank. I wrote about them both in Beaver Street—long before Trump had become a threat to the country and the planet. Though Beaver Street looks at 20th century history, politics, and culture through a pornographic lens, I made no effort to draw a comparison between these two prominent sleazemeisters and the man who will soon have the power to start a nuclear war. Between 2004 and 2009, when I was writing Beaver Street, Trump, to me, was an easily ignored ignoramus whose self-aggrandizing horseshit was generally confined to the pages of certain gossip rags. I didn’t even know he had short fingers.

But now that reality has shifted so radically, I thought it might be instructive to look at the similarities between my former overseers and America’s about-to-be-installed overseer.

Born Rich: Ruderman, Perretta, and Trump, though all born on third base, suffer from the belief that they hit a triple and got to where they are due to their own innate superiority. Trump, however, does admit that he was helped along by a “small loan” of $1 million from his father.

Thy Father’s Business: Ruderman took over Drake, his father’s lucrative publishing company that specialized in how-to and home improvement books. Perretta took over Great Eastern, his father’s printing plant, once the largest employer in Poughkeepsie after IBM. Trump, of course, took over his father’s real estate empire.

The Porn Connection: It seems that men of a certain ilk who inherited their wealth find the pornographic milieu irresistible. Though Trump did not literally go into the porn biz, as the two Mini-Trumps did, it should be noted that the first-lady-to-be, Melania Trump, has posed in a pornographic lesbian pictorial and Trump himself has appeared in a Playboy Video Centerfold.

Transformers: Ruderman and Perretta apparently chose the porn biz because it’s illegal to print money. Between High Society magazine, “free” phone sex, and “Celebrity Skin,” Ruderman turned Drake into a bigger cash cow than it was under his father—free phone sex alone (he made two cents every time somebody called the number) generated $70,000 in profits per week at its 1983 peak. Like Trump, Ruderman published a luxury lifestyle magazine, Elite Traveler. Perretta, who never seemed to grasp the difference between being a printer and being a publisher, enhanced his fortune by buying up virtually every porn mag in existence, using them as fodder to keep his presses running 24 hours a day, and turning a profit on a 15 percent sale of any press run when his competitors needed to sell 30 percent to do so. In between bankruptcies, Trump transformed his inheritance into a branding empire, notably Trump University, an overt scam for which he recently agreed to pay a $25 million fine to settle fraud allegations by former students.

All in the Family: Ruderman didn’t believe in nepotism, though perhaps he should have. He hired and fired with impunity, to the extent that anybody who survived at High Society for more than a year was considered an old-timer. Perretta, like Trump, believed that loyalty is far more important than competence, and filled all key positions with relatives (preferably blood relatives) whenever possible. Trump’s offspring Eric, Donald Jr., and Ivanka are all executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization and have played key roles on his transition team. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in violation of nepotism laws, has been named as a senior White House advisor.

Greed Is Good: Ruderman, Perretta, and Trump are all driven by the desire to enrich themselves and their families at all costs while lording it over everybody else, especially their employees.

Bully Boys: Ruderman was a quiet bully who rarely raised his voice but took pleasure in humiliating his employees. At staff meetings he’d call on anybody, from a top editor to the mailroom boy, and ask, “What have you done this week to make my magazine a household name?” If the employee didn’t have a satisfactory answer, Ruderman would say, “Do you want to be standing on the breadline?” Perretta was a classic screamer who routinely berated his employees for the most trivial mistakes. The more trivial the mistake, the louder he screamed. Trump’s Twitter feed, a litany of insults and intimidations, serves as a perfect illustration of two of his most pronounced character traits: pathological bullying and a reflexive need to destroy anybody who criticizes him.

