I just finished…

…Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” (vol. 2). (Am I the only one who didn’t know “Mein Kampf” means “My Struggle? Am I the only one who, knowing this, has whiffed on the connection?)
Anyway, it took a while. In fact, about two-thirds through, I considered quitting reading books altogether. I’ve been at this a long time, I thought, and enough’s enough. Part of it was, like vol.1, I didn’t see the point of sitting thru a 40-year-old instructing me about life. Plus, I kept forgetting who his friends and relatives were, or even if I’d med them before, and, except for Ibsen and Hamsun, I’d never heard of the famous Norwegians he kept posting as directional markers.
But after a week, I resumed. (Old habits are hard to break.) Toward the end, he started writing vol. 1, and that was cool. We have two more in the house, and I’ll get there; but not for a while. I picked the new Jonathan Franzen out of the free box at Café Bongo, and it’s a treat to find myself smiling for 15 consecutive pages.

Electric Bob

Just in time for the end of my Kennedy blatherings, I have something new to tout:


It begins:

On May 3, 1963, a 22-year-old folk singer, down from Greewich Village, drew 45 people to the Ethical Society for his Philadelphia debut. Less than three years later, he sold out the Academy of Music. In “Dylan Goes Electric!” (Dey St. 2015) Elijah Wald explains the in-between.
Wald was six-years-old in Cambridge, Mass., when Bob Dylan exploded into “Maggie’s Farm” at the Newport Folk Festival. I was about to start my second year at Penn Law School by moving into a Powelton Village pad, so our connections to those times differ. I might emphasize things differently, but I don’t think he missed much. He heard the tapes, he viewed the films, he read the correspondence, he interviewed dozens, (not including Dylan). Wald’s reconstruction, from build-up through consequences, is thoughtful and thorough, balanced and gracefully styled. He lays out facts, voices arguments, analyzes schisms – and answers the enduring questions. Was Bob booed? Were those tears on his cheeks or sweat? Did Pete Seeger threaten his set with an axe? And when the folklorist Allen Lomax – metaphorically and actually – wrestled the agent Albert Grossman, who won?

Whodunnit xxx: Conclusion

I asked M if Douglass or Salandria had responded to Bugliosi. He didn’t know. Once he’d concluded “no doubt was possible as to the fact of a conspiracy,” he said, “(I chose) not to waste my time with any author… unable to accept this simple truth.”
The on-line site www.maryferrell.com took on the challenge of rebutting Reclaiming History . It provided a repository of detailed analyses of bullet fragments, audiotapes of police radio transmissions, head and throat wounds, the whereabouts of various individuals within the book depository at the time leading up to the shootings, and a time-line of Oswald’s movements from then until Tippit’s shooting in order to prove Bugliosi wrong.
Some of these entries seemed more convincing than others. Some seemed beyond my comprehension in their technicality. Some seemed silly. The Salandria-connected journalist, Gaeton Fonzi, for instance, traced his disbelief in the Warren Commission to Arlen Specter’s failure to remember exactly where the bullet had struck Kennedy in the back when interviewed in 1966. (Fonzi went on to express his belief that anti-Castro Cubans, linked with the CIA agent who would write the novel in which the anti-CIA left kills Kennedy, and, less directly, with Oswald, were involved in… Well, Fonzi never said.) In fact, none of Mary Ferrell’s contributors moved beyond their particular areas of doubt to build an entire sequence of events to explain what occurred.
Certainly some threads in the Warren Commission narrative are more securely anchored to its fabric than others. Bodies must have aligned in a particular wayt. Oswald must have traveled from the depository at a certain clip in a certain way to encounter Tippit. But the narrative woven around these problematics seems sturdier than one involving two or three or four shooters, most unseen, most leaving no traces, most arrivals and departures unaccounted for.
Certainly, too, I have questions. Where, I wonder, was Oswald going when he left his room with no money and his pistol? I also wonder why Douglass and Salandria insist on eliminating Oswald from the shooting entirely. If he wasn’t firing his rifle, then the conspiracy needed two shooters in the depository, plus at least one on the knoll, raising the risk of someone being apprehended by one-third, not to mention all those Oswald doubles to falsely implicate him.
So it’s confusing. How do you sort it out? My own inclination is to give little weight to any individual eyewitness. Memories are too unreliable. Too many disagreements abound. Some witnessed may be entirely or partially correct , but simply by comparing their accounts you can’t tell which. (I think you can fairly discount the witness who heard shots being fired within the limousine, but beyond that…) The expert testimony is more compelling. Even though you can usually find an expert to testify on either side of any proposition, it is usually easier to decide which of these to believe. (And these beliefs, as they form, tend to lead credence to some eyewitnesses and cast doubt upon others.) And finally there is the objective evidence, like the X-rays and photographs and films. They show what they show, and when you dispute them, you are led into beliefs about forgeries and alterations and substituted body parts. I find it easier to believe in the alignment of particular bodies in a particular way.

