Monday, December 30, 2019

Cool Rides

San Antonio, Christmas season 1939.  1940 Plymouth facing camera, 1936 Dodge near garage, 1934 Ford near gas pumps on right.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Good Reading (2019)

I saw one of those "list your 5 favorite books you read in 2019" things online which sparked this list, a couple of which I've mentioned before, so in case you are looking for something to read:

The Path to Power by Robert Caro.  The first of his 4 volume (to date) biography of Lyndon Johnson.  The best political biography I've ever read.  Worth reading even if you think you're not interested in LBJ or even hate him.  A riveting study of how political power is accumulated and exercised and the astonishing personal drive, energy, and ambition it takes to achieve.

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe.  The Troubles in Northern Ireland, an investigation into the disappearance of the mother of several young children during the 1970s, and a revealing and, at times, shocking story of the tangled loyalties and betrayals that took so many lives and changed the lives of those who survived.

In Hoffa’s Shadow by Jack Goldsmith. Goldsmith’s stepfather is Chuckie O’Brien who worked for Jimmy Hoffa for decades and has long been suspected of involvement in his death. While I already knew Goldsmith as a Harvard Law School professor who led the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice during President GW Bush’s first term, I had no idea he was related to O’Brien. This is both an informative and touching story about the Hoffa years, the investigation of his death, and also of Goldsmith’s relationship with his stepfather, who he adored when growing up, disowned as a young man in order to further his career, and ultimately reconciled with.  It's also an expose of some of the FBI's more unsavory law enforcement techniques over the decade and its impact on how Goldsmith now thinks about government tactics in this area. And perhaps, perhaps, the reader will learn the truth about Chuckie O’Brien and Jimmy Hoffa.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The fictional story of a Russian nobleman who returns after the Revolution and in 1922 is sentenced to permanent residence in the Metropolitan Hotel in Moscow which, should he ever attempt to leave, will result in his execution.  At times charming, at times terrifying.

Labryinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The final book of his four volume The Shadow of the Wind series which I’ve read over the past two years. Set in Barcelona from the early 1920s to the early 1960s, it centers around a bookshop and a strange, hidden locale – The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Combines mystery, compelling characters, the tortured history of Spain during those years, and a touch of the Gothic (which I usually don’t care for but works here).

Friday, December 27, 2019

Don't Be A Kulak Day

Today is the 90th anniversary of Josef Stalin's declaration of war on the kulaks.  Or, as he put it in his own inimitable style on December 27, 1929, the goal of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was "liquidation of the kulaks as a class", adding "Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production . . ."

On January 30, 1930 the Communist Party Politburo formalized the decision in a resolution entitled, "On measures for the elimination of kulak households in districts of comprehensive collectivization".  Under the resolution all kulak family members were to be placed in one of three categories:
To be executed or imprisoned
To be internally exiled to remote regions of the USSR
To be used as forced labor in their local regions
All kulak property was to be confiscated regardless of category.

The term "kulak" in the late Russian empire referred to peasants who owned at least 8 acres of land but after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 became more vague over the next decade, and by the time of Stalin's announcement meant any peasant who owned land or livestock, had tenants on their property, or sold surplus food on the open market.  Communists viewed these kulaks as obstacles to collectivization, accusing them of hoarding grain and livestock. Whatever an individual kulak believed or how they acted was irrelevant, as a class they needed to be eliminated.  To put it as Stalin thought about it, whatever a kulak subjectively thought or did, looking at it objectively (as Stalin did) they would ultimately be an opponent of true communism and needed to be dealt with in a preventative manner.

Stalin's announcement was not the first time kulaks were declared an enemy of the Bolsheviks.  In August 1918, during the Russian Civil War, as the Bolsheviks tried to gain control over the rebellious countryside, Lenin issued a directive:
"Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. [...] Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts [kilometers] around the people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks".
No one has an accurate account of the numbers of kulaks killed or exiled as a result of the 1930 resolution.  Estimates of the dead range from 700,000 to several million (accounting is difficult since the dekulakization process overlaps with the related Soviet induced famine in the Ukraine during those years).  Documents examined after the fall of the USSR indicate that 1,803,392 persons were sent to labor camps in 1930 and 1931 with only 1,317.022 actually arriving at their destinations.

Economically, the agricultural sector of the USSR never recovered, with the Soviets needing to import grain and food stocks for the remainder of its existence.

Similar debacles occurred in every other communist state, though varying in the degree of violence, with the worst examples being Pol Pot's Cambodia and Mao's China.  Cambodia saw a quarter of its population die in four years, while Mao's anti-landlord campaign from 1949 to 1953 resulted in several million deaths.  I have a Chinese friend whose grandfather, a local landlord in the Shanghai area, was sentenced to 25 years hard labor after the communists came to power.  He died in a camp.  Decades later the family discovered that prior to Mao taking power in 1949, their grandfather had supported and helped fund the communists.  It didn't save him once they took power.  In a socialist world, class distinctions are much more important than individual actions.  The category your rulers place you in determines your fate.  A lesson to keep in mind.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Library Burns

About six in the morning of December 24, 1851, when the Captain of the Capitol Police unlocked the doors to the United States Capitol, everything seemed fine.  Two hours later, he smelled smoke and upon opening the doors to the Library of Congress, which in those days was housed in the Capitol, realized it was on fire.  Though great efforts were made to subdue the fire and save the contents of the library, almost everything in the main hall was destroyed - paintings, sculptures, and 35,000 of the 55,000 volume collection.  The cause was a faulty chimney flue.

It was not the first time the library burned.  Opened in 1800 in the nation's new capitol, by 1814 it contained about 3,000 volumes, all consumed in the fire set by the British when they briefly occupied the city in August 1814.  The seeds for the rebuilt collection were from Thomas Jefferson's library at Monticello which, I believe, was the largest private collection in the United States.  Immediately upon hearing of the congressional library's destruction, the former President offered to sell his books to the country.

Congress accepted the 6,487 volumes in January 1815, paying Jefferson $23,950.  It was a good deal both for the country and for the perpetually debt-ridden former president (who died in 1826 heavily indebted).  About 2/3 of the Jefferson collection was lost in the fire of 1851.

The restored library was reopened on August 23, 1853.

Excerpts from a contemporary account published in the National Era, a DC newspaper:

National Calamity

Our whole city is intensely excited by the great calamity which has just fallen upon the Capitol.  The Library of Congress, with its rich collection of valuable books, public documents, precious manuscripts, paintings, busts medals, and other works of art, is in ashes.

The loss to the nation is great, and, to a certain extent, irreparable. This was probably, on the whole, the best library in the United States; it was enriched by the choice collection of works brought together by the care, discrimination, and taste of Mr. Jefferson, and had been an object of deep interest and regard to successive intelligent committees of Congress, who were intrusted with the duty of superintending its management, and adding annually to its treasures.

During the sessions of Congress, the beautiful hall of the Library was the daily resort of the lovers of letters, science, and art, from every State of the Union, and from foreign lands, where they always met with the kindest attentions from the gentlemanly Librarian and his assistants, who never failed to open to visiters all the objects which would serve to gratify their taste, curiosity, and intelligence.

Great efforts were made, not only by the fire companies, but by all classes of our citizens, to save the Library: but in regard to the books, papers, and works of art, which occupied the main hall, their efforts were without success. A large portion of the contents of the smaller room is reported as saved, though not without damage. The fire companies had been fatigued by a fire at a late hour the night preceding, so that they arrived late, and much time was lost in bringing the engines to a position which would render their powers available.

We have been told that about thirty-five thousand volumes of books have been destroyed, the estimate being derived from the number saved, the contents of the Library being about fifty-five thousand volumes. A number of valuable and excellent paintings also perished. Of these, were portraits of the first five Presidents, by Stuart, an original portrait of Columbus, a second portrait of Columbus, one of Peyton Randolph, one of Baron Steuben, one of Baron de Kalb, with a fine picture of Cortez, and one of Judge Hanson, of Maryland.

The fine busts of Jefferson, Lafayette, and General Taylor, with a bronze one of Washington by Mills, are also rendered worthless. To repair as far as may be this loss, will require a large amount; and we hope, when this amount shall have been expended, all will be done that can be done by human invention to preserve the Library of the Nation.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Happy Hanukkah



Sunday, December 22, 2019

New Cannonball Record

On November 10 and 11 of this year, Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt, and Berkeley Chadwick set a new cross country Cannonball Run record of 27 hours and 25 minutes, driving from Manhattan to Los Angeles, achieving an average speed of 103mph, with a peak speed of 193mph.