Some of My Best Jews Are Accountants: Ruderman acted as if women were pieces of meat fit only for display in pornographic magazines, but he was smart enough to not express any overt racial or religious bigotry in front of his employees. Perretta, however, couldn’t help himself. On one occasion he said to an African-American art director, “Shrink that photo, like your ancestors shrunk heads!” On another occasion he referred to his African-American employees as “animals.” On a third, he told three Jewish employees, all of whom were sporting facial hair, “This place is starting to look like a Yeshiva.” He was eventually sued for age and sex discrimination. Trump’s vile remarks about minorities and the opposite sex are so ugly, my inner 20-year-old punk-self wrote a song about it, “Don Vicious,” which includes the lines, “You hate Muslims/You hate Jews/Women, black skin/Brown skin too.”

Imagine More Possessions: Ruderman, who was chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth and lived in mortal fear that he’d be barred from the most exclusive country clubs if they found out he was a pornographer, was the most nakedly obvious Trump-lifestyle emulator. When Trump bought a helicopter, Ruderman bought one, too. Though lower-key than Ruderman and Trump, Perretta owned a yacht and a Mercedes and strove to insure that grandchildren yet unborn would also ride in their own Mercedes cars. Trump’s private-jet-gold-plated-spare-no-expense luxury lifestyle is as famous as his bigotry, his lying, and his compulsion to humiliate.

The Beauty, the Splendor, the Wonder: The once silver-haired Ruderman now dyes his coif an unnatural shade of jet-black rather than choosing Trump’s unnatural regal gold. Perretta, meanwhile, sports a hairdo of all-natural gray.

Make America Hate Again: Ruderman has despised Larry Flynt ever since he made him Hustler’s “Asshole of the Month” and did not support Flynt’s run for president. But he kept his other political views under wraps, at least in front of his employees. This was undoubtedly a good decision. Perretta, like Trump, is a staunch supporter of right-wing causes and has donated money to his former New Jersey Tea Party Congressman Scott Garrett, one of the most radical members of the House of Representatives. A “birther” who was finally defeated in November after 14 years in office, Garrett was anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-voting rights, anti-environment, and anti-poor—positions that meshed perfectly with Perretta’s own political views.

American Sociopaths: I think Trump and the Mini-Trumps would all agree that empathy is an emotion for losers and women only.

Lock Them Up: In the late 90s, as free Internet porn became ubiquitous and sales of High Society were headed for oblivion, control of the company was given over to an organized crime family who tried to turn things around with a credit card scam that defrauded consumers of approximately $730 million dollars. Prosecutors soon caught on and charged the “X-Rated Mobsters,” as they were called in the tabloids, with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, extortion, and money laundering. Though Ruderman, claiming he was a “silent partner,” escaped prosecution, some of his Mafia colleagues went to prison, and the company, in a judgment reminiscent of what happened to Trump University, was fined $30 million. Ruderman then sold the smoldering ruins of High Society to Perretta. Ultimately, though, both the High Society and Swank pornographic empires went belly-up amidst collapsing sales and criminal and civil legal actions. As for Trump, so rabid is his disdain for the Constitution and so myriad are his conflicts of interest, impeachment seems inevitable. Uncorroborated as they may be, recent claims that the Russians have videos of Trump “employing a number of prostitutes to perform ‘golden showers’” (among many other bits of damning and salacious information) indicate that blackmail resulting in treasonous acts is a distinct possibility. Perhaps Trump will be indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay while awaiting trial. Like all sociopaths large and small, Trump believes that the law does not apply to him. This may very well be his ultimate downfall.

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Don Vicious

December 8, 2016

Tags: Donald Trump, Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Pussy Riot, Twitter

Illustration from Creative Commons.
(Updated Jan. 22.) I didn't write "Don Vicious." My inner 20-year-old punk-self wrote it, roused from suspended animation two weeks ago, after Donald J. Trump whined on Twitter that the cast of Hamilton should "immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior."

The cast had asked Pence, after he attended the show, to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.”

“Don Vicious” (with apologies to Sid) came to me whole as I was walking on the High Line. I imagine it performed in the style and spirit of Pussy Riot or of Sex Pistols front man Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen/A fascist regime...”

