JFK

I wrote a 3,000-word piece for a newish site called Quillette, on a trend I had noticed among the recent news coverage of the release of government documents related to the JFK assassination. And that is for the first time, really, anyone who wants to learn about the case outside of reading government reports now has options, beyond reading works or watching documentaries by conspiracists. Work by anti-conspiracists has never been this prominent. This is important and new.

I have been following the case since the 1970s, when I was a teenager, and I watched on TV the hearings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. I read some conspiracy books, and one in particular caught my attention: 1981's Best Evidence, a stunning book by David Lifton. It became a bestseller. I fixated on this book's particular conspiracy thesis, and decided that was how the crime happened, and how it was covered up. Then I got older, and read more, and increasingly became skeptical of the skeptics. 

And this is really where the history of the case resides right now. The skeptics of the skeptics are as active as at any time. Their work is important and needs to be read. Fewer Americans believe in conspiracy that at any time since the early 1970s. Though news coverage tends to report that the country overwhelmingly believes in conspiracy, when the trend is in the opposite direction. 

I opened my piece by drawing inspiration from a 2016 documentary I had seen from ITV in Britain on the 9/11 attacks. In that film, one of the makers of a wildly popular 9/11 conspiracy documentary called Loose Change from 10 years before slowly backs down from one of that film's many controversial contentions. I wrote that this is what is going on in the JFK assassination case. The wilder claims had their day, in both instances. This is a new day. 

I tweeted about the story and linked to Dylan Avery, one of the Loose Change producers.  We had the following exchange:

And he replied:

I realized the guy made some sense:

I plan to do just that. I should have thought to get Avery's input. 

Another Twitter follower pointed me to a lazy episode of the CBC show The Fifth Estate from earlier this month. That show's conclusion: It's a coup! The show was pro-conspiracy from start to finish. It included at least one glaring error about how much time the Warren Commission claimed Oswald took to accomplish the shooting. Oswald, "said to be a poor shooter," the narrator intones. Wrong. This is a long-discredited pack of nonsense popularized in Oliver Stone's JFK. Oswald was not a poor shooter. Not according to his Marine records, anyway. But the show's major problem: Evidence of cover-up is not evidence of a plot to murder. And there is no evidence of plot to murder.

A quote from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover found in a recently released document is shown several times. Hoover writes, in the days after the assassination, that the public must be convinced Oswald is the lone assassin. Obviously before the Warren Commission had even begun its investigation. But this sentiment from Hoover and from the White House was already well known, from a similar quote from Attorney General Nicolas Katzenbach. Pro-conspiracist Jefferson Morley, who should know better, announces great import to the fact that "nobody in the car" believes the single bullet theory. A fact the Warren Commission of course knew and which means zilch. The show also conflates "the overwhelming majority" of American people who want to see all JFK assassination related documents released, with the reality that the trend line is going in the other direction, as I note above, when it comes to belief in anyone other than Oswald involved in the shooting. Several autopsy witnesses Lifton interviewed for his book are included, from decades ago. Several of whom I interviewed in 1993. None of whom convinced me of anything. One of whom contradicted what he told me when interviewed under oath by the Assassination Records Review Board several years later. 

Again, the point in my Quillette piece is not to take a stand on who killed JFK. It is to suggest that for the first time, a fairer picture can be assembled of the state of the case. Not only because we can now learn about the case from a broader universe of researchers and writers and filmmakers, who are not tied to conspiracy as default. But because after all these years, taking down inadequate work on the case, as I did above in a few minutes, is no longer a challenge. That's progress. 

I will update this post if any other reactions to the piece are worth discussing.

 

Writing about Tom Petty

Tom Petty died October 2, 2017.

Tom Petty died October 2, 2017.

I heard the bad news about Tom Petty early in the afternoon. I saw how Rolling Stone and CBS had announced Petty's death, then were forced to retract.  The piece I wrote was in the moment, inspired by memories of my teen years, mostly. Back then, I owned and played incessantly Petty's classic LP "Damn the Torpedoes." It was not surprising how so much of the news coverage focused on Petty's later work. Which was more polished, but not nearly as urgent. Which is the word I used to describe my favorite Petty song: "I Need to Know." People who like that song claim it as evidence of "punk." Petty hated punk. So do I. Petty was anti-punk. He grew and changed and matured and fought off demons like every rock star. The ones who last, anyway.

I also enjoyed tracking down Steve Simels for a quote, the writer from Stereo Review back in the 1970s. Knowing bad news was likely on the way any moment that afternoon was painful. The waiting really is the hardest part.

 

Apollo and me

Filing past Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module spacecraft, at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport in Virginia. Photo by me.

Filing past Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module spacecraft, at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport in Virginia. Photo by me.

I wrote a piece for SpliceToday.com about my venturing out to the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport to check out the unveiling of the recently cleaned Apollo 11 command module spacecraft. The large crowds proved that human space travel is still something people care about. I wrote about how elected officials continually claim that they will lead the nation back to the moon. This has been going on since the 1980s. And no man has set foot on the moon since 1972. The Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket projects are moving ahead. They are impressive. My son is 10. Here is hoping he sees humans land on Mars in his lifetime. I am skeptical. Here is a video Smithsonian made of the Apollo 11 command module project.

 

Detroit's Joe Louis Arena

Joe Louis arena, steps from the Detroit River, was a major concert venue for 35 years.

Joe Louis arena, steps from the Detroit River, was a major concert venue for 35 years.

Writing about Detroit's Joe Louis Arena was enjoyable because it took me back not just to my Michigan sports roots, but also to a couple very memorable concerts, the Police in 1983 and U2 in 1985. And when I saw what an astonishingly horrendous job the Detroit News did covering the appearance recently at JLA of one Louis Farrakhan, I could not resist adding my thoughts to the piece. Detroit was such an ignored mess in the 1970s and 1980s. As New York reframed itself in many ways, cleaned up Times Square and reduced its crime rate, Detroit just got worse. Its slow destruction is such an astonishing tale of incompetent leadership and corruption. And now its comeback has begun, allegedly. Joe Louis Arena will likely be torn down to be replaced by a giant new arena development brought to reality by one family, the owners of several Detroit sports teams, who have invested and attracted hundreds of millions of dollars into the city. Watching how that project spurs further investment will be interesting.