Saturday, November 22, 2008

The assassination of JFK: Case not closed

Image result for magic bullet theory jfk
The Warren Commision's "magic bullet" theory

This piece was first published 15 years ago in a slightly different form in the Anderson Valley Advertiser. I republish it in memory of President Kennedy on the 45th anniversary of his assassination. The points I make about our servile mainstream media and the evidence---particularly the Single Bullet Theory---are still valid.

JFK Case Not Closed
By Rob Anderson

It’s a remarkable state of affairs: 30 years after the event and people of goodwill can agree on only the bare facts about the assassination of President Kennedy. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that, in effect, the whole world has witnessed the crime, since everyone has seen the Zapruder film of the assassination. The November, 1963 events in Dallas are like a national “Rashomon,” the Kurosawa film that portrays a single event from the perspectives of different witnesses and participants. Or Antonioni’s “Blow-up.” Or is it Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”? In spite of the Zapruder film, however, the Kennedy assassination has been the subject of wildly different interpretations.

Polls consistently show that most Americans doubt the official version of events as set forth in the Warren Commission Report of 1964. This is both a great annoyance to our rulers and a tribute to the critics of the official, Oswald-the-lone-nut version of the event. Supporters of the Warren Commission often complain about the undue influence of the crackpot assassination writers who have supposedly been polluting the clear waters of American political discourse for decades.

Given all the books, TV shows, information and disinformation in the intervening years, can anyone be objective about the assassination of President Kennedy? This is question raised by Gerald Posner’s “Case Closed,” a bad book that has been embraced with a sigh of relief by the mainstream media. Confirming establishment doctrine and defending the 1964 findings of the Warren Report, Posner’s supposedly definitive book allows mainstreamers to believe what they’ve wanted to believe all along, that there was no conspiracy to kill the president, and those who persist in thinking otherwise are ignoramuses, liars, profiteers, sensationalists, and cranks.

The uncritically favorable reception of Posner’s book has been almost unanimous: US News and World Report (“an unshakable case”), The Nation (“patiently debunks every canard about the assassination”), The New York Times (“more satisfying than any conspiracy theory”), and the Washington Monthly (“a tremendous job”). Even cartoonist Gary Trudeau in Doonesbury was unable to resist a post-Posner sneer at the critics of the Warren Report. Posner himself has appeared on several anniversary television specials as a so-called expert to counter critics of the Warren Report.

Jonathan Kwitney’s review of “Case Closed” in the Los Angeles Times is the only negative review I’ve seen, though the facetious head (“Bad News: Your Mama Shot JFK”) undermines the serious contents of his piece. Whoever writes the heads got another opportunity with a later exchange of letters between Posner and Kwitney: “Assassination Without End,” sighed the head this time, implying that serious people have more important things to think about than the crime of the century.

In spite of the complaints of those who peddle the official version of the event, those who persist in criticizing the Warren Report have long been marginalized. Mainstream journalists are by definition not people who challenge the basic tenets of national life. Those who have such tendencies are weeded out long before they achieve syndication or reach the anchor desk. After “Case Closed” liberals and conservatives can with bipartisan smugness now safely assume that writing about JFK’s assassination will be permanently relegated to the margins of the already marginal, like those who insist on writing about animal rights, another issue that draws scorn from across the political spectrum.

In an "interview" of Wesley Liebeler, who talks about his job as a staffer for the Warren Commission, in the Nation (March 9, 1992), leftist Alexander Cockburn is running with the pack. Cockburn, who usually has a healthy contempt for the US political consensus, thinks the Warren Commission essentially got it right. Like his center-right brethren, Cockburn is coasting intellectually, since his writing on the subject is suspiciously lacking in specifics. He fails to cite Posner’s book as the source of his recent pro-Warren Commission items, though his debt is apparent. Cockburn’s interview with Liebeler shows an ignorance he’s failed to remedy in the intervening months. He lobbed a few uninformed questions at Liebeler, who proceeded to defend the official version without challenge from Cockburn.