The first Cannonball was run in 1971 and many times since.  It is, of course, highly illegal but it sure sounds like fun!  The trio drove a specially modified Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG.  Running the Cannonball doesn't just require modifying the engine, it also means changing the fuel system (they only stopped twice for fuel), as well as state of the art radar detection systems.  They also used a team of volunteer spotters across their route to spot law enforcement.

You can learn more from watching this highly entertaining video, at least entertaining for those of us who enjoy cars, speed, and thwarting law enforcement.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Rudie Can't Fail

Forty years ago this month, The Clash released their landmark double album London Calling, packed with great tunes including the title song, Guns of Brixton, The Right Profile, Lost In The Supermarket, Train In Vain, Spanish Bombs, Clampdown, and this ska/punk mashup:

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Why Wasn't The Clinton Campaign Investigated In 2016?

Sometimes the best way to determine bias is to look at what didn’t happen . . .

I am starting to slowly, very slowly, make my way through the 480 page report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice regarding the FBI and DOJ role regarding the Russia investigation and the obtaining of four FISA warrants regarding Carter Page so I'm sure I'll have more to say on the matter, but having listened to IG Horowitz's Senate testimony and read analyses from the few sources I trust, there is no doubt he's confirmed what I've been writing about for the past year or so - we are seeing the biggest political scandal certainly of my lifetime, and perhaps in American history.

Having read the terms of reference from the report, a finding of political bias would only have been made if direct testimonial or documentary evidence was discovered (as in a document that said "I hate Trump, I know this is illegal, but will do anything to defeat him".  In his testimony Horowitz has consistently stated his report did not rule out bias, stating that the only explanations for the FBI/DOJ behavior were incompetence, gross negligence, or intentionality (bias) and he was not in a position to decide among the contenders.

I'll take a different approach and look at the dog that did not bark.
Using the standards employed by the FBI and DOJ in 2016 regarding the Trump campaign, for which the IG report has informed us that the standards for opening an investigation are very low, let’s look at Hillary Clinton and her campaign in that light:

During the 2016 campaign, one candidate employed a series of cut-outs to develop a dossier on the opposition candidate. The dossier claimed to include information sourced from Russian intelligence sources, information damaging to the reputation of the opposition candidate. At the same time, the candidate’s lead contractor (Fusion GPS) was representing a Kremlin-tied Russian oligarch in efforts to get the U.S. Congress to repeal sanctions damaging to Russia.

Contents of the dossier were leaked to the media, and representatives of the candidate met with FBI and DOJ officials in order to prompt them to take action against the opposition candidate based upon a dossier containing information from Russian intelligence, all in an effort to influence the 2016 election.

These were the actions of the Clinton, not Trump, campaign.

Now, let’s go back a few years to add some context that should have triggered further concern at the FBI and DOJ during 2016.

In 2008 both Democratic primary candidates (Obama and Clinton) denounced President Bush for damaging relations with Russia and Putin and both pledged to improve American relations with Russia.

In 2008 Putin openly endorsed Obama (the Kremlin hated McCain).

Upon becoming Secretary of State, H. Clinton proudly announced the “reset” in Russian relations, after blaming their breakdown solely on the actions of the prior administration.

During her term as SoS, H. Clinton urged American high tech companies to become involved in a new tech center in Moscow, touted as Russia’s version of Silicon Valley, a tech center which several years later was identified by American intelligence as a den of Russian technology spying.

During her term as SoS, H. Clinton approved the controversial transfer of ownership of 20 percent of America’s uranium supply to a Russian oligarch with Kremlin ties.

During her term as SoS, H. Clinton’s husband was paid $500,000 for a speech in Moscow and the Clinton Foundation received tens of millions of dollars in contributions from Russian oligarchs with Kremlin ties, including the one who ended up owning a portion of America’s uranium.

While still SoS, the Kremlin openly supported Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, in return for which Obama mocked Romney’s assertion that Russia was an enemy, and was caught on open mic promising Putin’s stooge that he would be more “flexible” after the election; positions supported by H. Clinton.

After H. Clinton left the SoS role, it was discovered that her private server, set up in violation of government regulations, was not secure, and government investigators concluded it was likely that hostile foreign governments had access to her communications. Was this just reckless behavior or was it designed to possibly allow the Russian government to have access?

There is certainly enough on the record to have justified the investigation of the Clinton campaign for potential coordination with the Russian government and, if such coordination occurred, to determine whether it was opportunistic, if Hillary Clinton had been compromised by the Russians, or was even a Russian asset.

When one looks at the skimpy and fraudulent justification for the Trump investigation, I think it fair to look at the Clinton campaign the same way. The difference in treatment during 2016 is strong evidence of political bias, particularly in light of the FBI Director's extraordinary action in deciding not to recommend pursuing criminal charges against candidate Clinton regarding her email server by reading an intent requirement into a statute that had no such requirement, less than a month before the official opening of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Silo

We were twenty five miles south of Tucson, off I-19 the road to Nogales, Mexico.  To the east, we could see a striking range of sharp, ragged edged mountains looming above Green Valley.  To the north were the mountains behind distant Tucson.  A hundred feet below a control room where, from 1963 to 1982, two keys could be turned and 58 seconds later a Titan II missile emerge from a silo under us, a missile which 30 minutes later would deliver a 9 megaton nuclear warhead (500 times the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945) to a target in the Soviet Union.

The THC Son and I were visiting the only intact Titan II missile silo remaining (including an actual Titan II), the rest decommissioned and destroyed even to be inoperable. It was a reminder of the era in which I grew up, in which a nuclear armageddon was always looming, with global destruction minutes away.  In the backs of all of our minds was the notion of a catastrophic end to civilization.  No one foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union without war.  Thank God we made it through and can visit the silo as the relic of a past era.

Only 54 Titan II's were ever operational.  During the same time frame the U.S. installed about 1,000 Minutemen missiles, each of which was ultimately equipped with three warheads, capable of independent targeting, each of which had only about 1/20 the payload of the Titan II.

The Titan II was installed in three groupings of 18 missiles each, located in Arkansas, Kansas, and the Tucson area.  The 18 Tucson missiles were installed over a region about the size of the state of Rhode Island, controlled operationally from Davis-Monathan Air Force Base on the outskirts of the city.  In the event of a Soviet strike Tucson would have been the target of a massive nuclear attack.

The installation consists of three sections.  You enter through a staircase and go through two sets of massive steel doors in order to enter a 250 walkway that extend from the command center to the missile silo.

The command center sits on massive springs designed to isolate the area from the outside of the chamber.  The reason was so it could survive a nearby nuclear strike.  At the other end of the walkway was the 140 tall missile silo.

The commanding officer and their subordinate each had a launch key for two switches separated by several feet.  Both keys had to be installed and turned in order to start the launch sequence.  From the keys turning to launch only took 58 seconds.  If, in the interval, the President reversed his order to launch there was nothing that could be done to stop the sequence.

The Titan II was fueled by two highly flammable and explosive chemicals, which needed to be delivered and stored separately.  Operation and maintenance was very dangerous.  During its years of service 58 contractors died in accidents, 53 in one incident I was startled to learn about for the first time.  I'm shocked by the scale of this disaster and have been unable to determine whether it was publicly reported at the time.

On August 9, 1965 55 civilian contractors were performing maintenance in a silo near Searcy, Arkansas.  A ruptured line ignited a fire, generating toxic smoke.  Only 2 of the contractors survived.  You can find the recollections of one of the survivors in this 2015 newspaper article.  I also located an extensive incident report which you can find here.  Although the military blamed the accident on sloppy practices by the contractor, this passage jumped out at me:
Project YARD FENCE modifications included the flushing of Hydraulic System 2, located on Level 6 of the sile. The flushing system had been operating at 500 pounds per square inch pressure with a flow of 110 gallons per minute through a pari of hoses leading from the surface hydraulic reservoir and pubp. At the time of the accident, these hoses were arrached to the Hydraulic System 2 panel on Level 2 quadrant 4. The hoses ran within 14 inches of a welding operator who was attaching a triangular stiffener plate to the existing web stiffener on a support for the Motor Control Center 1 platform. The contractor personnel locator board showed the welder to be on Level 3. The location of the weld was in an extremely awkward position that was only accessible working from Level 2, kneeling on the floor, leaning through the guardrails, and reaching around the hydraulic lines to the stiffener plate. A hardhat located on Level 2 at the welding operation site confirmed that the welder had been on Level 2.

