Whodunnit v: Introductory theory

So many people have testified, given statements, and written books about the assassination of John F. Kennedy that someone writing another almost finds himself, like a novelist, with everything within the limits of his imagination to draw from. For such an author, the plot he elects to track and the characters with which he carries it to fullness will not only shape how readers will regard his work but reveal something about his thought processes and motivations in writing it.
Some books with the germ of an idea, an observation, an area of inquiry and develop as research and thought takes them. In others the course is set in advance, and the only details that are applied are those which fit the route which has already been mapped out.
Some of these choices make a work compelling.
Others throw it out of whack.
So with that in mind, stay tuned.

Whodunnit iv (Early Critical Reaction)

Whatever else this project may lead to, it certainly has been good for my blogging productivity.

Robert said, after I had explained what I was up to, “It would be more interesting if you explained why a 73-year-old man would investigate a 52-year-old murder, when the investigation already seems to have been completed by someone else.” Adele said, “I agree with Robert. If only M would talk to the 73-year-old, if wouldn’t be chasing this wild-but-already-bagged goose.”

I was the 73-year-old. Vincent Bugliosi was the “someone else.” And my friend M won’t discuss his belief that the national security state killed Kennedy because to do so is to accept that there is something to discuss, which is to make one’s self complicit with the cover-up of what happened in Dallas in 1963.

I don’t disagree with Robert. I have often said why someone writes about something can be more interesting than what they wrote about. I also don’t disagree with Robert that it would be interesting to explore why people believe what they do about the assassination, except, I told him, I think I already know that. I once told M that I resisted believing in believing in conspiracies involving high government officials and multiple government agencies because it would make me uncomfortable to believe I lived in a world like that. He hit me over the head with that admission for several years, until I said I had also come to believe that people believed in conspiracies because it made them uncomfortable to live in world where a lone, loony misfit, like Oswald, could kill a figure they revered, like Kennedy. They were uncomfortable with the chaotic, unpredictable randomness of the universe this suggested so they sought assurance this was not so by believing in conspiracies like others sought assurance by believing in religion.

M said, No. He believed what he did because it was the Truth.

Which only strengthened my belief in what I had just said.

Whodunnit iii (Alteration/correction)

I’m thinking of dumping Posner. Skimming Bugliosi shows he’s fairly dismissive of it, accusing it of misquotes and factual distortions. Since they reach the same conclusion, and B’s book is much more extensive, I may save myself reading 600+ pages. Also it turns out I do have B’s CD-rom, with its 1000+ footnotes. It was tucked inside the front cover, not the back, where I’d expected it.

I just finished…

…Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle,” vol. 1.
Triggered by an article by him in the NYTimes Sunday mag and cashed in a credit we had at Amazon for the first three. But after 20 pp., she placed in on a stack of to-be-returned-to’s of hers, which stands several years deep.
I retrieved it from there. Adhering to my policy of not reading reviews of contemporary novels in order to avoid unwarranted hype, I knew little about it. But I had gleaned it was considered a major work; plus I had nothing else going; plus, like those mountains, it was there.
It is deceptively simple. Lableled a novel, it presents as autobiography. The suggestion is so powerful that it overrides the impossibility he could recall with such exactitude all that he has set down. The conversations; the details of rooms; the lighting. (There is a lot of recalled lighting. I can’t recall last week’s.) And aside from the subject matter resonating as autobiographical, there is a shaping that runs counter to a novel’s. The author if a novel, it seemed to me, wouldn’t have included much of what Knausgaard did. But it all worked, puzzlement included. Only five more volumes to go.
One other thing, there is a lot in the book about death. It begins with passages on death. It ends with them. Idea-wise, death seems the major thing. Knausgaard was 40 when he wrote this book, and if you are 40 or 50 or 20-something reading it, you might think, Oh, wow, heavy. But if you are 73 and have been coded twice yourself, you may find yourself thinking that his thoughts are not as interesting as all that. They carry about the same (or less) weight than the lighting. That is no reason not to read it though. The stuff on relationships, friends, girls, brothers, fathers, is high quality.