Unlike his establishment colleagues on the issue---Dan Rather, Tom Wicker, George Will, Anthony Lewis---Cockburn implies that JFK had it coming anyhow due to his immoral policies in Latin America and Vietnam, not to mention that he and brother Bobby, with the help of the Mafia, tried to knock off Fidel Castro. Besides, Cockburn argues, maybe we should at least give Oswald, a “well-informed” leftist---he read the People’s World, The Militant, and Time Magazine, after all---credit for doing a competent job, which isn’t what those on the American left have a reputation for.

As an admitted crank on the assassination for years, Posner’s book caused me to reflect on the history of my involvement with the issue. I turned 21 the month before Kennedy’s assassination, and even at that callow age I was no Camelot liberal, having been radicalized by the frightening Cuban missile crisis the year before. The first few days after the assassination, along with everyone else, I didn’t question the official story: According to both the press and the electronic media, Kennedy had been shot in the throat and the head, the assassin had been apprehended, and was in turn assassinated by another lone gunman. To be sure, the Ruby business seemed weird, but no fundamental questions were raised in my mind in the first days after the assassination.

The first critical piece I read was Staughton Lynd’s article in The New Republic (a visit to the library to re-read the piece reminded me that Lynd co-authored the article of Dec. 21, 1963 with Jack Minnis). Lynd and Minnis raised still unanswered questions about both the direction and the number of shots fired at the president. At the brokerage firm where I performed menial tasks for $1.25 an hour in 1963---the same wage Oswald was making at the Texas School Book Depository---a co-worker spotted me reading the New Republic and asked what I was reading. I told him about the questions being raised about the assassination, and I can still recall being surprised by his annoyed reaction: “Well, who did do it, then?” He had me there; I still don’t know, and no one else knows for certain, in spite of claims to the contrary.

As an idealistic young fellow, I asked myself, “Why would someone not want to know the truth?” A good, though naïve, question. The answers vary with the individual, but people obviously value many things over the truth. Mainstream media types place a high value on their careers, while many liberal and radical intellectuals, already on the periphery of American life, seem to fear being labeled as cranks. Most people simply prefer the truth in neat, reassuring packages. Those too young to remember may find it hard to believe, but thirty years ago most Americans tended to believe what the government told them.

The much-maligned Mark Lane checked in next, with a special edition of the leftist weekly, The National Guardian, devoted to this critique of the official version of events[Later: Actually, Lane's Guardian piece was published two days before the New Republic article]. Lane raised some of the same questions as Lynd and Minnis. He also tried to function as a defense attorney for the dead Lee Harvey Oswald. Hence, his writing has always read like a defense attorney’s brief, just as the Warren Report was essentially a prosecutor’s brief.

After the release of the Warren Report in the Fall of 1964, I attended a “debate” on its findings at the Masonic Auditorium on Nob Hill in San Francisco between Mark Lane and famed defense attorney, Jake Ehrlich. The large audience included a number of law school types leafing through copies of the Warren Report as Lane cited page, chapter and verse. That evening established a pattern for such exchanges: Critics would make specific points while defenders of the Warren Commission responded with rhetoric and hot air.

As Posner points out, critics of the Warren Report have often been wrong and foolish. Though little of the material is original, his critiques of various assassination theories and writers is one of the strong parts of "Case Closed." But, regardless of the ultimate value of his work, Lane had at least done some homework for the encounter with Ehrlich, who had evidently done none, making a completely rhetorical attack on Lane and those who challenged the official story: “Earl Warren is a friend of mine…”

Except for reading an occasional book or magazine article on the subject, I put a low priority on the issue until 1990. I went on to other concerns, particularly Vietnam, since the US invasion of Indochina was gearing up after “peace” candidate Lyndon Johnson was elected president in 1964. In retrospect I got off easy. Jim Moore (“Conspiracy of One,” 1991) claims he began studying the assassination when he was 8 years old and continued his obsession for 23 years. Or David Lifton (“Best Evidence,” 1980), who was hooked on the subject in 1966 and is still at it, with a new book expected shortly.