The accidental contact of the welding rod to the hose caused the failure of the exterior metal braiding. Thus weakened, the braiding no longer prevented the interior teflon hose from rupturing, spraying, and atomizing the fluid into a mist that permeated Levels 2 and 3. The heat for the just welded fixture or the heat from the electrode touching the metal braiding was significantly higher than the 200 degree fahrenheit flash point of the fluid and served as the ignition point. 
 I've been involved in accident investigations and it looks to me like the root cause was in the design of equipment within the silo, with the proximity of the hydraulic lines to the stiffener plate and in such a configuration as to force the welder to perform his operation in an awkward position with very little tolerance for error. This was an accident waiting to happen. I've been unable to find if the DoD redesigned the configuration after the incident.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

My Friend

I've waited to write this to give me time to regain my bearings.  Early December was the most emotionally up and down period of my life.  On the evening of December 2 our first grandchild was born (the little dude is doing just fine - definitely best baby ever).  The next morning our daughter joked that with his curly hair and big round face he looked just like my best friend.  The following day my best friend of 50 years suddenly died and I flew back East to be with his family.

Larry (or Chunky as I knew him) Church was best man at our wedding (his only words of advice before the ceremony, "don't lock your knees") and the guy I did all the ballpark tours with (in 2019, having run out of ballparks, we did WW2 museums) and our last conversation over Thanksgiving was to plan our 2020 trip (Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, the Little Bighorn Battlefield and then Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments).

I still remember my first encounter with him in February 1968 and so much more over the ensuing decades.  Driving cross country in 1972 with our late friend Rags; listening to a lot of loud music throughout, celebrating births of children and significant events in our lives; rooming with his dad for almost a year in 1999-2000 in the old Church family home when I was starting a new job in CT; during our years back in CT a zillion holiday dinners and meals out (many at Savin Roasters in Milford) with Barb, Chunk and his wife Beth (whom I've known since we were both 8 years old).  Endless discussions of history, rock n roll, and, of course, baseball, attending the Red Sox victory parade in 2004, and being in Fenway in 2013 when the Sox won the World Series.  And so much more.

All this amid a continuing torrent of talk and stories from Chunk (though as the years went by I learned to hold my own - at least I told myself that).  At the funeral service his brother Randy eulogized him as "the Babe Ruth of talk and conversation", a perfect description.  Did I mention the endless puns, both good and bad, usually accompanied by an extraordinarily long build up?

He delighted in being confounding and a contrarian, but always with a smile.  I am certain he would have enjoyed the funeral service at the Congregational Church presided over by both a Pastor and a Rabbi (with several other rabbis in the audience), a service filled both with laughter and tears, and kicked off with a rendition of It Ain't Necessarily So, which he once sang solo in the church (after asking the pastor's permission - if you don't know why, google the lyrics), but then he left us a lot of material to work with. 

How he touched people during his life was demonstrated by the turnout for his service; a church filled to overflowing.  I'm a fan of Michael Connelly's novels featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch.  Bosch has a mantra, "Everybody counts, or nobody counts".  It was the same for Chunk in both his personal life and career as a lawyer.  When you were with him, you had his full attention, he listened, he took you seriously, and you could count on him (except to be on time!).  And always with cordiality and courtesy.

As my friend Mark Gerhard said, "Love is everywhere and Chunky spread it like sunshine".  (Mark's 94 year old mother wrote a lovely tribute published in the local paper)

For me, I find myself reading or watching something and, as happened so frequently for so long, thinking, "I need to tell Chunk about that."  I miss my friend.

Us in 1974
 At our daughter's wedding reception (2018)
 Dodger Stadium (2014)
 Quintessential Chunky
 Cover of our debut album (1972): Chunk on far left, Rags third from left, me third from right.
 Attorney Church in his summer attire
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Boris Actually

Boris Johnson's Conservative Party just won a yuuge victory over Labor, led by anti-semite Jeremy Corbyn.  Maybe this ad did it.  Apparently a spoof on a scene from the movie Love Actually which I've never seen.  And yes, that really is Boris Johnson.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Red Jacket

My dad was born on December 5, 1920. Dad loved wearing red; shirts, sweaters, pants, hats, and for the last decade or so of his life, a bright red windbreaker jacket. Me, not so much. In fact I have always disliked wearing red. The closest I’d come was my blue Boston Red Sox cap with its red B.

Shortly after dad passed in 2014 my sister and I got together to go through his things. When we came across the red windbreaker I impulsively told her, “I’ll take it“. It was the only piece of his clothing I kept.

Now when we get cool mornings and evening in Arizona (yes, we do occasionally get them) I often put on dad’s red jacket before going out and each time I smile and remember. I often think of my first memory of him when I was 3 or 4. We are in the car, dad’s driving and he’s singing. Dad loved singing to my sister and I and he loved driving around. He had a standard repetoire – including I’ve Been Working On The Railroad, Skin a Marink a Dink, Take Me Out To The Ballgame, and all four military service songs. We learned them all, sang along and never tired of them. As I write this I can hear his soft and smooth singing voice. I’ve inherited his love of singing (I’m not very good but have a wider range of tunes) and, like him, enjoy going on drives with no particular destination in mind. And now my son has the same driving habits.

So I’ll continue to gladly make this exception to my aversion to red clothing. Just don’t ask me to wear anything else red.

And now we’re making new memories. Three days ago our first grandchild was born to our daughter and son-in-law. I wore the red jacket to the hospital. Dad would appreciate that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Next Gen

The Next Gen family prototype arrived last night - the THC Grandson, our first grandchild.  Baby, along with the THC Daughter and Son-in-Law are all doing fine.  And so are the little dude's grandparents.  And, extra added bonus, the THC Son was in town for Thanksgiving and got to see his new nephew before leaving.  We are all very happy.

Saturday, November 30, 2019


Don Rickles, who passed away two years ago at the age of 90, combined the ability to comically insult and engage in ethnic, religious, and racial humor and manage to carry it off because, at his core, people realized he was a good man.  Where is Rickles today, now that we need him?

Here is Rickles, a life long Democrat, at Ronald Reagan's second inauguration in January 1985.

This is Don at a mid-70s Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (yes, that used to be a thing) of Frank Sinatra.  Also on the dais are Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Red Foxx, Milton Berle, Gene Kelly, George Burns, Flip Wilson, Jonathan Winters, Orson Welles, and Peter Falk, most of whom Rickles insults along with performing an imitation of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone.

And near the end of his life this is Don Rickles singing (I had no clue until seeing this).

Friday, November 29, 2019

A Real Indian In Politics

Charles Curtis-portrait.jpg

In 1928 Charles Curtis of Kansas was elected Vice-President of the United States, on the same ticket as Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover.  For Curtis, who was 3/8 Indian, a member of the Kaw Tribe, and fluent in English, French, and Kaw, his heritage was an asset on the campaign trail in contrast to Democratic candidate Al Smith, whose Catholicism was a major obstacle for a large portion of the American electorate.

Born in 1860 to a mother of Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, and French ancestry and a Scots-English-Welsh father, Curtis lived much of his early life with maternal grandparents on the Kaw reservation in Kansas (one of Curtis' ancestors was Chief White Plume of the Kaw tribe).  As a teenager he lived with his paternal grandparents in Topeka where he attended high school.

After reading law Charles was admitted to the Bar in 1881 and later that decade became prosecuting attorney for Shawnee County.  Gregarious, engaging, and popular Curtis soon entered politics and in 1893 was elected to Congress where he served seven terms as a representative.  In 1907 he resigned in order to be appointed U.S. Senator from Kansas.  In 1914 he ran in the first Kansas Senatorial election to be decided by the popular vote and won easily, being reelected in 1920 and 1926.  From 1915 to 1924 Curtis served as Republican Whip and from 1925 to 1929 as Senate Majority Leader, succeeding Henry Cabot Lodge.  He was considered a terrific fit for these roles because of his talent as a compromiser and mediator who could work with just about anyone.