Whodunnit (ii): the murder of JFK

Thanks to a libris, I now have the four books I mentioned last blog. So let me provides some vital statistics. (All weights include index and footnotes, except for the Bugliosi which has its fns in a CD rom I didn’t get.)

In the black (pro-Warren) corner, Posner’s volume (1993), the veteran of the bunch, weighs in at 637 pp. His partner, the massive — think Andre the Giant — Bugliosi (2007) has 1632. In the white (anti-Warren) corner, the Talbot (2007) is a slim 417 pp, and the Douglas is a nearly as trim 510.

Before joining me in standing while Marilyn Monroe sings the national anthem, let me make a few observations. Posner, being published first can address none of the other books. Reviewing the other indexes though, I see Bugliosi mentions Posner several times, not generally complimentarily, but neither of his opponents, perhaps understandably since their publication dates were close to his. Talbot mentions Posner but not to rebut any points he made. Talbot says that Posner’s book became a best seller because it was favorably reviewed by the mainstream media since its conclusion let the same media “off the hook” for its complicity in the cover-up. (Any implications of his own book becoming a “bestseller,” as its softcover edition proclaims, are not drawn.) Douglas mentions neither Posner nor Bugliosi. The failure of Talbot and Douglas may be due to the fact to the close proximity of the publication dates of their books, but Bugliosi’s book stemmed from his having prosecuted Oswald in a 21-hour British television trial, broadcast over several days in several countries, in July 1986. (A condensed American version was shown on SHOW in November.) Gerry Spence was the defense attorney. The jury convicted Oswald, after six hours deliberation. This would seem to have warranted some mention.

Maybe it did in some later writings by Douglas and Talbot. I haven’t checked, but I am aware of an article in Talbot in “Slate” (11/6/13) where he places Douglas’s book atop a list of the seven “best books” about Kennedy’s killing. (His own is Number Six.) Neither Posner nor Bugliosi made the list but are dismissed as “hardcore lone gunmen” theorists.

I ought to say I am no impartial referee. I believed Oswald did it up until around the time of Oliver Stone’s movie on the subject. (Like most Americans, I had read none of the books on the subject.) Then I conceded it was as likely as not that other people were involved. Since then I have swung back to my original opinion.


As I finish the last writing project to which I’m committed, I’m looking at a new one. I approach it cautiously, due to its nature and because this decision coincides with my going off one of my meds, and the last time I dropped it, some regrettable e-mails and impaired relationships resulted. But I aim to uncover who killed Kennedy.

My plan is to lay out, point-by-point, the arguments in two books which believe the Warren Commission got it wrong and weigh them against the answering points, if they exist, in two books that agree with the Commission. In one corner are James Douglas’s “JFK and the Unimaginable” and David Talbot’s “Brothers.” In the opposite ate Gerald Posner’s “Case Closed” and Vincent Bugliosi’s “Reclaiming History.” I chose the Douglas because it is so highly thought of by my good friend and respected political thinker M that he will no longer discuss its subject — or much else of substance — with me; and I chose the Talbot because it is highly thought of by good friend and respected political thinker B, who not only still puts up with my thoughts but is sometimes influenced by them.

I don’t expect to convince anyone of anything. But I expect to inform myself, not only about the ostensible primary topic, but about how people — including myself — think and reason and inform themselves about what they choose to believe.

Stay tuned. This will take a while.

Not my area of expertise, but…

The other day I sent my first (e-mail) Letter to the Editor to The New York Review of Books. Its form response that it received far too many letters to respond personally, plus my assessment that amount-of-humor-within seemed not a factor in determining which letters saw print, plus my calculated guess that no editor of the NYRB read my blog (or else why wouldn’t I have already been asked to contribute to it?) and disqualify my letter due to prior publication, I decided to post it here and avoid my effort being lost to posterity. Plus I’d run it by my consultant on all matters of medical policy, Dr Philth, and he said that while the issue was “complex,” he enjoyed my concluding paragraph. So here goes:

The statistic that jumped out at me from Lara Gotein’s supportive review of Kenneth M. Ludmerer’ “Let Me Heal” lamentation for the vanished mentor-trainee relationship that once linked senior medical staff and residents in teaching hospitals is that the average hospital stay for patients has declined from sixteen to five days in the last forty years. Speaking as a patient, whose interest Ludmerer (and Gotein) recognize is to be “placed… above all else,” the instruct seems to be that we have been well served by having senior docs concentrate on sharpening their clinical skills and pursuing research interests while residents were left ordering tests this research had led to, ensuring they hadn’t “miss(ed) anything,” instead of having troops of white coats poke and palpate us like we were visual aides.
Professional bonding be damned. I’d rather get my ass home.