When Oliver Stone’s movie, “JFK,” brought the subject back to the forefront of national consciousness, I began to read about the subject again (much to my then-girl friend’s disgust, by the way). I found two things remained the same about the issue over the years: Supporters of the Warren Report almost always engaged in empty rhetoric in its defense, and the Single Bullet theory is still preposterous.

“JFK,” which is a good movie, didn’t really provide any new evidence, fudged on the facts and fictionalized freely. More importantly, however, Stone showed a mass audience what assassination researchers---if you don’t like the critics, you call them “buffs” or worse; if you respect them, you call them “researchers”---have been talking about for years on two crucial issues: the Zapruder film, which shows the fatal head shot knocking President Kennedy violently backwards; and a clear exposition of the Single Bullet Theory, the heart of the Warren Commission’s explanation of the assassination.

But what impressed me most about “JFK” was the mainstream media’s hysterically negative reaction, based apparently on pirated versions of early drafts of the movie's script, a reaction that started months before the movie was even released. The lack of intellectual integrity of those vilifying “JFK” surprised me, which shows my continuing naivete, I suppose, considering how many other atrocities some of the same people and publications have rationalized over the years.

True to form, the attacks on Stone were mostly rhetorical. George Will wondered if Stone was “an intellectual sociopath”; Senator Daniel Moynihan thought the movie might “spoil a generation of American politics just when sanity is returning”; and Ellen Goodman accused Stone of an “attempted coup of American history.”

I don’t consider myself an expert on the assassination, but I’ve done enough reading on the subject over the years to at least know what the issues are. I was a little surprised to realize that, over the past 30 years, I’ve read 18 of the books in Posner’s bibliography for "Case Closed." But I’ve never pored over the 26 volumes of the Warren Report---just the single volume version---and I haven’t kept up with the small periodicals that specialize in the subject.

But Stone’s critics rarely addressed any of the crucial issues raised by “JFK,” like Oswald’s political associations before the assassination, the Single Bullet Theory (aka the Magic Bullet Theory), or, perhaps Stone’s most important contribution, the sequence that shows Garrison/Costner running, over and over, that portion of the Zapruder film that shows the fatal head shot. This allowed millions to use their eyes and common sense to judge the origin of the shot: Was it from the front or from the back? The Zapruder film, kept under wraps by Life Magazine for years, was first shown on network TV in 1975, but there’s nothing like Stone's 35 millimeter print on the big screen to make the point that the shot came from the front.

Unlike most defenders of the Warren Report, Posner at least discusses important aspects of the assassination in detail, which makes "Case Closed" the biggest challenge to critics of the Warren Report since the publication of the report itself in 1964 (another challenge to critics is Jim Moore’s “Conspiracy of One,” but Moore’s book is neither as ambitious nor as well-written as Posner’s). The 600 pages of "Case Closed" bristle with scholarly apparatus, and its pages are crowded with footnotes, as Posner seems eager to cram in every scrap of information regardless of relevance.

He raises suspicions early, however, when he makes some large claims in his preface:

Despite a seemingly intractable quagmire of conflicting evidence, it is possible to find reliable and accurate information about the assassination and, by so doing, answer the riddle of what really happened as well as what motivated Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby…The troubling issues and questions about the assassination can be settled, the issue of who killed JFK resolved, and Oswald’s motivation revealed. Presenting those answers is the goal of this book.

Making these claims and using them as the title of the book was no doubt good marketing strategy, but a more modest estimate of his achievements would have more accurately reflected its contents. Of course Posner doesn’t succeed in settling the matter, except for those who already believe the case was essentially solved by the Warren Commission. Instead, “Case Closed” is an updated brief for the prosecution, re-investigating issues covered by the Warren Commission, unconvincingly trying to apply new technology to old evidence, and cross-examining witnesses who raise doubts that Oswald was the lone assassin.

In fact most of “Case Closed” is about Oswald, whose short, unhappy life is recounted in painful detail. As a friend of mine points out, it’s almost as if Posner started out to write a biography of Oswald and tacked on a few chapters about the assassination itself to make the book more commercial on the 30th anniversary of the event. At any rate, Posner’s assumption seems to be that once Oswald’s life is examined in all its madness, we’ll be persuaded that he had the means, motive, and opportunity to do the deed.