Politically, Curtis was a Progressive Republican (as was Hoover) supporting prohibition, female suffrage, and popular election of senators.

After the Hoover-Curtis ticket was demolished by FDR in the 1932 election, Curtis remained in Washington, dying there in 1936.

Curtis' most significant legislative achievement, and in retrospect, his most controversial, was what became known as the Curtis Act, enacted in 1898.  Even as a new Congressman, Curtis made an impact and was considered the most knowledgeable person in the House regarding Indian affairs.  As a strong proponent of assimilation, Curtis' legislation broke up the tribal governments and communal landholdings, as well as abolishing land claims of the Five "Civilized Tribes" (Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminoles) of the Oklahoma Territory, an action which enabled the territory to achieve statehood in 1908.

The Act provided for the establishment of individual land holdings and establishment of public schools.  It also allowed for the incorporation of towns.

A writer critical of the Curtis Act summarized its defects:
“The Curtis Act destroyed tribal sovereignty in Indian Territory.  First, it suspended tribal laws and judicial systems.  Second, it removed tribal control over assets, entrusting them instead to the secretary of the interior.  Third, Congress posted an inspector in Indian Territory to supervise and, essentially, cripple the governments of the Five Tribes.  Fourth, the Curtis Act provided a framework for dismantling tribal resource bases.”
This has made me curious to learn more about the Curtis Act, and its predecessor, the Dawes Act, the general subject of Indian Nation sovereignty and the role of the Department of Interior.  Last year I read Killers Of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders And The Birth Of The F.B.I. which touched on these issues but I definitely need to become more familiar with the subject in order to arrive at some informed judgment.  A new area of reading for me; how exciting!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Longest Siege

Twenty one years . . . 

On September 28, 1644 galleys of the Knights of Malta attacked an Ottoman convoy enroute from Constantinople to Alexandria.  The attack was successful, the Knights seizing the Chief Black Eunuch of the Sultan's Harem and pilgrims on their way to Mecca.  It was quite a haul and the Knights prepared to sell their 350 male and 30 female captives into slavery.

The Knights of Malta had been a long-time thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire.  Originating as the Knights Hospitallers in early 12th century Jerusalem.  After the final loss of the Holy Land in 1291, the Knights occupied the island of Rhodes, their home for the next two centuries, from which they launched raids of plunder against the neighboring Moslem (and occasionally Christian) states.  As the Ottomans began their rise in the 14th century, eventually conquering the nearby mainland and islands, Rhodes preserved its independence until Sulemain the Magnificent laid siege, forcing the Knights to leave in 1522.   In 1530, Charles V of Spain granted the Knights a new home, the island of Malta, as a perpetual fief in return for an annual tribute of a Maltese Falcon.  For more on the Knights read The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.

Putting ashore on the nearby Venetian province of Crete, the Knights sent ashore a number of captives and slaves and then sailed away.
Image result for map of venetian crete
In 1644 the Ottomans remained masters of the Eastern Mediterranean.  By then the Ottomans and Christian Europe found themselves in the middle of a long stalemate.  Two centuries of Ottoman success against Christian states had been brought to a halt with the failed siege of Malta in 1565 and the destruction of the Ottoman fleet by a temporary Christian alliance at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.  Since then, periodic wars had broken out but frontiers were fairly stable, the only significant differences being in the Ukraine and southern Poland where the Ottomans added territory.  The stalemate was to end with the Grand Turk's unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683 and the Christian counterattack on the heels of the withdrawing Ottoman army.

While Venice still ruled the island of Crete, the lagoon bound state was on the decline.  It had lost most of his advantageous trading rights within Ottoman territory along with the island of Cyprus and many smaller islands, as well as its outposts in Greece.  And with the New World discovered and new trading routes to the East, its commercial dominance was fading.  Venice had ruled Crete since 1205, the Catholic Venetians treating the Orthodox Cretans with contempt, inspiring many revolts by the local inhabitants.

At the Ottoman Court many saw this as an opportunity to evict Venice from Crete, the last Christian outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean.  In the spring of 1645, a large Ottoman fleet left Constantinople, its destination a mystery but with rumors flying ahead of it that Malta was its target.  The rumors had been deliberately planted by the Ottomans.  On June 23, 1645 the Venetians were surprised to find the Ottoman fleet anchored off the Cretan coast.  Landing on the island, the Ottomans began their conquest.

By May 1648 all of the island, with the exception of its capital, Candia (now Heraklion), was occupied by the Turks and an estimated 40% of the island's population had perished.  That month the Ottoman army began its siege and blockade of Candia, which was to last until 1669.
Image result for siege of candia

What accounted for the length of the siege?  For the Ottomans there were many distractions.  Other wars, particularly in Hungary and Transylvania diverted resources.  Venetian fleets periodically blockaded the Dardanelles, the narrow strait leading to the Sea of Marmara and Constantinople.  Raids by Christian fleets in the Aegean further disrupted Ottoman supply lines.  Finally, it was a period of intense court intrigues and coups at the Ottoman court.  The net result was the Ottomans were able to sustain a force large enough to maintain the siege but not strong enough to assault the city.

In 1664 the Ottomans negotiated a temporary peace with the Hapsburgs and were able to turn their attention and resources back to Crete.  In early 1668 a large Ottoman army landed on the island to join the blockade force.  European powers also sent aid to the Venetians, 6,000 soldiers from France and smaller contingents from Savoy, Malta, Naples and the Papal States.  Encourage by the support the Venetians turned down an Ottoman peace offer under which they would have retained half the island.

Actions in the summer of 1669 sealed Candia's fate.  A fleet sent by France met disaster with its flagship exploding leading to the withdrawal of France's troops.  The remaining garrison of Candia was reduced to 3,600 men and on September 5 Francesco Morosini, commander of the garrison, surrendered.

The cost of the final two years of the siege was enormous with more than 100,000 Ottomans and 29,000 Christians dying.

It was to be the last major territorial expansion of the Ottoman Empire.  Crete remained under Ottoman rule until 1897.

What must have it been like to be part of the siege?  If you were born in Candia in 1648 you would have lived your entire youth while under siege.  Reading about the siege reminds me of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the loony 1988 tale of an endless siege of a city on the sea by the army of the Grand Turk.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sittin' On Top Of The World

An old blues standard covered by everyone in the years since 1930.  Most famous version is by Howlin' Wolf (1957) which was the basis for the cover by Cream on its Disraeli Gears album (1967).

This is by some guy named Ger O'Donnell with a "famous family band from Missouri" which is not named!
(UPDATE: Just found out the band is The Petersens.)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Ford v Ferrari

Fast cars.  24 hours at LeMans.  Matt Damon.  Christian Bale.  I think that about covers it.  Go see it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

A Cruel And Shocking Act

A reworked and slightly expanded version of a post from 2015 . . .and particularly timely given the theme of government bureaucracies acting to cover up shortcoming.

I was in 7th grade and our teacher was absent when class was scheduled to start after lunch.  At first we sat quietly, patiently waiting, but as the minutes passed we began speculating about what was going on.  Our teacher finally walked into the room crying, told us the President had been shot (I can't remember whether the news was that he was dead) and that school was dismissed.

After walking across the school athletic fields to our house across the street I found the front door ajar and no one home.  Upon hearing the news my mother, a Democratic party official, had gone to the nearby home of our former Democratic Congressman where many local party officials were gathering.

Vivid memories remain of watching TV that November afternoon; the death of Dallas Police Office JD Tippit and the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald.  In the evening we saw Air Force One land at Andrews Air Force Base, disgorging the coffin and watching Jackie Kennedy disembark.  On Sunday morning a friend came over and we, along with my sister, took a break from the constant TV watching to go to my room and play a game.  Suddenly we heard my parents shouting, prompting us to run to the living room where we learned that Oswald had just been shot.  And then came the funeral on Monday.

John F Kennedy is the first president I distinctly remember.  In 1960, at the age of nine, I was a member of  Youth For Kennedy (and still have a clipping from the local paper with a picture of me as part of the group), and saw him speak at the train station in Bridgeport, CT on November 6, 1960, two days before the election (Connecticut was still a crucial swing state in those days).