When I began this venture, I asked about thirty friends if they believed the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. About half did. A quarter believed others did it; a quarter didn’t know what to believe. When I asked those in that half what influenced their doubts, I was referred to Oliver Stone, Mort Sahl, Stephen King. One said she was “not a great believer in the rational process.”
Two of those polled had read the one-volume Warren Report. (They split one pro, one con-.) None had read Douglass or Salandria or Bugliosi. This led me to reflect upon how little people – and I include myself – base their opinions upon. Yet we all have opinions about all manner of things of political and social import to which we hold strongly and about which we argue forcefully. But it takes a great deal of information to understand an issue. You can take an entire college course and still have understanding elude you. You can earn a PhD and still have other PhDs attack you in the NYRB.
Toward the end of Bugliosi’s book, I ran into this assessment of those who believe in the Kennedy conspiracy. “It’s essentially become a religious belief… and with religious beliefs, the believer knows the truth, so there has to be an explanation for everything that contradits that truth… In situations where even they can’t come up with an explanation, they shield themselves from the evidence by distorting or ignoring it.” Imagine my surprise – and delight – at seeing him voice, after 20 years of work, what I had divined by talking to M without undertaking any of it.
I also wondered if this 30-part effort had been necessary. Maybe not, but it was fun

Whodunnit xxix: Dueling Narratives

John Sparrow has written, “In order not to believe in the probable there is so much of the improbable one has to believe in.”

Or look at it this way.
In one view of the world, Lee Harvey Oswald takes his rifle to work and kills President Kennedy. He rushes to his rooming house, changes clothes, picks up his revolver, and, when stopped by Officer Tippit, kills him. He attempts to hide inside a movie theater, where he is arrested.