Proving that Oswald was an unhappy, unbalanced person, however, is hardly the same as proving that he was the lone assassin. Based on his behavior after the assassination, Oswald was surely involved on some level, since his panicky, post-assassination movements are not those of an entirely innocent man. Posner is also convincing in claiming that Oswald killed Dallas cop J.D. Tippit, though his contributions on Oswald’s movements and the Tippit killing are not original, since David Belin, Jim Moore, and the Warren Report itself went over the same material and cited the same evidence long before the publication of “Case Closed.”

The big question is, Was anyone else involved? Hence, the hundreds of pages devoted to Oswald’s early life only provide detail to the well-known outline of his short life. Posner states the obvious in his preface, that Oswald is the “key” to the assassination, but he also claims that his life has been neglected in favor of “technical” details and issues, like, presumably, the number and direction of the shots that killed JFK and wounded John Connally.

Posner gives Jack Ruby the same treatment, leading readers to the same conclusion about the tormented life of a man who may have been literally insane. He brushes off Ruby’s possible Mafia connections. Instead we get “evidence” like this:

“People that didn’t know Jack Ruby will never understand this,” [former Dallas assistant district attorney] Bill Alexander told the author, “but Ruby never would have taken that dog with him and left it in the car if he knew he was going to shoot Oswald and end up in jail. He would have made sure that dog was at home with [roommate]Senator and was well taken care of.”

Posner offers this as evidence that the shooting wasn’t premeditated and that Ruby wasn’t tracking Oswald!

Strangely enough, “Case Closed” also wastes a whole chapter on Victor Nosenko’s defection to the United States on the apparent assumption that whether Soviet intelligence was involved with, or had some knowledge about, Oswald and the assassination is a major issue. This may have been a question of some urgency immediately after the assassination at the height of the Cold War, but few in 1994 think the Soviets had anything to do with JFK’s assassination. As it turns out, Nosenko argues convincingly that the Soviets immediately tagged Oswald as a nut and had nothing to do with him, merely keeping him under surveillance while he was in the Soviet Union.

Finally, after the minutiae of Oswald’s life and the irrelevant padding of the chapter on Nosenko, Posner devotes a whole chapter to the “technical” Single Bullet Theory (historian Stephen Ambrose on the book’s jacket: “Mr. Posner’s chapter on the single bullet is a tour de force, absolutely brilliant, absolutely convincing”), which will only convince the already convinced and the uninformed that a single bullet did what the Warren Commission claimed it did.

Defenders of the Warren Commission have been trying to sell the single bullet idea for thirty years. Since it goes to the heart of the official explanation of what happened in Dealey Plaza, it’s worth examining in detail, along with Posner’s contribution to the debate.

The Warren Commission quickly ran into a problem: The Zapruder film seemed to show that JFK and Governor Connally were hit by two different bullets, since Connally doesn’t react quickly enough to a shot---soon to be reborn as the Single Bullet---to which the president is visibly reacting. On the other hand, Connally is reacting too quickly to make a separate shot from the same rifle plausible, since it has been determined that it took 2.3 seconds to operate the bolt on Oswald’s rifle. These calculations are fairly precise, since it's also known that the Zapruder film was made by a camera that took 18.3 frames a second. Since JFK and Connally appear to be hit by two different bullets in less than two seconds, they would have to have been wounded by two different rifles firing from behind, which means there were at least two assassins. An open-ended investigation of the issue would have lasted well beyond the 1964 presidential campaign, much to President Johnson’s distress, and supposedly fostering international doubts about the stability of US leadership at the height of the Cold War.

