Monday, November 18, 2013

22 Thoughts for the JFK Death 50th Anniversary (11/22)

1. It’s by now hard to talk about the anniversary of the JFK assassination without talking about the numerous contradictory theories that have sprouted up about how it happened.  In that way, it’s like 9/11, which in addition to inspiring changes in both domestic and foreign policy inspired conspiracy theories -- and that sticker some marijuana activist placed near Ground Zero, seen in my photo nearby (along with a picture of a dentist’s office in Chinatown a few blocks east).

2. I occasionally mention fringe beliefs more out of an interest in how the brain works than out of the expectation the beliefs are true.  I admit I bought a book about Bigfoot during my recent trip to DC to see my fellow Novak Fellows, but it was Graham Roumieu’s amusing illustrated Bigfoot tell-all: Bigfoot: I Not Dead.

I also considered getting an anthology of the great comic strip T-Rex Trying (he is very large but has very small arms).  Rest assured I also bought a copy of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, though.  But then, it’s not just stupid, crazy people who think, for instance, that there was a JFK assassination conspiracy.  Only about a quarter of Americans think Oswald acted alone -- and one of the first people to write about his doubts about the Warren Commission account was philosopher Bertrand Russell.

3. Most people have long since taken the agnostic/ironic route on the whole question, though the makers of Robot Chicken may have it all figured out.  

4. One of several reasons I’m a bit more worried about next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past movie than I expected to be is that they’ve apparently ditched the idea of having it take place one year after the last ensemble X-Men movie (in which the U.S. government nearly killed Magneto and other mutants during 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis), with Magneto causing the “magic bullet” to kill JFK in 1963. 

Given that the film’s main plotline is taken from a comic book time travel plot that hinged on a political assassination, this would have been a great opportunity to fuse these elements.  Instead, it appears the “past” segments of the film will take place in 1973.  Farewell, JFK?

5. Speaking of time travel, Doctor Who should certainly tip its hat to the assassination at some point (if it hasn’t already), given that the show debuted the day after JFK (and Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis) died.

6. The inimitable libertarian/Republican campaign veteran Roger Stone has his own theory about what happened that day, as suggested by his new book, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ (I read that on the way down to DC, so I went straight from that to Bigfoot: I Not Dead).  The big question the book raises for me is: who didn’t want John F. Kennedy dead? 

Without finding a smoking gun, the book distills many existing arguments for an assassination conspiracy but, perhaps more usefully, also recounts the numerous proven ties between the Mob, the CIA, and multiple politicians of the day, including JFK, LBJ, and even Stone’s own ex-boss, Nixon. 

Heck, my own grandmother has been calling the Kennedys “gangsters” for over fifty years, and she is of course entirely correct (she should know -- she married into the family of familiar-looking bootlegger/pirate turned customs enforcer “Roaring Dan” Seavey, after all).  Government, as the saying goes, is organized crime.  There’s even one bonkers theory out there that Gov. Connally shot JFK from within the car.  This ex-Secret Service man who thinks a Klan-sympathizer did it, by contrast, sounds fairly convincing.

Stone’s synergistic theory, by contrast, revolves around the fact that JFK had betrayed more dangerous associates (of all stripes) than you can shake a stick at.  These included not just crazy Marxists but:

•the Mob (who had been longtime associates of JFK’s bootlegger dad, had substantially aided the Kennedy presidential campaign with the help of mutual associate Frank Sinatra, and had helped the Nixon campaign to boot),

•the CIA (who weren’t happy about JFK’s failure to back the Bay of Pigs invasion nor his assassination of a president -- namely, the authoritarian but anti-Communist president of South Vietnam),

•and Lyndon Johnson, a brutal and uncouth sociopath who may well have had a hand in several prior murders and had at least one convicted hitman associate. 

We can’t be sure they all had a hand in his death -- as was suggested in that hilariously complex rant by the Joe Pesci character in Oliver Stone's JFK -- but this much of Pesci’s rant is not crazy: There really were (and in all likelihood still are) huge areas of overlap between the Mob, the CIA, and the publicly-acknowledged activities of politicians.  Those politicians also spend a great deal of their time pressuring businessmen and other politicians into providing them with money, women, and other favors.  These are not people we should be surprised to find involved in the occasional assassination, though the public, for its own emotional wellbeing, likes to keep treating such revelations as aberrations instead of the main stuff of real-world politics.  That naivete may be dangerous. 

But partisan that he is, Stone seems to have different standards of evidence for the politicians he likes and the ones he doesn’t.  As with most conspiracy theories, most of the book is guilt-by-association (and the ties are undeniably interesting).  Yet despite Nixon being described as literally partying with the other purported members of the conspiracy -- and even though two of the mysterious “three tramps” photographed near Dealey Plaza look uncannily like Watergate burglars, including E. Howard Hunt, of whom we have audio recordings on his death bed confessing to the crime -- Nixon somehow emerges from the book looking like an innocent, or at least as innocent as a man can be while consorting with Mob fundraisers and dropping numerous joking hints that he didn’t think a lone gunman offed JFK. 

