Tuesday Reads

Harvard-Square-Out-of-Town-News

Good Morning!!

We’re only a few days from the 50th anniversary of the day the President of the United States was shot down on a Dallas street. You’d think an event like that would lead to a serious investigation and efforts to bring those involved to justice.

Instead we were told within hours that President Kennedy had been murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald. Two days later Oswald was shot dead in the Dallas Police station by Jack Ruby, and the investigation, such as it was, ended.

At the time, even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover told newly sworn President Lyndon Johnson (in a recorded phone call) that the case against Oswald was too weak to get a conviction. Later, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry would say, “We don’t have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle, and never did. Nobody’s yet been able to put him in that building with a gun in his hand.”

Oswald supposedly shot Kennedy with a rifle at 12:30 from a window on the 6th floor of the Dallas Book Deposititory Building. Approximately 90 seconds after the shooting, Oswald was seen by Dallas police officer Marion Baker and Oswald’s boss Ray Truly in the lunch room on the 2nd floor of the building calmly drinking a coke. From Wikipedia:

According to Baker, Oswald did not appear to be nervous or out of breath. Truly said that Oswald appeared “startled” when Baker aimed his gun at him.  Mrs. Robert Reid—clerical supervisor at the Depository, returning to her office within two minutes of the assassination—said that she saw Oswald who “was very calm” on the second floor with a Coke in his hands.

Victoria Adams

Victoria Adams

Meanwhile, a young woman named Victoria Adams was watching the presidential motorcade from a window on the 4th floor of the book depository building. From a review of the book The Girl on the Stairs, by Barry Ernest:

She was an employee who worked in the same building as one Lee Harvey Oswald. The problem caused by her presence is very simple and easily summarized. Adams, along with her friend Sandra Styles, stood on the fourth floor of the Texas School Book Depository at the moment of the murder. She testified to hearing three shots, which from her vantage point appeared to be coming from the right of the building (i.e., from the grassy knoll). She and Styles then ran to the stairs to head down. This was the only set of stairs that went all the way to the top of the building. Both she and her friend took them down to the ground floor. She did not see or hear Oswald. Yet, she should have if he were on the sixth floor traveling downwards. Which is what the Commission said he did after he shot Kennedy.

This is the first problem, in a nutshell. Why did Adams not see a scrambling Oswald, flying down the stairs in pursuit of his Coca-Cola? Because of the Warren Commission’s timeline, we know Oswald had to have gone down the stairs during this period in order to be accosted in time by a motorcycle policeman. In addition, as we are later to discover, Adams also reports seeing Jack Ruby on the corner of Houston and Elm, “questioning people as though he were a policeman.”

Adams soon learned that the government didn’t want to hear what she had to say about what she had observed–and not observed on the day of the assassination. She was repeatedly “badgered” to change her story. She was also pressured by the investigator for the Warren Commission when she was interviewed in Dallas. Adams eventually moved away from Dallas, married and changed her name. Author Barry Ernest found her and talked to her before she died, and her story remained the same.

Recently Adams’ friend Sandra Styles was interviewed on the Travel channel. Styles still says she saw no one on the stairs. She says she believes Oswald probably shot Kennedy, but perhaps there were others involved “pulling the strings.” Watch the interview at the link.

Along with the fact that no gunshot residue was found on Oswald’s hands (although he was accused of shooting Dallas police officer JD Tippit with a handgun) or on his cheek (where it would be if he had shot a rifle), that is enough reasonable doubt for me to believe that Oswald was what he claimed–a patsy.

Here’s a longer video with most of the statements Oswald made in custody before he was killed by Jack Ruby.

We were told that Oswald was a lunatic, a loser who wanted to be famous for killing the most powerful man in the country.  But to me, he didn’t sound crazy, and if he wanted to be famous for the assassination of the president, why did he repeatedly say he hadn’t and ask for a lawyer to defend him?

Please, if you read any of the hundreds of articles that will appear in the corporate media over the next few days, think about these basic facts; because they probably will not appear in the news stories. After 50 years, there is so much information out there–and so many ridiculous theories as well–that it is extremely difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But remember that a conspiracy is just cooperation between two or more people to commit a crime (or cover one up).  A conspiracy doesn’t even require a second shooter. It just requires that someone besides the person who pulled the trigger knew something or did something. If no one else but Oswald was involved, why has there been a 50-year effort by the government and the media to keep information about the assassination and “investigation” secret from the American people?

Personally, I think Jefferson Morley’s website “JFK Facts” is the best place to get accurate information and avoid nonsense about the assassination of President Kennedy. Morley is a former Washington Post reporter who has spent years trying to get the CIA to release the last 1,100 JFK-assassination-related files they are keeping secret. The CIA (and the FBI) had extensive knowledge of Oswald before the shooting, and there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that he was an intelligence asset. Morley identifies the “top 7 JFK files the CIA still keeps secret.”  These files involve CIA personnel who knew about Oswald and his history as well as Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, who had access to KGB files on Oswald.