Kennedy, Ribicoff(JFK in Bridgeport with Governor Abe Ribicoff second to the right from onlyinbridgeport)

Because of my mom's position in the state Democratic party we were able to stand next to the platform from which the candidate spoke, below and just to the right of JFK in this picture.  It was a bright sunny day and remember him pointing just as he is in the picture.  The area around the station was packed with an enthusiastic crowd and there were teenage girls jumping up and down screaming, just as they would for The Beatles only ten weeks after JFK's death.

JFK's assassination changed things.  After his death came the Vietnam War, riots in American cities and a general sense that things were out of control.  It bred a more conspiratorial and, at times, paranoid mindset, a mindset that has stayed in place over the decades.  Ironically, the academic view at the time was that the paranoia was from the right-wing; the best example being liberal Professor Richard J Hofstadter's influential November 1964 article in Harper's Magazine, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, a screed against the rise of Barry Goldwater, but as I can attest being a politically active young Democrat, it was JFK's death that set off an ever growing paranoid view of politics among liberals.  It became the conviction of large percentages of Americans that there was a conspiracy masterminded by dark forces in our society, thwarting a collective fantasy that, but for that event, we would have moved into "bright sunlit uplands", a viewpoint expressed in its most extreme form by the loony, but creative, director Oliver Stone (for more on him see Showtime's Agitprop) in the feverish conspiracy film, JFK, featuring the bizarre convoluted conspiracy theories of wacky New Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison.

Stone's film, made in the early 1990s, merely reflected widespread views originating in the late 60s and early 70s.  After a brief honeymoon of public acceptance after its 1964 release, the credibility of the Warren Commission report, with its conclusion that Oswald acted alone, quickly eroded and by the mid-60s more than 50% of Americans thought there was a conspiracy.  By 1975, 81% believed in a conspiracy and Gallup Polling over the years has always shown more than 70% supporting the conspiracy hypothesis until its most recent survey, in 2013, showed a drop to a still substantial 61%.  JFK assassination conspiracy theories have even become punch lines in Hollywood movies.

I read some of the early books attacking the commission's work and claiming a government conspiracy by authors like Mark Lane and, while living in the Boston area in the early and mid-1970s , knew people associated with the Assassination Information Bureau (AIB), founded by the radical former president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Carl Oglesby.  The AIB became command central for those who propagated a variety of assassination theories, all centered around a right-wing conspiracy, usually involving Lyndon Johnson and various combinations of the CIA, FBI, Mafia, Cuban refugees, defense contractors, the Pentagon and the Illuminati (just joking on the last one, I think).  It was quite an experience listening to them go on and on in an all-knowing way.  For some reason, they believed that a self-proclaimed Marxist and Communist, who had defected to the Soviet Union and two months before the assassination tried to get visas to go to the Soviet Union or Cuba, a failure who felt he deserved to be a big shot and cultivated feelings of resentment and anger, constantly taunted by his Russian born wife for his inadequacies, a trained Marine rifleman who for several months had been going to shooting ranges to brush up on his skills and, who in April 1963 tried to murder the notorious right-winger, Edwin Walker, who idolized Fidel Castro and was aware of Castro's threat to get the Kennedys if they didn't stop trying to kill him and who may, while in Mexico City, have attended a party where Cuban diplomats, spies and others made remarks about their desire that John Kennedy die (for more on these last two see below), apparently lacked the motive and means to kill the president on his own.

And, as I found out in doing research for this post, Hillary Clinton's long-time henchman and recent advisor on Libya, Sid Blumenthal, played a key role in the AIB, co-authoring the only book published by the organization.  By all accounts he remains as obsessively conspiratorial minded.

Today it is clear to me, based upon the availability of more advanced computer based reconstructions of the timing and trajectory of the President's vehicle and the rifle shots, more accurate knowledge of his wounds, and thorough reexaminations of the evidence in several books including those by Gerald Posner (Case Closed) and Vincent Bugliosi (Reclaiming History), that all of the shots came from the rifle of Oswald and were fired by him (for a more comprehensive discussion of the evidence read this).  There was no second gunman.  There is also no doubt there was not a conspiracy involving individually, or any combination of, LBJ, the Mafia, Jack Ruby, American right-wingers or the Russians.  What now seems obvious to me, however, remains controversial for many; just check out all the One-Star reviews for the two books mentioned above on Amazon.

What remains as a very slight possibility is Cuban involvement in one of two ways.  The first, and more probable of these still unlikely scenarios, involves Cuban intelligence, centered around Oswald's visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City during his five day visit, September 27 through October 1, 1963 less than two months before the assassination.  Why might there be Cuban involvement?  Because JFK and Robert Kennedy were continuing to run, via the CIA, operations to kill Fidel Castro, despite the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous fall.  Castro was well aware of these repeated attempts on his life though the American public was not at the time.  The Associated Press published an article on September 8, 1963, by a reporter who interviewed Castro and quoted him issuing a warning "U.S. leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe".  The AP story was published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that same week.  Oswald, in New Orleans at the time, and publicly demonstrating in support of Castro, was an avid reader of that paper during his sojourn in the city.  It was after New Orleans that Oswald made his trip to Mexico City and the Cuban Embassy.

The second is the possible involvement of anti-Castro Cubans, incensed by what they saw as JFK's betrayal at the Bay of Pigs, manipulating Oswald into believing he was working on behalf of Castro in killing Kennedy.

There are many reasons for doubting there was any conspiracy but here are two I found easy to grasp.

It was happenstance that gave Oswald the opportunity.  While visiting with some of her neighbors Marina Oswald heard one of them mention that the Texas School Book Depository was hiring.  Desperate to get her unemployed husband a job, she asked the other woman to inquire of her friend about a job for Lee.  The Depository was hiring at both its locations and Oswald was randomly assigned to the one in Dealey Plaza.  All this happened in mid-October 1963, after his visit to Mexico City.  While there had been a public announcement of JFK's trip to Texas in late September, Dallas was not added to the visit until November 9, and the motorcade route not published until November 19; a route which had the president's limousine not only pass directly in front of the Depository building, but required a sharp left turn which slowed the vehicle down making the president an easy target in the open back seat.
(from McAdams, though the note referring to "Originally Planned" route is in error, the route was always planned to take a right and then a left on to Elm St)

And what about Jack Ruby shooting Oswald on November 24?  The shooting occurred as Oswald was being transferred from Dallas Police to Federal custody.  The planned transfer was delayed because, at the last minute, a federal postal inspector requested he be allowed to ask Oswald some questions, and then further delayed when Oswald asked he be allowed to go back to his cell to put on a sweater before leaving.  Meanwhile, Jack Ruby was at the Western Union office across the street from police headquarters waiting patiently in line to wire $25 requested by one of the strippers at his night club, having left his beloved dog to wait in the car for his return.  Seeing the police activity when he left Western Union, Ruby (well known to Dallas Police as a hanger-on and cop wannabe) walked down the garage ramp and into history.  If not for the delays in Oswald leaving, Ruby never would have had the chance to shoot him, and Ruby's actions that morning do not seem those of a man acting to some predetermined plan, rather he was, as those who interviewed him in 1964 concluded, psychotic and delusional.

I'm also strongly influenced by my own experience in doing investigations which has served to disabuse me of an easy acceptance of conspiracy theories.  Things that often look extremely suspicious at first usually end up as surprising, bizarre and unplanned chains of events leading to unfortunate incidents.  Even after completing investigations where those factors were clearly at play, I'm still amazed it happened without some grand plan.

The turmoil of 1960s America, both domestic and foreign, reduced the credibility of government.  Amid that growing cynicism some of the initial books questioning the commission seemed credible, contributing to a growing lack of public confidence in its conclusions.  Moreover, as we learned after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, in early 1964 the KGB started a covert disinformation operation to spread a message blaming the assassination on the American government, a theme initially gaining traction in Western Europe and then spreading to America, prompted by a Kremlin worried that it would be blamed for JFK's death; a campaign that fed right into the growing suspicion and disillusionment over the Warren Commission.

It is became evident over time that something went wrong within the Warren Commission which fed the growth of conspiracy theories.  Finding out what went wrong is the subject of the 2013 book by long time New York Times reporter, Philip Shenon, A Cruel And Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination.  It is the best overview to help understand how the White House, CIA and FBI managed to damage the credibility of the Commision Report.