In another, for two months prior to the assassination, one or more CIA-connected people impersonating Oswald, who is himself CIA-connected, visit embassies in Mexico City, write a letter ro another, and drop in on a gun shop, rifle range, car dealership, and airport in Dallas, to create an after-the-fact impression he was preparing to kill the president.
In mid-October a CIA-connected woman masquerading as a friend of Oswald and his wife. induces him to take a job at the book depository.
On November 20, two Cuban or Italian men, who don’t resemble Oswald, drive with a heroin addicted stripper named Rose Cheramie from Miami to Dallas, planning to kill the president, before continuing on to Houston to pick up 10 kilos of heroin and a small child and move to Mexico.
On November 22 at 11 am, Jack Ruby, who had been involved in a long homosexual relationship with Oswald, drops a man carrying a rifle off from his pick-up truck at the grassy knoll. (It is unclear if he is one of the men from Miami.)
At 12:30 pm, Kennedy will be shot. Either one or two shots are fired from the grassy knoll. The shooter of the one shot will have an accomplice. (It is unclear if these are the two men from Miami or if either was the man Ruby dropped off.) These men, along with the man or men in the book depository (see below) will be among those who contribute to Kennedy being shot 6 to 8 times from at least three directions. (Which directions and by how many shooters is unclear.)
In the book depository, a man with a rifle is leaning out of a 4th or 5th floor window with a man in a brown suit coat beside him. And/or a man in a sport coat fires four shots from a window on the 5th or 6th floor. And/or a man in a tan sport coat and glasses fires three shots from a window on the 7th floor. This man will enter a green Rambler driven by a young Negro. This may or may not be the same man who is either Oswald or his twin seen entering a green Rambler driven by a husky Latin (but probably not since Oswald was not wearing a sport coat or glasses). Whichever Rambler had Oswald or his twin in it was also owned by the CIA linked woman contrary toe fact that state records say she did not own such a vehicle. (It is unclear if any of the men on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th floor were those from Miami.)
Oswald or his twin flees the scene in the Rambler, while the other leaves by bus. The real Oswald makes his way to his rooming house where he retrieves his pistol. He is picked up by a police car (or a “counterfeit” police car) and driven to the Texas Theater to await his CIA-handler. Meanwhile an Oswald impersonator (It is unclear if is the one from the Rambler or bus) kills Officer Tippit, thereby branding the actual Oswald as a cop-killer, so the Dallas police will kill him. The imposter leads the police to the theater. After the actual Oswald is subdued (though not killed, even though he has pulled his pistol, providing ample cause), the impersonator is whisked out the back door to travel, first by red Falcon and then by jeep, disembarking with a companion who has been picked up along the way, for a cargo plane which has been diverted from its flight pattern to pick them up on a highway under construction, in order to fly them to Roswell, New Mexico, to join the flying saucers. (What happened to any other Oswalds and any other shooters is unclear.)
After that it became a simple matter of substituted body parts, doctored films and X-rays, military-controlled autopsies, compromised Chief Justices and Senators, and lay people bribed with offers of $500 or cast into mental hospitals or murdered or scared into temporary silence by attempts on their lives with knife and gun and dynamite and automobile.

Whodunnit xxviii: Six Top Reasons Oswald Killed Kennedy (and one why no one else was involved)

Bugliosi actually provides over eighty, but I’m picking the best and indulging in a bit of consolidating.
1. Oswald rented a room in Dallas, and would join his wife and daughter in the house in Irving where they resided on Friday nights. But the day before the assassination, Oswald joined them Thursday instead. He stored his rifle in this house’s garage, but when the FBI visited the following day, the rifle was not there. He had left his wedding ring and most of his money behind though.
2. Oswald told the fellow who drove him to work Friday morning that the long, brown paper-wrapped parcel he was carrying contained curtain rods, though his room already had curtain rods, and no curtain rods were found at the book depository after Oswald left, not carrying his parcel.
3. A rifle that Oswald had mail-ordered and which had been shipped to his PO box, was found on the sixth floor of the book depository, along with three casings of bullets which had been fired from it. Bullets that struck Kennedy had been fired from that rifle.
4. Oswald’s left and right palm prints and an index finger print were found on boxes from which the sixth floor “sniper’s nest” had been built. He was the only warehouse employee placed on the sixth floor near the time of the shooting, and of the 16 warehousemen, only he disappeared following the shooting.
5. Ten people either saw Oswald shoot Officer Tippit or saw him run from the shooting with a pistol in his hand. And two more saw him sneak into the Texas Theater.
6. While in police custody, Oswald refused to take a lie detector test, denied owning a rifle, and said a photograph of him holding a rifle, which his wife said she had taken, had been doctored. And paraffin tests confirmed he had recently fired the revolver.
7. It is hard to keep a secret, and this one would have involved members of the executive branch and Attorney General’s office, the joint chiefs of staff, the CIA, captains of industry, the FBI, Dallas Police Department, Secret Service, and the Warren Commission and its staff. Yet in 52-years not one credible person has come forward to admit participating in the murder or the cover up. Nor has one person said they were approached to participate and declined to do so. And if they were scared into keeping silence, you would expect that, after others who claimed fear had silenced them for five or 30 years, before they went public with their stories and books and went unharmed, you would think one among these still-silent would have been willing to clear their conscience, or save their reputations, if not fill their bank accounts.