And Nixon really had an election stolen from him by JFK, recall.  I’m not saying he did it -- just that I’d think a pro-LBJ writer could as easily piece together a case for Nixon’s guilt as Stone has for LBJ’s.  Hell, maybe everyone was in on it.  (Have you seen that video of the elder Bush laughing during Nixon’s funeral while mentioning the lone gunman who shot JFK?)

7. People who think Oswald was in no way tied to any conspiracy must still answer two questions (though the answers could well prove mundane): Why did mobster Jack Ruby want Oswald dead?  Did Ruby have reason to think he’d get away with it -- or be pardoned?  Keep thinking, America.  Like three-fourths of you, I’m not confident we’ve gotten to the bottom of this one (and Stone’s book is not a bad place to start if you’re wondering what strange other avenues of inquiry still exist on the assassination). 

8. Again, I can’t think of any conspiracy or paranormal claims I actually believe – but purely as an epistemological and psychological matter, it’s worth reminding ourselves once in a while that the conspiracy theorists sometimes have good reason to think they’re the sane ones.

9. One upshot of this is that if any Pauls get elected president and (in all likelihood) embarrass libertarians everywhere by alluding to strange or racist conspiracy theories, they will be (as Jesse Walker’s recent book argues) perfectly in keeping with American political tradition.  There are worse things than conspiracy theorists. 

10. I am eternally grateful to Nick Gillespie for recommending Chris Elliott’s comedic FDR: A One-Man Show from the 1980s, which among other deliberate deviations from known history, makes a baffling, surreal passing reference to FDR being assassinated by Truman. 

11. A question on the minds of some conspiracy theorists today, though, is whether Matrix sequels and Man of Steel actor Harry Lennix trained Obama to seem more “presidential” -- by mimicking Lennix.  My theatre connections say: probably (and it’s amusing now to watch Lennix interviewed and hear how much he sounds like Obama).  More disturbingly for the conspiracy theorists, it’s not the first time we’ve heard stories hinting at Obama being groomed by powerful handlers far in advance of his election. 

But in the end, none of that matters: they’re politicians.  They’re all evil.  Let us turn away from conspiracy theories, then, and toward other political figures.

12. Chris Elliott also played John Adams once, but who needs a comedian to make Adams funny?  Paul Giamatti is inadvertently pretty goddam funny as John Adams, if you ask me -- as in this scene showing him dressing down my friend Michael Malice’s hero, quasi-assassinated Alexander Hamilton.

13. With Bill Clinton now complaining about NSA spying, Hillary exiting the Obama administration after Benghazi, and Hillary’s allies no doubt planning to suggest in 2016 that she’s a perfect middle road between Obama and whoever the GOP picks, now’s a good time to recall that Hillary, twenty years ago, wanted an even more bureaucratic, all-encompassing, socialist approach to government intervention in healthcare than the technically-incompetent approach Obama has foisted on us. 

Maybe you’ve been a Democrat or communist your whole life, but this is your chance to prove you can learn from past mistakes.  Don’t vote Democrat in 2016. 

14. On a somewhat more uplifting note, this week isn’t just the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination: Tomorrow brings the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. 

For all the horrors of the Civil War, let it at least remind us that seemingly-intractable systems of control and oppression such as slavery can be eradicated. 

15. The trailers suggest that this week’s Hunger Games sequel will have a similarly hopeful message, which should reassure some who felt the first movie was little more than American Gladiators with death. 

16. Tonight, though, my entertainment will be a pro-fracking talk by author Gregory Zuckerman at the bar Half King (505 West 23rd St. at 7pm -- join me!).  I bet there’ll be angry anti-fracking people in the audience, though, to make things extra-interesting -- possibly fans of local anti-capitalist performance artist “Rev. Billy,” who apparently is at risk of going to jail for a year due to taking over a bank lobby for one of his protest/performances. 

Well, jailing trespassers is what property rights are for.

17. Of course, NYC’s new socialist mayor likely disagrees (h/t Marshall Boprey), given reports he said this to a gathering of real estate developers: “Everything you heard about me is true...I am not a free-marketeer...I believe in the heavy hand of government.”

18. And, you know (as the aforementioned Jesse Walker notes), today is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Jonestown massacre.  A mass-suicidal/homicidal Progressive commune with ties to U.S. liberals, its horrifying end-by-poisoning gave us the expression “drink the Kool-Aid.”  Or as the lovely Malinda Boothe recently put it, “smoke the Kool-Aid,” which I think is a fine variant, slip-up or not. 

One of the Jonestown survivors, incidentally, had been a New York Assemblyman and wrote a book arguing the CIA killed JFK.  Wheels within wheels, man. 

19. Toronto mayor Rob Ford has undoubtedly been smoking something, and his wondrous list of achievements now includes inspiring this mini-opera (h/t Walter Olson).  I think we’re all delighted he and his brother have a TV show coming, too.

20. Ford may be almost as much fun to watch as these (under-viewed!) kittens.

21. Perhaps even as much fun as this faux-elderly man from Six Flags inventing dubstep for the children about seven years ago.  That is where it started, right?

22. Oh, for the days when kids had realistic toy guns instead of dubstep. 

1 comment:

Russell Hanneken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.