The problem was solved creatively by, among others, Warren Commission staffer Arlen Specter---recently famous for bullying Anita Hill on national TV---with the invention of the Single Bullet Theory, which requires that the bullet that hit JFK at least a full second before it hit Connally is the same bullet that caused Connally’s wounds. Frame 230 of the Zapruder film, for example, shows JFK reacting to the impact of the Single Bullet and Connally clearly not reacting. The Warren Commission concedes that JFK may have been struck as early as frame 210, while Posner argues for 226, which naturally helps his argument. In fact, Connally doesn’t show any signs of being hit by a bullet until frame 234 at the earliest, though Connally himself told Posner he thought he was hit between 231 and 234. If a bullet traveling at more than 1,900 feet per second did what Specter claimed it did, Connally would of course have reacted to its impact virtually simultaneously with Kennedy.

Posner does some fancy footwork on the issue to try to show that what we see isn’t what it seems to be: “Watching the Zapruder film at its normal speed, or looking at photographs of still frames, provides a misleading impression of when the Governor was hit.”

Instead, Posner cites a “computer enhancement” that supposedly shows that Connally’s jacket lapel moves just when it needs to move to prove the Single Bullet Theory. Connally and his wife both maintained for years that he was hit with a separate bullet, though Posner, after working on Connally for hours, claims that he got him to concede that he might be wrong. But if the enhancement shows what Posner claims it shows, why not include it in the book? After all, he found room in the book to include an illustration of what he calls “grain structure analysis” to authenticate one of the disputed pictures of Oswald, along with a number of other irrelevant photos of Oswald as a child.

Posner also found room in the appendix for graphics so crude they could have been done by any kid with a Macintosh. This presentation implies an obviously circular argument, as he traces the shots backwards from what he assumes to be the location of the wounds, as if the location, number, and point of origin of the shots aren’t the heart of the controversy in the first place.

The simplistic graphics are presumably based on the high-tech studies Posner invokes to buttress his claims about the Single Bullet. We’re told that these studies involved a technique called “reverse projection,” using a “sonic digitizer” to create an animation of a car in motion: “At that point the computer was ready to answer two questions. The first was whether one bullet could cause all the wounds and the answer was yes.” Surprise! The second question is, Where did the shots come from? From the sixth floor of the book depository. Surprise again! Posner simply assumes the location of the wounds and draws lines back to the presumed sniper’s nest.

Posner insists that this is conclusive evidence that the Single Bullet was fired from behind, then exited above the knot of Kennedy’s necktie, and continued on to inflict all of Connally’s wounds. The problem is---always has been---there’s convincing evidence that the entrance wound in the president’s back was lower than the alleged exit wound in the throat, which was probably an entrance wound anyhow. Like other defenders of the party line---and the Warren Report itself---Posner fudges in his description of the entry location of the Single Bullet, referring to it as on the “neck” or the “base of his[JFK’s] neck.”

We do have an exact idea of where this bullet entered, since both the president's jacket and shirt have bullet holes in the back about 5 ½ inches below the collar line. The entry wound was clearly in Kennedy’s back and nowhere near the back of his neck. The pictures of Kennedy’s shirt and jacket weren’t published in the Warren Report, but they can be seen in Edward Jay Epstein’s excellent book “Inquest,” published in 1966. Of course Posner doesn’t include these important pictures in “Case Closed,” either. Though he has a more honest discussion of this problem in “Conspiracy of One,” Jim Moore still places the entry wound on Kennedy’s back on his “right shoulder,” without explaining how a bullet that entered the shoulder could exit in the middle of his throat.

Posner fudges the issue again in his graphics by picturing a hunched-over Kennedy, his jacket riding up near his earlobe, to convey the impression that everything lines up properly to confirm the Single Bullet Theory. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t reproduce the Zapruder frame that shows the president in this position since there is no such frame, because he never was in that position.

Posner relies on the testimony of a panel of forensic experts, who, in turn, rely on “enhancements of the original autopsy photos” for the proper alignment of the wounds. Unfortunately, he doesn’t reproduce either the x-rays themselves or the enhancements. If there is a bullet hole in the back of Kennedy’s neck that lines up with the exit wound on the front of the throat, why not push for the release of the conclusive evidence or even provide a simple diagram illustrating his argument?