Whodunnit xxvii: Head Snap

A final piece in the conspiracists’ shot-from-the-front scenario is that the Zapruder film shows Kennedy’s head snapping sharply to the rear. “(C)onclusive,” says Salandria. To Talbot, the films “reveal more” than the entire Warren Commission report. (Douglass, though, is oddly silent on the films. While his book gives more than four pages to Rose Cheramie and over five to Robert Vinson, he only mentions the films once, and then in an endnote, where he sets forth a belief they were altered to (a) hide the exit wound at the rear of Kennedy’s head and (b) eliminate frames which showed that the Secret Service had stopped the limo to give the assassins an easier target. In the same footnote, he takes the opportunity to cite an authority who believes “Kennedy was shot 6-to-8 times from at least three directions…”, which is as specific as Douglass gets to a theory of who actually shot Kennedy from where.)

Okay, no argument, Kennedy’s head snapped backwards. But what does that mean, exactly? According to experts quoted by Bugliosi, the snap was a neuromuscular response consistent with a bullet striking the rear of his head. And Bugliosi’s analysis of the Zapruder films shows that Kennedy’s head first went forward slightly (2″ approx.) before jerking more strongly to the rear (8 ½”). Given the weight of the bullet as opposed to the weight of Kennedy’s head, this is about the movement forward you would expect prior to the neuromuscular response taking over.
As for the reality of such a response, I haven’t tried this myself, but the next time you’re in line at a movie theater, flick the back of the head of the person ahead of you with your index finger, and see if that head moves towards you or away.
I’m betting “towards.”

Whodunnit xxvi: The Grassy Knoll

Vincent Salandria, with much enthusiasm but little specificity, said, “(M)any eyewitnesses, including skilled observers such as police officers and… Secret Service Agents… heard shots coming from… saw smoke emanating from… saw a man fleeing from… and smelled gunpowder in the grassy knoll area….” Salandria named none of these witnesses, though it is nice of him to show faith in the police and Secret Service, since both are agencies he elsewhere named as part of the conspiracy and/or its cover-up.
The knoll was to Kennedy’s right front. Among the other authors under consideration, David Talbot identifies the presidential aide Kenneth O’Donnell as someone who “distinctly heard at least two shots from the grassy knoll.” And James Douglass identifies a police officer who smelled gunpowder atop the knoll; Gordon Arnold, a 22-year-old soldier, who heard two shots fly over him while he lay on the grass; and Ed Hoffman, a 27-year-old deaf mute, observed a puff a smoke arise from what he realized was a rifle shot. He further observed the shooter toss the rifle to another man, who broke it down and stuffed it into a brown tool bag. The two men then walked off and lost themselves in the crowd.
Douglass is candid enough to say that it took Arnold 15 years to tell his story to a Dallas newspaperman. He omits saying that when he told it again for a TV documentary a decade later, Arnold had changed it significantly. Douglass also does not say that in film and photos of the area where Arnold says he was, he is not visible. As for Hoffman, he gave two contradictory accounts, neither mentioning the puff of smoke or the rifle – but saying the men were running from the book depository – to the FBI two days after the shooting. Ten years elapsed before he re-surfaced, adding these details and placing the men on the knoll. (Others have said no one exited from the knoll in the direction Hoffman said, and that it was jammed with traffic, bumper-to-bumper, making such an escape route unlikely. And, Buglosi explains in great detail that a modern rifle would discharge such a small amount of smoke when firing that it would be almost impossible to detect, particularly on a bright clear day like November 22, when it would blend with its background. If Hoffman saw anything, it was probably motorcycle exhaust.)

