Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Undemocratic Party

Imagine that you're an oilman, living in Texas almost a century ago. If so, you would have been pleased about the Oil Depletion Allowance, a special tax exemption that would let you knock off 5% of your declared petroleum income for, um, depreciation. By electing such powerful politicians as House Speaker John Nance Garner, Samuel Rayburn, Hatton Summers and others, you get the government to jack up that allowance to 27.5% during the height of the Depression. That would call for a celebration, wouldn’t it?

Well, a celebration it was, until the American people elected this killjoy of a president named John F. Kennedy, who sought to reduce the Oil Depletion Allowance to something more reasonable. What’s worse, his brother, the Attorney General, was busy digging up dirt on your Washington lackeys, most notably the Vice-President of the United States, who’s chief aide had already been caught accepting bribes from shaky lobbyists with Mafia connections.

Now, imagine a party taking place on the eve of the JFK assassination, given at the house of Clint Murchison, Sr., an obscenely wealthy Texas oilman. Imagine a number of other powerful oilmen, surrounded by beautiful women, in attendance. Then the FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover himself, shows up out of the blue. When the guest of honor arrives shortly afterward, he, the oilmen, and Hoover, adjourn to a private room for an important meeting.

So, imagine that the guest of honor is none other than Lyndon B. Johnson. Furthermore, imagine that his mistress is at the party. He sees her after the meeting and declares to her “Those [blankety-blank] Kennedys will never embarrass me again. That’s not a threat,  That’s a promise.”

Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. Just listen to what the surviving witnesses have to say.

Figure 1. Excerpt from The Men Who Killed Kennedy, “The Guilty Men”



Update:  BoMoMaPiLa has contributed this excellent link featuring another interview with LBJ mistress Madeleine Brown.  In it, she gives further details about this historically significant party.

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Meet the Commission

Formally known as The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, most of us simply refer to it as the Warren Commission.  Assisted by numerous researchers, and junior counsels, the commission itself consisted of seven men.  Here’s some information about each of them.

Earl Warren (1891-1974)
Resume: B.A. in Legal Studies, University of California, Berkeley (1912); LL.B., University of California, Berkeley (1914); Attorney, Robinson & Robinson (1915-1916); Lieutenant, USA (1917-1918); Clerk, Judicial Committee, California State Assembly (1919-1920); Deputy City Attorney; Oakland, CA (1920-1925); District Attorney, Alameda County, CA (1925-1939); State of California Attorney General (1939-1943); Governor, California (1943-1953); Chief Justice, US Supreme Court (1953-1969).

Background: Warren cut his political teeth in the progressive faction of the U.S. Republican Party, thus prompting many of his detractors to label him a liberal.  As a prosecutor, supporters depicted him as “tough on crime,” and a crusader against political corruption.  As a Supreme Court Justice, he openly opposed Jim Crow, and other right-wing agendas, thus making enemies out of such ultraconservatives as Richard Nixon, and more reactionary elements within the Republican Party, among them the John Birch Society.  `

At the same time, Warren was quite ambitious, and had political aspirations for high office that sometimes led him to violate his own high principles.  One example of this: playing on racist fears and paranoia of voters, he called for the illegal interment of Japanese Americans into concentration camps during his gubernatorial campaign.  He later expressed remorse for these actions, writing:   
I have since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens. Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends and congenial surroundings, I was conscience-stricken.
To say that President Lyndon Johnson dragged him into the commission kicking and screaming would be a bit of an overstatement.  But it’s not much of one.  Warren twice refused participation on the panel that would bear his name, but eventually acquiesced.  In a taped telephone conversation with Richard Russell, Johnson revealed that he actually had to blackmail Warren to head the commission, boasting:
Warren told me he wouldn't do it under any circumstances... I called him and ordered him down here and told me no twice and I just pulled out what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City... And he started crying and said, well I won't turn you down... I'll do whatever you say.
Where are they now?  Lies in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.


Gerald Ford (1913-2006)

Resume: B.A. in Economics, University of Michigan (1935); J.D., Yale University (1941); Lieutenant, USN (1942-1946); US Representative, 5th District, Michigan (1949-1973); Minority Leader, US House of Representatives (1965-1973); U.S. Vice President (1973-1974); US President (1974-1977).

Background: As a US Representative, Ford went out of his way to position himself as far to the right.  As Guardian, UK reporter Harold Jackson put it:
He built up an impressive record of flat-earth conservatism. He voted against federal aid for education and housing, repeatedly resisted increases in the minimum wage, tried to block the introduction of medical care for the elderly, and consistently fought any measures to combat pollution. At the same time he supported virtually all increases in defence spending.

Before his selection to the Warren Commission, Ford was allegedly compromised in an FBI sting.  The Bureau taped his secret meetings with high-powered lobbyist Fred Black at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel in DC, according to Lyndon Johnson's top aide, Bobby Baker, whom the FBI also investigated.  Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s investigation into Baker and Black revealed that the latter had ties not only to such powerful oil barons as Clint Murchison, but also to underworld crime bosses, most notably Mafioso Johnny Roselli.   

Some speculate that Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover both had some complicity in the death of JFK, and by selecting Ford both men could rest assured that they could control the Warren Commission investigation through him.  What’s not speculation, however, is the fact that Ford served pretty much as the FBI’s spy during the investigation, updating Hoover et al as to the progress of the case on a frequent basis.  A 1963 FBI memo declassified in 2008 showed that he indeed divulged Commission information to the Bureau.  As former Assistant FBI Director for Counterintelligence William Sullivan wrote in his memoirs, “He [Ford] was our man, our informant, on the Warren Commission.”