Yesterday someone actually asked White House press secretary Jay Carney about the embargoed files. It’s reported in a story by McClatchy DC on plans for the Obamas and Clintons to visit Kennedy’s grave.

Secretary of State John Kerry told Parade magazine this week that he had “serious doubts” that gunman Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, but the White House wouldn’t say Monday where Obama falls on the conspiracy theory.

“I haven’t had a discussion with the president about Kennedy’s assassination — President Kennedy’s assassination,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said. He said he’s also not talked with Obama about whether classified files that have not yet been released in the case should be released.

It’s time for Obama to order the release of the files. If the CIA has nothing to hide and Oswald was a lone assassin who acted alone, why not?

Matrix

I still have room for a few more reads. This one is really interesting, and it asks a question that seems very relevant: “Do We Live in the Matrix?” From Discover Magazine:

In the 1999 sci-fi film classic The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, is stunned to see people defying the laws of physics, running up walls and vanishing suddenly. These superhuman violations of the rules of the universe are possible because, unbeknownst to him, Neo’s consciousness is embedded in the Matrix, a virtual-reality simulation created by sentient machines.

The action really begins when Neo is given a fateful choice: Take the blue pill and return to his oblivious, virtual existence, or take the red pill to learn the truth about the Matrix and find out “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Physicists can now offer us the same choice, the ability to test whether we live in our own virtual Matrix, by studying radiation from space. As fanciful as it sounds, some philosophers have long argued that we’re actually more likely to be artificial intelligences trapped in a fake universe than we are organic minds in the “real” one.

But if that were true, the very laws of physics that allow us to devise such reality-checking technology may have little to do with the fundamental rules that govern the meta-universe inhabited by our simulators. To us, these programmers would be gods, able to twist reality on a whim.

So should we say yes to the offer to take the red pill and learn the truth — or are the implications too disturbing?

Go read it–it’s fascinating and disturbing.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. From CNN:

Gettysburg

It has been 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of thousands of people in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at a turning point in the Civil War.

His words are some of the most memorable in American history, forever stamping our collective minds with “four score and seven years ago,” and “all men are created equal,” and of course a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

A few more links on the anniversary:

The Wichita Eagle: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address changed the American psyche, KU professor says

The LA Times: Not right the first time, Lincoln wrote this Gettysburg Address twice

The Atlantic: The Gettysburg Address at 150–and Lincoln’s Impromptu Words the Night Before

So . . . this post has mostly focused on history. I should include a few links to current news stories, but I can’t bring myself to do it; I’m going to end here, and post my news links in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same.

Have a great day!


Steven Spielberg’s Dark and Gloomy “Lincoln”

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

I went to see Spielberg’s latest film “Lincoln” today. That was three hours of my life I’ll never get back. I admit that I’m not a fan of Steven Spielberg or of historical dramas, so maybe my judgment isn’t worth that much; but I’m going to write about it anyway. I am a fan of Daniel Day Lewis, and I suppose he was the best thing about the movie. The second best thing was that Tom Hanks wasn’t in it.

Spielberg’s film covers the last four months of Lincoln’s life and is centered on the fight for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Certainly, the subject had the potential for a gripping drama, but instead Spielberg managed to turn a thrilling story into a movie that I found boring, pretentious, and depressing.

What bothered me most as I watched the film was how dark and grim it was–scene after scene after scene of men wearing dark clothing and talking incessantly. But as the endless scenes wore on,  I couldn’t keep my own present-day irritations from affecting my reactions.  I was incredibly annoyed to watching important national decisions being made solely by white men–most of whom were old and not very pleasant to look at–without any input from women or African Americans.

The make-up seemed designed to emphasize wrinkles, bags under the eyes, and unattractive facial hair in microscopic detail. Tommy Lee Jones was never handsome, but in his role as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens he was made to look almost monstrous, with deep wrinkles, sagging jowls and giant pouch-like bags under his eyes.

But back to my growing irritation. After the misogyny and racism we have seen in this country over the past four years, I found the domination of “Lincoln” by white males to be incredibly annoying. And my irritation only grew as time went on. Surely there must have been black people who fought to pass the amendment–where were they?

The talk of “equality” of the races and the evils of treating “men” as property really rubbed me the wrong way, considering that women and children were to continue being treated as property for at least another hundred years after the passage of the Thirteen Amendment and that black men even in 2012 are still very far from being treated equally. Even our black President isn’t immune from the patronizing and bigoted attitudes of many Americans.