And what about the notion---an untutored notion, fostered by one’s admittedly flawed eyesight---that this shot was actually fired from the front, since Kennedy seems to be grabbing in the direction of his throat? Posner explains that, once again, things aren’t what they seem, that the president is really experiencing something called Thorburn’s Position due to the injury to his spine by the bullet that exited from his throat. The problem is not only that the entrance wound in Kennedy's back is 5 ½ inches below his collar, it was also to the right of his spine. Posner tries to explain this by having one of his experts assure us that if a bullet passed close enough to the spine it would cause “blast injury” and the Thorburn’s Position reaction. Again, it would help his argument if Posner had printed the x-rays or autopsy photos that illustrate the damage to the spine.

What about the fatal shot to Kennedy’s head highlighted in Oliver Stone’s movie that clearly knocks him violently backward and to the left? According to Posner and his experts, this shot also came from behind, and the backward motion of the president’s body is due to a “neurological spasm” resulting from “a massive discharge of neurologic impulses from the injured brain.”

Now, this may all be true, but I tend to be skeptical when someone insists that what I see with my own eyes is something else entirely. Posner is engaging in something akin to intellectual McCarthyism with his high-tech “evidence,” which, like McCarthy and his list of Communists, he waves around with great fanfare but never lays on the table for examination. Posner's argument is based on evidence the reader never gets to see.

Anyone familiar with our legal system knows that lawyers can always find an “expert” to provide whatever testimony they need in a case. The issue of expert testimony is an ongoing problem in our legal system, since both sides in court often present experts giving contradictory testimony. Lawyers would be the first to admit that their profession doesn’t require a disinterested pursuit of the truth. Instead, lawyers provide their clients with the best possible legal advice and/or case in court. Gerald Posner, a lawyer before becoming a writer, handles both the evidence and witnesses in “Case Closed” like a zealous prosecutor making a case.

Some examples of Posner as prosecutor:

* Lee Dannelly, a Selective Service employee, says that someone claiming to be “Harvey Oswald” came into her office in Austin, Texas on Sept. 25, 1963. According to the official story, Oswald was on the way to Mexico on that day. If it was Oswald, or someone impersonating Oswald, Posner has a problem. Hence, he assumes that Dannelly, like Governor Connally, must be wrong. Since she sticks to her story, Posner petulantly concludes that “Dannelly refused to admit she might be mistaken.”

Sylvia Odio testified that two Cubans and a man called “Leon Oswald” showed up at her apartment in Dallas when Oswald was supposedly in Mexico. Odio said they told her they had just come from New Orleans, and Oswald was introduced as someone friendly to the anti-Castro cause. According to Odio, one of the Cubans even called her the next day and talked about Oswald and assassinating President Kennedy. Odio’s sister confirmed the visit by the three men, though she didn’t remember Oswald specifically. To discredit Odio, Posner brings out the dirt: Odio has “a history of emotional problems,” was seeing a psychiatrist in 1963, lost custody of her children in a divorce proceeding, and had a nervous breakdown after the Kennedy assassination. Posner even cites the anonymous testimony of a “confidential FBI informant, who was an Odio friend” as to her poor emotional makeup. Posner describes this inconvenient witness as coming from “a wealthy and pampered background.”

* Dr. Charles Crenshaw, in the emergency room in Dallas shortly after the assassination, has the temerity to claim he saw frontal wounds to JFK, along with a gaping hole in the back of his head, which he assumed was an exit wound (See Crenshaw’s book, “JFK: Conspiracy of Silence,” 1992). Posner enlists an anonymous doctor, allegedly a friend of Crenshaw’s, who says of this inconvenient witness, “We are not dealing with a normal individual…He has had a stroke and can’t operate anymore.” Dr. Perry, another emergency room doctor, says “I feel sorry for him…He is a pitiful sight.”