The book's title is drawn from the first line of the Warren Commission's introduction to its report: "The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963 was a cruel and shocking act of violence, directed against a man, a family, a nation, and against all mankind."

The book's subtitle "The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination" is misleading; more accurately it should be, "The Secret History of the Warren Commission", because it is the investigation undertaken by that Commission which is the focus of the book.  Shenon began his research in 2008 and was able to interview a number of the then still-living younger staff of the Warren Commission.   He also exhaustively reviewed the commission and various government files, including the many documents declassified in the 1990s, as well as conducting interviews in Mexico City.

The author presents a fascinating intimate look at the operations of the commission, giving us vivid portraits of the often-reluctant commission members, particularly Chief Justice Earl Warren and Senator Richard Russell, both of whom were subjected to Lyndon Johnson's seductively persuasive arm-twisting tactics before agreeing to serve, and of the in-fighting among them from the time the commission began its work in December 1963 to the release of its report in September 1964.  He walks us through each step of the investigation, and introduces us to the young, and often relatively inexperienced lawyers, who conducted much of it.  I was struck by the lack of seasoned investigators on the commission staff.

We learn about many of the key personalities, like the increasingly erratic and untrustworthy Marina Oswald, along with smaller moments such as Lady Bird Johnson's testimony about coming face to face with Jackie Kennedy, in her blood splattered clothes in that small hallway at the hospital in Dallas, "I think it was right outside the operating room.  She was quite alone.  I don't think I ever saw anyone so much alone in my life".

But it is the story of the suppression of evidence and why it occurred that is the backbone of the book.

Warren Commission Members
Earl Warren (Chairman) - Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1953-69)
Hale Boggs (D-La) - House Minority Whip
John Sherman Cooper (R-Ky) - Senator
Allen Dulles - CIA Director (1953-61)
Appointed by Eisenhower, fired by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Gerald Ford (R-Michigan) - House Minority Leader.
According to Shenon, Ford was "perhaps the most hardworking apart from Warren himself. . . [he] made a point of being present to hear the testimony of almost all important witnesses.  His questions were consistently well thought-out and reflected his close reading of the evidence".  The most thorough reviewer and commenter on the draft report of the commission.
John McCloy
One of the "Wise Men" who dominated the American foreign policy establishment from the end of World War Two until the mid-1960s.  McCloy served as High Commissioner of Germany (1947-49), President of the World Bank, Chairman of Chase Manhattan and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Richard Russell (D-Ga) Senator.
Perhaps the most intelligent member of the commission, a friend of LBJ's and his opponent in the fight over what became the 1964 Civil Rights Act which was debated while the Warren Commission was underway.  Responsible for appointing the only woman investigator on the commission staff.  He and Warren despised each other. 

Philip Shenon's assessment:
The commission made grievous errors.  It failed to pursue important evidence and witnesses because of limitations imposed on the investigation by the man who ran it, Chief Justice Warren.  Often, Warren seemed more interested in protecting the legacy of his beloved friend President Kennedy, and of the Kennedy family, than in getting to the full facts about the president's murder.

. . . much of the evidence about the president's murder was covered up or destroyed - shredded, incinerated, or erased - before it could reach the commission.  Senior officials at both the CIA and the FBI hid information from the panel, apparently in hopes of concealing just how much they had known about Lee Harvey Oswald and the threat that he posed.
Overriding everything were the suspicions of President Lyndon Johnson that the Soviets or Cubans may have been behind the murder, even though he was not to learn the full extent of JFK's attempts to kill Castro until 1967.  If true, Johnson believed public outrage would force the United States to respond in a way which could trigger events leading to a possible nuclear war which he desperately wanted to avoid at all costs.  To avoid this outcome the White House put limits on the investigation, pressuring it to wind up its work as quickly as possible, declare Oswald the sole gunman, and calm public fears of a larger conspiracy.

In later years, LBJ spoke openly of his views.   In October 1968, after announcing he would not run for reelection, Johnson gave an interview to Howard K Smith of ABC News.  Off camera, LBJ told Smith something he could not use for broadcast:
"I''ll tell you something that will rock you.  Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first"., 1964 & 1972)

The July 1973 issue of The Atlantic contained an article by Leo Janos, who spent time with the retired president before his death in January.  Janos recounts one conversation:
"During coffee, the talk turned to President Kennedy, and Johnson expressed his belief that the assassination in Dallas had been part of a conspiracy. 'I never believed that Oswald acted alone, although I can accept that he pulled the trigger.' Johnson said that when he had taken office he found that 'we had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.' A year or so before Kennedy's death a CIA-backed assassination team had been picked up in Havana.  Johnson speculated that Dallas had been a retaliation for this thwarted attempt, although he couldn't prove it. " (from The Last Days Of The President, by Leo Janos, The Atlantic, July 1973)  
LBJ was not the only one with suspicions about a conspiracy;  Robert Kennedy also suspected it.  Shenon writes of Kennedy's political associates that
"They would admit years later that Kennedy had never stopped suspecting that there had been a conspiracy to kill his brother . . . Kennedy appeared worried, in particular, about the possibility that Castro or the Mafia was behind the assassination."
This suspicion weighed heavily on Bobby Kennedy who felt guilt that his involvement (RFK was the operational link between his brother and the CIA in the plots) in the attempts to kill Castro, or his pursuit of the Mafia and Jimmy Hoffa, may have backfired and led to the death of his brother, a worry that haunted him until his death in 1968, according to some of his close associates.  In a final twist on the relationship between the Castro plots and the president's death, a CIA Inspector General reviewing the history years later:
"would determine years later that on November 22, 1963 . . . a CIA officer was meeting in Paris with a Cuban agent [who later turned out to be a double agent for the Castro regime] to hand him a poison pen".  The IG concluded "it is likely that at the very moment President Kennedy was shot, a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent . . . and giving him an assassination device for use against Castro."
In Congressional testimony during the 1970s Richard Helms, who had personally approved the Castro plots and by then was CIA Director, said that since he had determined, in his own mind, that the CIA's Castro plots had nothing to do with Kennedy's assassination, therefore there was no reason to tell the Commission about them,  "Besides, Helms asked later, why had it been his responsibility to tell the commission about the Castro plots, since he was certain that one of the commissioners - Dulles - knew all about them, as had Robert Kennedy?", from wikipedia)

The Kennedy family connection went on to taint the famous Church Committee investigation of the CIA in the mid-1970s, which publicly exposed many of its secrets, including the Castro plots.  The portrait painted by the committee's chairman, Frank Church (D-Idaho) was of a "rogue" agency and played down the direct role of President Kennedy and Attorney General Kennedy in the Castro matter.  This framing may not have been an innocent error, as Senator Church was a close friend of Senator Edward Kennedy, and the Kennedy family has been very protective of its legacy, being much more comfortable with the image of JFK as "the civil rights president" than as "the cold war president".

Chief Justice Warren had his own pressures.  An admirer of John F Kennedy and the family, he understandably wanted to spare his widow and brother as much pain as possible during the investigation process.  One of his most controversial decisions was to forbid the commission staff from seeing the autopsy photos and x-rays of President Kennedy, because of the horrible wounds suffered by the president and the risk they might end up part of the public record.  The staff was forced to rely upon sketches of the wounds made by doctors during the autopsy.  When the photos and x-rays were made available decades later it was realized that the sketches had major errors in the placement of the entry and exit wounds (the photos can be found on the internet; they are very disturbing).  The discrepancies in the erroneous sketches fueled conspiracy critics and help kindle theories of more than one gunman being involved; whether the fatal shot came from the back or front; and about the supposed implausibility of the single bullet theory, all of which were debunked once the photos and x-rays became available.

In addition to White House pressure to quickly complete the commission's work, Warren may also have been asked to limit the look at possible Soviet or Cuban involvement.  According to the staffers Shenon interviewed, Warren was particularly reluctant to pursue questions around Oswald's visit to Mexico City, in one instance refusing permission for a staffer to interview Silvia Duran, a young Mexican communist employed by the Cuban embassy who, it was alleged, had been seen with Oswald on several occasions, telling staffer David Slawson:
"You just can't believe a communist.  We don't talk to communists.  You cannot trust a dedicated communist to tell us the truth, so what's the point?"
Shenon reports:
"In light of what he later learned about the CIA, Slawson suspected - but could not prove - that Warren had been asked by the spy agency not to interview Duran."
Warren also exhibited a surprising naivete about the operations of government.  In an early meeting of the commissioners, John McCloy asked:
"Had the chief justice or anyone else been in touch with the CIA to determine what it knew about the assassination - and about Oswald and his travels in Russia and Mexico?"