So, at best, Salandria’s “many… skilled observers” become one smeller of gunpowder, two hearers of two shots, and one spotter of smoke (and observer of but one shot). To put this in perspective, there were 4-500 people in Dealey Plaza. No one but Hoffman reported seeing anyone with a rifle in the area of the knoll. No rifle or bullet casings were recovered from there. Reverberations from the buildings in the area – not to mention hysteria and confusion – made it difficult to identify where the shots were coming from, but films of the motorcade show the Secret Servicemen immediately looking behind them when the shots are fired. Averaging two polls of people present that were taken subsequently, 35 thought the shots came from the depository; 30 thought they came from the knoll: two thought they came from both (significant, since we know shots came from the depository); 13 said someplace else; and 100 didn’t know. We have three surveys on the number of shots to consider. On overage 75% of the people heard three shots; 3.6% heard four shots; and about 10% heard two shots. So to believe there was a shooter on the knoll, since we know three shots were fired from the depository, one must believe the 3.6% and disbelieve the 86%

Whodunnit xxv: The Magic Bullet (b)

The autopsy face sheet prepared at Bethesda did provide enough inconsistencies and errors to fuel the conspiracists’ fire about a “magic bullet.” These fires continued to burn even after the doctors who’d prepared the sheet explained that it was a rough approximation and not intended as accurate. They continued to burn even though the seven doctors who reviewed the medical record for the Warren Commission, and eight of the nine doctors who, using enhanced photos and X-rays, evaluated for the HSCA agreed that one bullet did all the claimed damage. And the fires were not extinguished even though 3-D computer modeling, applied and re-applied as it improved in 1976, ‘82, ‘92, and 2003, concluded that Kennedy and Connolly’s wounds were in alignment with a single shot fired from a southeast corner window on the sixth floor of the book depository.
The conspiracists cling to their belief based on claims that x-rays have been doctored and photos altered and that someone else’s body parts were substituted for Kennedy’s, as well as a blindness to – and distortion of – the plainly observable. To make their case, they place Connolly directly in front of and on an equal level with Kennedy, when photographs show the governor on a jump seat, below the president to his left, and turned to his own right when struck. Photos show Kennedy’s back – but not his head – inclined forward, establishing a posture consistent with an entry wound in his rear and exit wound in his throat just where the Warren Commission put it. And no disrespect to Salandria’s great-grandfather, but Kennedy’s jacket was clearly bunched up over his shoulders at the time the shot was fired.
One other thing, if the same bullet didn’t hit Kennedy and Connolly, who shot the governor? Since he was struck in the back, the shooter had to have been behind the limo. From the time between the visible reactions of both men established by the Zapruder film, Oswald couldn’t have gotten off separate shots to hit each man separately. No one claimed to have seen a second rifleman behind the car. And what happened to the bullet which hit Kennedy if it didn’t end up in Connolly? The FBI swept the car and didn’t find a trace of it.
Oh, that’s right, we can’t trust the FBI not to have pocketed it – except when it comes to trusting its initially voiced separate-bullet theory. And as McAdams points out, the Warren Commission was thinking separate bullets hit Kennedy and Connolly as late as April 1964, so how could the FBI have been hiding evidence in late 1963 to bolster a theory that hadn’t yet been arrived at?

Whodunnit xxiv: The Magic Bullet (a)

Could Oswald’s second shot have entered Kennedy’s back and, as Salandria described its path – pass through his custom-tailored jacket and shirt, improbably “bunched together” in the Warren Commission’s formulation in order, the cospiracists suggest, to make the bullet holes in the garments align, and then turn in mid-air, strike Connolly in the back, travel down through his chest to fracture a rib and wrist, before ending up in his femur? (The “bunched” jacket particularly troubled Salandria, since he felt the accusation insulted the memory of his great-grandfather, a master tailor.)
The answer is “Duh, yea,” (though the actual bullet didn’t have to perform the contortions Salandria demanded of it). And I say this despite the governor and his wife believing separate shots struck him and Kennedy, and despite the F.B.I.’s having initially concluded the same thing, and despite, according to Bugliosi, the single-bullet business caused the “biggest disagreement” among the Warren commissioners. First of all, one may wonder how much credence to give the Connollys’ recall, their having been shot at – and hit – and all, while forming the memories they drew upon. Second, doesn’t it seem odd to see the F.B.I. being relied upon as a font of truth, since, according to Douglass, it had joined the cover-up by November 22. Third, the most skeptical commissioners, Russell, Cooper, and Boggs, had the worst attendance records. Russell, the record-setter, missed 88 of 94 sessions; and if anyone was going to cover things up to protect the joint chiefs, it would seem to have been he, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Finally, “magic” or not, more than a little positive evidence says the second bullet did it.