* Both Jim Garrison’s staff in 1967 and author Anthony Summers (“Conspiracy,” 1980) ten years later, interviewed people in the small town of Clinton, Louisiana. Six people claim they saw Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie, and Clay Shaw (or Guy Bannister) drive into town in the Summer or Fall of 1963. Oswald supposedly waited in line to register to vote, got a haircut, and applied for a job in a local mental hospital. Posner tries to discredit this testimony by citing inconsistencies in the stories, though, even from his account, it’s clear that the witnesses---a barber, a voting registrar, a parish representative, a local black leader, and the town marshal---still haven’t recanted. Posner claims that the only reason they are able to maintain coherent stories is that they were coached by Garrrison before the Clay Shaw trial in 1967. An alternative explanation: they are all telling the truth. One would like to hear a defense attorney re-examine the witnesses. Jim Garrison also claims (“On the Trail of Assassins,” 1988) that the marshal checked the license number of the car and traced it to the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, which was where Clay Shaw worked. Posner doesn’t mention this. It may be untrue, but its omission is suspicious.

* Posner goes completely over the top in his chapter on Jim Garrison, even though Garrison himself supplies his critics with ample ammunition. It’s apparently not enough to accuse Garrison of bribing witnesses, falsifying evidence, and being in league with the Mafia. He also claims that Garrison was discharged from the Army because of psychiatric problems and is probably a child molester in the bargain. Even if true, those charges are completely irrelevant to Garrison’s investigation of the assassination. Like the material on Nosenko, the question is again, Why waste a whole chapter on Garrison? Probably because he couldn’t resist trashing Garrison, which has already been done by others, and thereby further discrediting critics of the party line.

On the other hand, Posner is tantalizingly brief on matters that could use some fleshing out, like the "three tramps" issue, which, with unaccustomed brevity, he disposes of in less than a paragraph. The three tramps are the men found in a railroad car near Dealey Plaza shortly after the assassination. There have long been several clear pictures of the rather well-dressed and clean-shaven “tramps” in circulation. Garrison himself once brandished one of the photos on the Johnny Carson show. As Posner points out, for years there’s been speculation about their identity, and it seemed suspicious that the Dallas police had supposedly not identified them.

It turns out that they were booked by the Dallas police after all, according to records released in 1989. Posner even provides their names---two are still alive---and claims that they were tramps who had spent the previous night in a Dallas rescue mission. After a sneer at the “conspiracy press” for allegedly not coming clean on the issue, Posner ends his brief discussion. His sneer is inappropriate, since he probably got his information from the “conspiracy press” in the first place, though he credits unidentified “researchers” and his footnote cites a Dallas police report. Why did it take so long for the Dallas police to release this information? Did Posner himself check out the story? Exploring who these men were and what brought them to that particular boxcar would have made a more interesting chapter than those on Nosenko and Garrison---and would have been just as relevant.

In spite of Posner’s prosecutorial zeal, his bullying of witnesses, and his high-tech hocus pocus on the Single Bullet Theory, “Case Closed” is a challenge to critics of the official version of the assassination, since he at least makes an effort to engage on some of the issues, even if in the end he fails to convince.

It’s just peculiar that defenders of the official version of the assassination still can’t even convincingly line up the bullet holes.

But Posner’s political bias is evident, though not as obvious as that of Jim Moore, who thinks critics of the Warren Report are pond scum who do the Land of the Free a great disservice. Instead, Posner somewhat breathlessly assumes that the composition of the Warren Commission is impressive, calling it a “prestigious” body of “ranking” senators, powerful members of Congress, and “prominent” attorneys. The political composition of the commission is apparently of no concern to Posner, though it was composed entirely of Republicans and Southern Democrats, including, incredibly, the former CIA head Allen Dulles, who President Kennedy fired in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. For public relations alone, President Johnson should have put a token liberal on the commission.

The problem with the media’s eager embrace of “Case Closed” is that by insisting that we know the answers to all the important questions on the assassination, more information is less likely to emerge. Future researchers may ask, Why devote time and energy to a case that’s “closed”? And recent pressure on the government to release all its files on the case could be lessened.