"No, I have not" Warren replied, "for the simple reason that I have never been informed that the CIA had any knowledge about this."
From the beginning, Senator Russell had his own suspicions about the investigation, writing a note to himself after the first Commission meeting in December "Something strange is happening", referring to the CIA and FBI investigation of Oswald's visit to Mexico, and it seemed to him there was a rush to demonstrate that Oswald was the lone assassin aoubt which he wrote "This to me is an untenable conclusion." & Senator Russell, December 1963 from digital history)

Which brings us to the final problem - the obstruction of the investigation by the FBI and CIA.  There were dual motives.  The first was avoiding bureaucratic embarrassment.  Both agencies, the CIA through its monitoring of the embassies in Mexico City, and the FBI, through its access to some of that information, which was routinely forwarded to it by the CIA, had good reason to be concerned about Oswald.  Their failure to act on that information may have cost the president's life.  The second was the likely directive from the White House to both agencies to play down any possible Cuban or Soviet connection.  Both motives provided incentives to carefully manage the information flow to the Warren Commission, and the presidential directive provided a convenient excuse for the agencies to cover up their mistakes.

More mundane concerns also led to evidence destruction.  On November 24, 1963,  FBI Special Agent James Hosty (who handled the Oswald file prior to the assassination - as a returned defector the FBI kept an eye on him) was called to the office of Gordon Shanklin, his boss in Dallas.  Shanklin showed Hosty a note that Oswald had delivered personally to the FBI office in early November complaining of FBI harassment, writing "If you don't cease bothering my wife, I will take appropriate action" according to Hosty, who had contacted Marina Oswald in an attempt to interview her.  Shanklin said "Oswald is dead now,  There can be no trial" and told Hosty to get rid of the note which he shredded and flushed down a toilet.  Months later, a commission investigator decided to cross check the FBI's typewritten summary of Oswald's address book, provided to the commission as a courtesy since the agency said Oswald's handwriting could be difficult to read, against the original address book and was surprised to find that the FBI summary was missing Oswald's entry of Agent James Hasty (an obvious misspelling of Hosty) which included Hosty's office address, license plate number of his FBI car and was dated November 1, 1963.  Hosty later said that his name had been left off the summary prepared by another agent in the Dallas office in order to save him from Hoover's wrath.

From the start, commission staff viewed J Edgar Hoover as uncooperative.  He blatantly tried to preempt the commission by producing his own report on December 9, 1963, concluding Oswald was the lone killer, which he then arranged to have selectively leaked to the press.  The report was shoddily done and the commission members who read it thought it made no sense.

Hoover later testified to the commission under oath that "There was nothing up to the time of the assassination that gave any indication that this man was a dangerous character who might do harm to the president" but, as Shenon notes, "Behind closed doors at the FBI, however, Hoover's views, shared with his deputies, was precisely the opposite. Within days of the assassination, he determined that the FBI had, in fact, bungled its investigation of Oswald before the assassination . . . "

Hoover went on to discipline 17 employees for "shortcomings in connection with the investigation of Oswald", including the decision not to place Oswald on the FBI's internal Security Index, a roster that would have been shared with the Secret Service ahead of Kennedy's visit to Dallas, declaring the failure to do so "could not have been more stupid".  The Commission was never informed of his actions nor that the FBI knew of Oswald's visit to Mexico City and the embassies weeks before the assassination.

And it is the events in Mexico City that are at the center of FBI and CIA obstruction.  Commission staffers knew Oswald visited Mexico City for five days at the end of September and beginning of October, entering the Cuban and Soviet embassies and unsuccessfully trying to obtain visas.  They had fragmentary reports about what Oswald was up to and who he might have seen.  They knew the CIA in Mexico City had both embassies under surveillance but when interviewed, CIA station chief Winston "Win" Scott insisted it had neither photographs nor any audiotapes of Oswald. Scott from jfkfacts)

Perhaps one of the most intriguing leads was that Oswald had attended a party with Silvia Duran "attended by Cuban diplomats and spies, as well as Mexican supporters of Castro's government" at which "some of the guests had spoken openly of their hope that someone would assassinate President John F Kennedy, if only to ensure the survival of the revolution in Cuba that Kennedy had been so desperate to crush".  Win Scott poured cold water on these allegations and went out of his way to discredit those making them, and probably made efforts to avoid having some of the witnesses interviewed by commission staffers.

While commission staff realized as early as December 1963 they were being played by the FBI, their view of the CIA was initially different, finally realizing in February that the agency was also withholding information, including on Oswald's trip to Mexico City, which it justified by saying the commission "did not fully understand the implications of forcing the CIA to share everything it had on Oswald".  Yet it proved impossible for the staff to penetrate the agency's layers of obfuscation and even then, as Shenon reveals, many staffers were unaware of how badly they were misled until the declassification of many documents in the 1990s or in some cases, until Shenon in his interviews shared documents they had never seen.

Our ambassador in Mexico, Thomas Mann, was convinced early on that Cuba had something to do with the assassination and urged a thorough FBI and CIA investigation.  The FBI bureau chief reported Mann's conviction that the Soviet Union was "much too sophisticated" to be involved but that Castro was "stupid enough to have participated".  After much resistance Hoover sent an agent to investigate but, as that agent told Shenon "he came to understand years later that he had been part of a charade to avoid discovering the full truth about Oswald in Mexico".

In 1977, Ambassador Mann was interviewed by investigators during the House of Representatives investigation into the JFK, RFK and King assassinations.  In the interview, which remained classified for years, Mann claimed he had been personally ordered by Secretary of State Dean Rusk days after the assassination to shut down any investigation in Mexico that would "confirm or refute rumours of Cuban involvement in the assassination" and he believed the same "incredible" order was given to Winston Scott and the embassy's FBI legal attache by their superiors.

Shenon also reveals the existence of a mystery letter that turned up in the CIA files declassified in the 1990s.  On June 17, 1964 Hoover prepared a letter to the Warren Commission with explosive information.  It allegedly came directly from a conversation Fidel Castro had with a U.S. Communist Party member and confidential FBI informant Jack Childs, who was visiting Cuba.  Along with his old brother Morris, a senior official in the American Communist Party, Jack became an FBI informant in the early 1950s.  Because of their party connections, the Childs brothers received unusual access to international party leaders meeting with, among others, Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Tse-Tung.  Their information proved "remarkably accurate" according to Shenon and in 1987 the brothers received the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

According to Hoover's letter, Castro was quoted as saying "Oswald stormed into the embassy, demanded the visa, and, when it was refused to him, headed out saying, 'I'm going to kill Kennedy for this'".   Castro reportedly went on to say that Cuban diplomats did not take this seriously, believing Oswald might be some type of CIA provocateur, and insisted that the Cuban government had nothing to do with the assassination.

The letter never reached the commission but a copy somehow ended up in the possession of the CIA.

In 1971 Win Scott died and CIA officials visited both his office and home in Mexico City to remove files.  Among his papers was a draft memoir declassified in the 1990 which stated:
"Above all, Oswald's visits at both the Communist Cuban Embassy and the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City during his brief five-day stay in September-October 1963 are, together, with what is known of what took place during these visits, sufficient to make him a suspect agent, acting on behalf of the Soviets, in several things, possibly, including the assassination of President Kennedy."

Despite his insistence to the commission that the CIA had no surveillance photos of Oswald, [Scott wrote that] the CIA had photos of him outside both embassies.  He also said that despite denials at the time, the CIA had audiotapes with Oswald's voice in his phone calls to the embassies writing that "His conversations with personnel of these embassies were studied in detail".
After the death of Hoover in 1972, his successors spent years cleaning up the mess he left behind and attempting to restore the agency's reputation.  In 1975 reporters from the Dallas Times Herald informed FBI Director Clarence Kelly they would be running a story about the letter from Oswald that FBI Agent James Hosty destroyed two days after the assassination.  It was the first Kelly had heard of the incident and, after internal inquiries, he told the paper the FBI had no objection to its running the story because it was true. Kelly, wikipedia)

The incident prompted Kelly to undertake his own investigation of the agency's action before and after the assassination and according to Shenon reached these conclusions:
He found Hoover's undelivered June 1964 letter and other materials and became very troubled about the entire Mexico City visit of Oswald and the handling of evidence, including that one of the people he met with in the Soviet embassy was Valeriy Kostikov, a KGB agent known to be a specialist in assassinations.