I’m dedicating the song to John Lennon, who in his heart was a punk till the end (listen to “Serve Yourself”), who’s been gone 36 years today, and who would have appreciated Yoko Ono’s post-election Twitter howl—a howl that I’d suggest speaks for most of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Don Vicious”...

We know you’re a total disgrace
Anyplace you show your face
We’ll fuck you up
We’ll put you down
Because you’re a malignant clown

Hey, hey Donald J.
How many girls did you grope today?
With your tiny hands
With your tiny hands

You’re a racist Nazi
Ignorant man
You steal from people
Your life’s a scam
You're like the spawn of Son of Sam

Hey, hey Donald J.
How many girls did you grope today?
With your tiny hands
With your tiny hands

You hate Muslims
You hate Jews
Women, black skin
Brown skin too

Hey, hey Donald J.
How many girls did you grope today?
With your tiny hands
With your tiny hands




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Live from New York, It's Wednesday Morning!

November 2, 2016

Tags: Louie Free, John Lennon, Mary Lyn Maiscott, 9-11


Mary Lyn Maiscott and I were married at the Municipal Building in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. The ceremony was broadcast live on The Louie B. Free Radio Show. Soon after our 15th anniversary, we returned to the show to talk about our marriage, 9/11, my books, and Mary Lyn's music. In the ensuing years, the radio show has evolved into Louie TV. Here's a memorable hour that was broadcast live from New York on Wednesday morning, November 2.

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A Perfect Day for Beatles Watching/Un día perfecto para ver a los Beatles

October 9, 2016

Tags: The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years, October 9, John Lennon


If you haven’t seen it yet, today, October 9, which would have been John Lennon's 76th birthday, is the perfect day to watch The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, Ron Howard’s documentary, which primarily covers the group from 1962–1966. Though much of the material might seen overly familiar to people who’ve been following the Fab Four since 1964 (or earlier), there are some newly uncovered tidbits, like footage from their final show at Candlestick Park, that add more depth and detail to one of the best known stories of the 20th century.

My favorite part of the film was the rooftop concert at Apple Records—they play “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” The impromptu performance took place in 1969 (making the film’s title a misnomer). It was the last time the Beatles played together, and yes, I’ve seen it many times before (it’s in Let It Be). But the crisply restored sound and video gave the scene an electrifying energy that came though despite the fact that I was watching it on a small computer screen. I’d recommend seeing it at a theatre to get the full effect.

And if you’d like a bracingly fresh perspective on Lennon and the Beatles, may I also recommend Nowhere Man, now available as an e-book in English and Spanish.

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Un día perfecto para ver a los Beatles

Si tú no lo has visto todavía, hoy, 9 de octubre, el que habría sido el 76 cumpleaños de John Lennon, es el día perfecto para ver Los Beatles: Ocho días a la semana, los años de gira, el documental de Ron Howard, que cubre principalmente al grupo de 1962 a 1966. Aunque mucho del material podría parecer demasiado familiar, para las personas que han estado siguiendo a los Cuatro fabulosos desde 1964 (o antes), hay algunas golosinas recién descubiertas, como el metraje de su último concierto en Candlestick Park, que agrega más profundidad y detalle a una de las historias más conocidas del siglo 20.

Mi parte favorita de la película fue el concierto en la azotea de Apple Records, ellos tocan “Don’t Let Me Down” y “I’ve Got a Feeling.” La actuación improvisada tuvo lugar en 1969 (haciendo el título de la película no apropiado). Fue la última vez que los Beatles tocaron juntos, y sí, yo lo he visto muchas veces antes (está en Let It Be). Pero el sonido y el video nítidamente restaurados dan a la escena una energía electrizante, que me llega a través, a pesar del hecho de que yo lo estaba viendo en la pequeña pantalla de la computadora. Yo recomendaría verlo en un cine para conseguir el efecto completo.

Y si tú desearas una perspectiva fresca vigorizante de Lennon y los Beatles, yo puedo asimismo recomendarte Nowhere Man, ahora disponible como e-book en inglés y español.

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