I can live with uncertainty, but what I find unacceptable is the formation of a great, gooey, bipartisan consensus on an important issue. If the past 30 years have taught us anything, it’s that when both political parties and the major institutions of American society agree on an issue they are almost always wrong. The assassination of President Kennedy doesn’t seem to be an exception to the rule.

Labels: , , ,

Put-up-or-shut-up time on the Harding Theater

It may be good news for the neighborhood that the city's "theater community" is intervening in the Harding Theater issue at this stage of the process. Where were they four years ago, when the owner of the eyesore first proposed to convert the old theater property to condos and retail space? Reading the communication below, one would think the issue just popped up on the viewscreens of city preservationists. The upbeat prose of the press release doesn't tell us whether the neighborhood can really expect that something will finally be done with the property, though there is an implied promise:

In the meantime, a recently formed group, The Friends of Harding, will continue its work to assemble members of the performing arts community. The group will do further outreach to work towards alternative win-win strategies with the owner, foundations, nonprofits, public and private funding sources. These strategies would protect, retain and make full use this historic theater resource---and resume its long established use as public gathering and community space.

What these folks need to "assemble" is enough money to buy the property from the owner, who, after being jerked around by the city for years, has given up on developing the property. He's put a $4 million price tag on it, and that of course doesn't include the cost of restoring the theater to make it functional. And, by the way, the Harding has never really been a "public gathering and community space." It was a theater, then a church, and then---as it is now---a seemingly permanent blot in the middle of the neighborhood's commercial strip.

If they can, at long last, raise enough money to buy and restore the theater, good for them and good for the neighborhood. But we've heard these noises before, when early in Supervisor Mirkarimi's first term, he warned David Tornheim and his group of obstructionists/preservationists that he didn't want to stop the developer's plans and end up with nothing but a derelict old building. That's exactly what he/we have ended up with, because the opponents of the development had no money to propose a realistic alternative; they just wanted to save a theater where the Grateful Dead once performed.

Sent: Friday , November 14, 2008
Subject: Harding Theater Given Another Chance
Harding Theater Given Another Chance

On November 13, 2008, all seven members of the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved an appeal by The Friends of 1800 historical preservation group regarding a developer’s plans to demolish the back portion of the Harding Theater to build condominiums and make substantial modifications to the remainder. The Planning Department is, therefore, required to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to assess impacts to this historic resource by the plan and propose mitigation measures and alternatives with lesser impacts.

Planning Commissioner Sugaya made the motion that was approved and spoke at length about concerns that the developer’s plans had numerous irreversible impacts, that the Planning Department had failed to consider impacts to its use as a performance theater (the Planning Department only considered impacts for movie use) and that impacts to acoustics had not been considered.

The development project would remove the performance stage, wings, fly and curtain system, orchestra pit, dressing rooms and vintage seats; the raked floor would be removed and flattened; organ grills, front stairways, plasterwork and entrance would be impacted; an emergency exit blocked off; windows and skylight would penetrate the roof and sides of the building.

The Commissioners were not convinced by Planning Department assertions that impacts on historic features were reversible. Commissioner Sugaya said, "If you remove the seats and raked floor and build a new floor, no one is going to pay to remove the new floor and reconstruct the old seating. That’s not realistic."

Dozens of community members, prominent theater professionals and historic preservationists voiced concerns at the two hour hearing--including directors and advocates from Theater Bay Area, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Brava Theater, Magic Theater, Metro Theatre Center Foundation, Garage Theater and The Independent.

Theater leaders expressed an interest in potentially using the theater, and told the Commission that mid-sized theaters such as the Harding are rare. They also expressed concerns that construction and demolition plans would render the theater unusable for performance use.

The developers can appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.

In the meantime, a recently formed group, The Friends of Harding, will continue its work to assemble members of the performing arts community. The group will do further outreach to work towards alternative win-win strategies with the owner, foundations, nonprofits, public and private funding sources. These strategies would protect, retain and make full use this historic theater resource---and resume its long established use as public gathering and community space.

The developer has just announced intentions to sell the building for $4 Million, an opportunity for the community, theater, film and cultural groups to raise funds to create a viable landmark theater for the Divisadero corridor.