Whodunnit xxiii: Autopsy (b)

But before we leave the autopsy, there’s the tale of Lt. Cmmdr. William Pitzer of the Audio-Visual Department of the Naval Medical School, who, Douglass says, filmed it. This story is based on the recollection of Pitzer’s wife, recounted in a book published forty-one years later, that he had left home at 4:30 p.m. the afternoon of the assassination for work, taking his camera, and did not return until the following afternoon. He never told her where he’d been, but Dennis David, a hospital corpsman, in Douglass’s reconstruction, provides the details. David said that, a few days after the assassination, Pitzer showed him film of Kennedy’s body shot during the autopsy which showed an entrance wound in the throat. No one else is known to have seen this film.
On Oct. 29, 1966, Pitzer was found dead in his studio from a gunshot to the head. FBI and naval investigators concluded he had committed suicide. (He was in a troubled marriage and having an affair.) David believed Pitzer was killed to keep him from releasing the films. Now David has credibility problems. He’d suggested in 1988 that he had been present when Pitzer had filmed the autopsy, though he’d said in 1977 he hadn’t been in the room; and he’d not mentioned until 1997 that he had actually seen the footage. (Another problem was that no one at the autopsy recalled seeing Pitzer there; and the official list of those in attendance did not include his name. Douglass gets around this by saying that since the room contained a closed circuit TV camera, Pitzer may’ve been monitoring the scene elsewhere, and got his films from there. But then why did he need his camera when he left home, huh?)
Oh, maybe, that was because Pitzer filmed Kennedy’s corpse, not at Bethesda, but at Walter Reed Hospital, where it had been taken first so that the bullet wounds could be surgically altered. This theory shows up in one of Douglass’s endnotes; and its source is again Dennis David based upon his recalling a sighting of a mysterious gray casket being delivered to the rear of Bethesda a half-hour before the official bronze one, supposedly bearing the president, arrived at the front door.
(Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe when Pitzer left home without saying where he was going, it was to ball his mistress, and the “work” and camera was a cover-story. Anyone think of that?)
Readers will not be surprised to learn Douglass believes David about Pitzer. After all, Douglass has Daniel Martin to rely on too.

Martin was a Born Again, ex-Special Forces officer, who surfaced in the early 19990s after having seen a documentary in which Pitzer’s death was discussed. This reminded Martin of a CIA-influenced training program for assassins he had attended in 1965 at Fort Bragg. There, he had not only learned that the Company had probably killed Kennedy, but he and a fellow Green Beret, David Vanek were solicited to kill Pitzer. Martin refused; but after learning about Pitzer’s fate, he assumed Vanek had accepted the job, and when his efforts to locate Vanek were unsuccessful, he assumed the CIA had killed him to assure his silence.
According to Victor Bugliosi, two conspiracists, Robin Palmer and Allen Eaglesham, spent a decade trying to verify Martin’s story. When Vanek was located, he denied knowing Martin, or being at the training session he described, let alone killing Pitzer. Douglass notes this but adds, “Vanek was apparently well-versed in CIA-cover stories.” (Right! Like “I never heard of the guy.”) Douglass does not say that, following these denials, Martin became evasive, contradictory, and refused to confront Vanek on the phone. Palmer and Eaglesham concluded Martin was a liar and warned the conspiracy community against him.
Douglass seems not to have heard this warning.