On Israel

Not that many of you will care what I think but recently a friend who has swung hard right, since being slightly right in college, asked me what I thought about Israel. Here is how I replied, slightly edited. (Some of this, some readers, will have heard before.)

I think it all comes down to tribes squabbling over dirt. (This applies to Israel vs. Palestinians, Russia vs. Ukrania, and any other disputes you care to name.) Unless we recognize we are all one tribe (people) on one patch of dirt (Earth), we are doomed. +++What I think that what went on with “Palestine,” which is the name the Ottoman’s gave to part of the dirt they controlled, which, along with much else, was wrested from them by the Brits in WW I, is that the Zionists, who wanted a piece of it, out-muscled, thru a variety of means, the Arabs who wanted it all. Most of the Arabs who were there fled, or were driven out. Most of the Jews in Arab countries fled or were driven out. Israel took in the Jews. The Arabs out-foxed them by not taking in the Arabs. They hung around, multiplying, waiting to get back where they’d been. Then 1967 rolled around and Israel grabbed more dirt and the Arabs living on it. Now you’ve got two tribes contesting the same dirt, large numbers of each believing God gave it to them. What each side needs is a Nelson Mandala, but each side has so many crazies that before anyone could get very far, someone would probably kill one or both. Also, each side thinks its God gave this dirt to them, so unless these Gods or someone else’s God works this out, matters will remain sticky.
Anyway, I think Israel has the right to stay where it is, because it won it. (That’s how any country gets to be where it is, the USA, France, ISIS even. Some tribe wins some dirt and declares itself a country.) They can keep it until someone takes it away. How they treat the people who live there meanwhile is another matter, and one the Israelis aren’t doing very well with in my opinion. (Michael Ignatieff, in the NYRB, discusses a book by Michael Walzer which argues that Israel, like India and Algeria, are failed attempts at secular liberation movements because they underestimated the religious extremism at too many of their citizens’ core.) Personally, I would do away with countries. This would be tough on the Olympics, but we’d stil have the NBA and MMA. Israel’s problem is that it is surrounded by all these other tribes who want to destroy it. There are many more of them, and probably some day, once they to stop killing each other, they will succeed. I won’t be around then, and since I don’t have any children, it’s not even secondarily my problem. Being Jewish though, I confess to having this irrational rooting interest in the situation, similar to my old rooting interest in Jewish athletes or Philadelphia teams or bald guys.

Kafka in the Hot Tub

My latest is up at http://broadstreetreview.com/books-movies/renee-blitzs-poet-of-transparency

I thought Renee was trying to drive me crazy with her quotation marks. Sometimes she didn’t use them. Okay, William Gaddis didn’t either. But sometimes they were in the same story that they were not. And sometimes there was a “ but no ”. And sometimes, springing up unexpected, like a toadstool on a sidewalk, was a ” when there was no “, unless you counted the last unanswered “ several pages before; but that could not be because she had several paired “ ”s between.

The Wild One is Thirty-eight

My latest piece is up at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/82891/. (Again I apologize for my inability to provide a clickable link.)

It begins

The first story in the comic The Adventures of Tad Martin, #Sick Sick Six ((Teenage Dinosaur and Profanity Hill. 2015), by Casanova Frankenstein, “the artist, formally (sic) known as Al Frank,” is entitled “Tad Martin Vs. Popeye Rape-Whistle in The Secrets of Corpse-Fucking.” The publisher believed me the perfect person to review it. One week later, a journal editor had the same idea. I was flattered by the attention. At the same time, I thought, How the hell did Creative Writing 101a get me here?