Kelly concluded that in Washington the FBI and CIA "had enough combined information on Oswald's trek to Mexico City to put his name in lights on a presidential security list of threats" but that Agent Hosty in Dallas was kept in the dark.  Kelly found that the two missing memos of the Dallas file [dated October 18, 1963 about what the bureau knew of the CIA surveillance of Oswald in Mexio City and dated November 19, 1963 about contents of a letter written by Oswald to the Soviet embassy in Washington about his Mexico City trip] were removed days after the assassination in the hope Hosty had not yet read them.  Kelly believed the order to remove the memo came from the #3 man in the FBI, William Sullivan, and that he appeared to be working on orders from the White House which "seemingly considered the risk of a confrontation with the Soviet Union over the Kennedy assassination as too great".   Kelly's final conclusion was that if the information had been given to the Dallas office the President's death could have been easily prevented.
Shenon also reports that while doing his research he went to Mexico City and was able to interview Silvia Duran, several of her relatives, and other people involved in the events of 1963 and is convinced that Oswald was at the party mentioned above despite the CIA insistence otherwise.

Finally, and most startling, is something Shenon claims was not known before his research, that James Angleton had inserted himself as the person at the CIA controlling the flow of information to the Warren Commission.  I don't know enough about the literature around the assassination to judge whether Shenon is the first to discover this but, if he is correct, Angleton's presence in the middle of the investigation raises alarm bells.

Forty years after being fired by CIA Director William Colby, James Jesus Angleton remains the most controversial figure in the agency's history.  Born in 1917 to a U.S. cavalry officer father and Mexican mother who met during General Pershing's 1916 expedition to punish Pancho Villa, Angleton spent most of his childhood in Milan, Italy.  He attended Yale where, as an aspiring poet, he was editor of the literary magazine Furioso and, according to Wikipedia, corresponded extensively with Ezra Pound, EE Cummings, and TS Eliot.

Entering the American secret service during WWII, Angleton became friends with British intelligence agent Kim Philby while serving in London.  Philby, a Soviet agent who did immeasurable damage to American and British intelligence efforts in the years immediately following the war, was constantly promoted by the British, serving from 1949 to 1951 in Washington as British intelligence liaison with the CIA, where he became even closer with Angleton.  Suspicions about Philby's activities forced the British to recall him in 1951, and though in 1955 Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan told the House of Commons there was no evidence Philby was a spy, in January 1963 he disappeared from Beirut, Lebanon, reappearing on July 30, 1963, when the Soviets triumphantly announced his presence in Moscow where he lived for the rest of his life.

Many believe that Philby's betrayal explains Angleton's own increasingly mysterious, complex, conspiratorial, and suspicious attitude in his next role as CIA's Chief of Counterintelligence from 1954 until he left the agency twenty years later.  Over those decades Angleton became increasingly convinced the CIA had been penetrated by Soviet moles, and though he was never able to conclusively identify anyone, he ruined the careers of a number of CIA officers who became the target of his suspicions. His ongoing investigations served to tie the agency up in knots.

Informed opinions on Angleton differ widely which would probably please him.  CIA Director Helms held him in high regard, as does Edward Jay Epstein, himself a highly regarded author on intelligence matters.  Other experienced intelligence professionals and authors regard him as an incompetent alcoholic who paralyzed the agency and destroyed the effectiveness of the CIA operations directorate, an opinion shared by Director Colby, who forced him to retire.

Angleton's presence in the information stream to the commission adds yet another layer of obfuscation, since it was his nature to complicate things.  Everyone who has written of their interactions with him speaks about his obsession with nothing being as it seemed and of always seeing complicated and well-planned deceptions piled upon deceptions.  A conversation with him was like entering a hall of mirrors.  Shenon suspects it was Angleton who prevented Hoover's June 1964 letter (a copy of which ended up in CIA files) from reaching the commission.  If Angleton was the culprit, my guess is he thought Castro's statement was disinformation designed to deflect blame from Cuba, to which you might respond "but isn't that what the White House wanted?" and the answer being yes, but that is not necessarily what Angleton wanted and he knew best in his own mind.

It was also James Angleton who personally visited Win Scott's office and home in 1971 to collect his files, including the memoir declassified two decades later.  On top of a White House already interested in minimizing information on Mexico City, who knows what additional confusion and misdirection may have been sowed by Angelton's involvement?

I'd tell you about Angleton and the battle around the bona fides of Soviet defectors Golitysn and Nosenko, a battle which also bears on the assassination, but if we enter that hall of mirrors we are likely never to find a way out.

What are we to make of all this?

The lack of access to the autopsy photos and x-rays led the commission to botch the analysis of the president's wounds and raise unneeded questions about the trajectory of the bullets.  If Justice Warren had allowed access it would have avoided errors and lessened the credibility of conspiracy theorists.

The pressure to speed things along led to gaps and mistakes that became an easy target for skeptics and should have been easily correctable with a little more time and a more experienced staff.

The Mexico City aspect is trickier.  The desire of the White House to avoid a nuclear confrontation is certainly understandable.  Perhaps the right course of action depends on what you think really happened there.  It is certainly possible that Oswald attended the party with Silvia Duran and heard comments about what a good thing it would be if President Kennedy died.  He may very well, as Castro supposedly claimed, made threats about killing the president while at the Cuban embassy but this does not implicate Cuban officials, though if the CIA were aware of any of this, and failed to inform the FBI, it would have been an enormous failure on its part.

Even Oswald's meeting with KGB "wet work" specialist Kostikov at the Soviet Embassy that so bothered FBI Director Kelly can be explained.  Kostikov also had regular consular duties as part of his cover and, as the senior KGB man in the agency, it is understandable why he might meet with a U.S. citizen, a former defector to the Soviet Union seeking to return there.  Moreover there was no clear motive for the Soviet Union to kill the president in the wake of the resolution of the Missile Crisis and the signing earlier in the year of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and we know the reaction of Soviet leaders to the news of his death was panic they would be blamed for the assassination.

Cuba is another matter.  As information has dribbled out over the decades we now know that the Castro demonstrated erratic personal behavior during the 1962 crisis, including urging a first strike nuclear attack on the U.S., and the Soviets took steps to limit his control of their weapons in Cuba.  He also had a motivation since we knew the Kennedy brothers were trying to kill him which prompted his threat of retaliation, and we can assume he was aware of the meeting scheduled in Paris on November 22, 1963 between the CIA and the Cuban double agent.  Yet there is still no direct or even indirect link indicating that the Cubans were willing to place the future of their country in the hands of the unpredictable Lee Harvey Oswald who, at the time he was in Mexico City seemed to have no realistic path to carrying out such a task.  That's why, while a Cuban role is possible, I still think it highly unlikely., from jfkfacts)

However, Kelly was right about Kostikov and Mexico City on the most important aspect.  In 1963 the process for a presidential visit involved the local FBI office reviewing its files for potential security risks and forwarding those to the Secret Service which would examine each individual so identified.   The CIA knew of Oswald's visits to the embassies and their purpose.  They may have had even more detailed and revealing information on his activities and conversations.  We know that some form of that information reached the CIA and FBI in Washington, but did not make it in usable form to the FBI Dallas Office (unless the still unexplained October 18 memo was sufficient).   If the local FBI knew that there was a Dallas resident, a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and returned to the U.S., engaged in pro-Castro activities in New Orleans in September, and then visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies seeking visas and meeting with a KGB assassination specialist, Oswald would have been placed on the security list and simple inquiries would have revealed he was working along the route of the presidential motorcade.  As Hoover concluded, the failure was "stupid" and, as Kelly realized a decade later, proper handling of the information would have averted the tragedy.

Instead, geopolitical concerns provided a wonderful opportunity for both agencies to cover their blunders.  There is one constant about bureaucracies both inside and outside government - their priority is to protect themselves.