Admittedly, it’s unfair of me to judge the movie based on my present-day anger. Still, I think part of that feeling did arise from the fact that the movie–I think wrongly–ignored the thoughts and feelings of women and black people.

Only two women are shown having any kind of role in events: Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. Mary Todd Lincoln is shown interpreting her husband’s dreams, trying to prevent her eldest son from enlisting in the Union Army, and supporting her husband’s policies. Her closest companion was Keckley, a black women who had purchased freedom for herself and her son, and become a seamstress. She was eventually introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln and went with her to the White House. Keckley wrote an autobiography, Behind the Scenes: Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. But none of this was spelled out in the movie.

As for black characters, there is a sort of butler who says he was born a free man, a couple of black Union soldiers and anonymous black audience members who file in to the House gallery to watch the final vote on emancipation. I later learned that the “butler” was William Slade, who along with Elizabeth Keckley, was active in the abolition movement. Toward the end of the film, Thaddeus Stevens is shown getting into bed with a black woman whom I later learned was Stevens’ housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith. The two were lovers for 23 years, so why didn’t Spielberg emphasize her influence on Stevens’ attitudes about racial equality? Why was she included in the film almost as an afterthought?

At least one reviewer, historian Kate Masur, expressed a similar reaction to mine–except that hers was based on actual historical knowledge. Masur writes:

[I]t’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them. For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation; however imperfectly, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary “The Civil War” brought aspects of that interpretation to the American public. Yet Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.

This is not mere nit-picking. Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation. While the film largely avoids the noxious stereotypes of subservient African-Americans for which movies like “Gone With the Wind” have become notorious, it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.

I’m no historian–or movie reviewer–so I was relieved to learn that I’m not the only person who was deeply disappointed in “Lincoln,” despite fine performances by many of the white cast members. According to Masur,

In fact, the capital was also home to an organized and highly politicized community of free African-Americans, in which the White House servants Elizabeth Keckley and William Slade were leaders. Keckley, who published a memoir in 1868, organized other black women to raise money and donations of clothing and food for the fugitives who’d sought refuge in Washington. Slade was a leader in the Social, Civil and Statistical Association, a black organization that tried to advance arguments for freedom and civil rights by collecting data on black economic and social successes. The film conveys none of this, opting instead for generic, archetypal characters.

Masur was offended by the

brief cameo of Lydia Smith…housekeeper and supposed lover of the Pennsylvania congressman and Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens… Stevens’s relationship with his “mulatto” housekeeper is the subject of notoriously racist scenes in D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.” Though Mr. Spielberg’s film looks upon the pair with far more sympathy, the sudden revelation of their relationship — Stevens literally hands the official copy of the 13th Amendment to Smith, before the two head into bed together — reveals, once again, the film’s determination to see emancipation as a gift from white people to black people, not as a social transformation in which African-Americans themselves played a role.

And why was Frederick Douglass left out of the film entirely? Masur notes that he was invited to the White House after Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time. According to Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White,

what the audience doesn’t fully understand, in the final scene – almost the final scene – where suddenly African-Americans arrive in the balcony as the final vote is to be taken, that one of those is Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass. Charles had fought in the famous Massachusetts 54th; he will write to his father after that climactic vote: ‘Oh, Father, how wonderful it is. People were cheering, they were crying tears of joy.’ So that had the potential for more black agency, but it doesn’t come to full fruition in the film.”

To add insult to injury, Lincoln is far too long at 2-1/2 hours (plus ads and previews). It could easily have been edited to 2 hours or less, especially since Spielberg chose to ignore the historical roles of African Americans and women in the events the film depicts.


Abe Lincoln Probably Couldn’t Be Elected in Today’s Theocratic U.S.

Long lost letter discusses Lincoln's religious beliefs

I missed this earlier in the week. From The Independent UK:

A three-page letter highlighting the 16th president’s unconventional relationship with the Almighty has just been put on sale. It offers a possible insight into why he was never baptised, did not attend a church and, in defiance of political protocol of the era, would refuse to publicly discuss his spiritual beliefs. Such was his reluctance to embrace piety that, if he were standing for office today, there is a good chance he would be unelectable.

In the letter, William Herndon, “a legal partner and close friend” of Lincoln’s before he was elected President, wrote:

he is, or was, a Theist and a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary, supernatural inspiration or revelation,” it reads, before detailing the president’s spiritual evolution in the years after Herndon met him in Springfield, Illinois, in the 1840s.

“At one time in his life, to say the least, he was an elevated Pantheist, doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands that term. He believed that the soul lost its identity and was immortal as a force. Subsequent to this, he rose to the belief of a God, and this is all the change he ever underwent. I speak knowing what I say. He was a noble man – a good great man for all this.”

I wonder if Michelle Bachmann knows about this?