Although an ardent proponent of the single-shooter theory, Ford nevertheless noted that the CIA either destroyed or hid crucial evidence in the JFK assassination in his book A Presidential Legacy and the Warren Commission.  He also let slip to New York Times publisher and editor (respectively) Abraham Rosenthal and Arthur Sulzberger that the CIA did conspire to assassinate political leaders. 

Where are they now?  Currently lies with his wife Betty at the Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids, MI.


Allen Dulles (1893-1969)

Resume: B.A, Princeton University (1916); M.A., Princeton University (1918); J.D., George Washington University (1926); US Foreign Service (1916-1927); Division Chief for Near Eastern Affairs (1922-1927); Security Consultant to the US Government (1927-1961); Office of Strategic Services (1942-1945); Director of Central Intelligence (1953-1961).

Background: Allen Welsh Dulles hailed from a well-connected family with a history of political service.  His grandfather, John Foster, served as Secretary of State during the Benjamin Harrison administration.  His brother, John, was Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration, and his sister, Eleanor, was a diplomat. 

A career spy, Dulles consulted on national security matters for decades before heading the Central Intelligence Agency.  Despite his reputation as a gentleman, moderate and anti-fascist, some depict him as a ruthless and dedicated cold warrior who forged alliances with Nazis and ex-Nazis before and after World War II.  In their 1994 book The Secret War against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People, former US Army intelligence officer John Loftus, and former Australian political advisor Mark Aarons implicate both Allen and John Dulles, as well as a man named St. John Philby, in a plot to establish a financial network between pro-Nazi German corporations, American oil companies, and wealthy Saudis.  Others have listed the Dulles brothers as investors in dummy corporations used by Martin Bormann to hide stolen Nazi lucre in Aktion Alderflug, a capital flight program.

Dulles also spearheaded Operation PB-SUCCESS, the CIA-led violent 1954 overthrow of the Guatemalan government, and the assassination of President Jacobo Árbenz on behalf of the United Fruit Company.  The land reforms initiated by Árbenz threatened to cut into the profits of the fruit conglomerate.  Dulles was on UFC’s board of directors, and a substantial stockholder.

As Director of Central Intelligence, Dulles and Deputy Director of Ops Richard Bissell convinced President Kennedy to back their plans to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.  Dulles and Bissell later conceded that they knew that the Bay of Pigs didn’t have a snowball’s chance of succeeding.  For them, the point was to trap JFK into starting a war with Cuba.  The President figured this out pretty quickly, publicly acknowledging the conspiracy, firing Dulles and Bissell, and relieving the CIA of the responsibility for peacetime covert ops.*

Lt. Colonel Fletcher Prouty, who knew the Dulles brothers personally, and had briefed them many times, saw the selection of Dulles to the Warren Commission as a potential conflict of interest.  After all, Dulles would then be in charge of solving the murder of the man who had fired him--a man he had motive to kill.
                         
Where are they now?  Lies with Granny Dulles in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD.


Richard Russell (1897-1971)

Resume: B.L., Georgia University (1915); Seaman, USNR (1918-1919); State of Georgia Representative (1921-1931), Speaker, Georgia House of Representatives (1927-1931); Governor, Georgia (1931-1933); US Senator, Georgia (1933-1971); Chairman, Armed Services Committee; US Senate (1951-1953, 1955-1969); Chairman, Appropriations Committee, US Senate (1969-1971); President Pro Tempore, US Senate (1969-1971).

Background: Russell, along with Lyndon Johnson and Strom Thurmond, was one of the leading extremist right-wing voices of the Democratic Party.  Russell and Johnson were close friends until the former’s death in 1971 (Johnson’s kids called him ‘Uncle Dick’).  The two men also signed Senator Thurmond’s 1954 “Southern Manifesto,” which attempted to declare civil rights unconstitutional.  During one of his Senate campaigns, Russell maintained:
As one who was born and reared in the atmosphere of the Old South, with six generations of my forebearers now resting beneath Southern soil, I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.

Kennedy’s push for a civil rights bill ironically became a reality shortly after his death when Russell’s friend, President Johnson, broke through a southern-led filibuster to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Nevertheless, Kennedy faced massive opposition from his own party from southern Democrats who were outraged by his call to end Jim Crow.

Although Russell supported the single-shooter theory, he fiercely opposed the magic-bullet explanation that one shot produced a total of seven wounds in President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally.

Where are they now?  Currently lies in Russell Memorial Park Cemetery, Barrow County, GA.


John Cooper (1901-1991)

Resume: B.A., Yale University (1923); Commonwealth of Kentucky Representative (1927-1929); Judge, Pulaski County, KY (1929-1938), Trustee, University of Kentucky (1939-1946); Captain, USA (1942-1946); US Delegate, United Nations (1949) US Senator, KY (1946-1948, 1952-1955, 1956-1973); US Ambassador to India (1955-1956) US Ambassador to East Germany (1974-1976). 

Background: A liberal Republican, Cooper’s image was that of a populist advocate.  Nicknamed “The Poor Man’s Judge” in his home district, Pulaski County, he had a reputation for finding legal ways to stay evictions of local farmers during the Depression.  In some cases, he loaned defendant farmers money out of his own pocket to help settle their debts.  In later years, he protested the war in Vietnam.

As a personal friend of President Kennedy, albeit from a rival party, Cooper was something of a wildcard on the Warren Commission.  On the one hand, he publicly endorsed the Warren Commission’s findings.  On the other hand, he resisted some of the efforts to depict Oswald as the lone shooter.  Along with Representative Thomas Hale Boggs and Senator Russell, he criticized the magic-bullet explanation.  Perhaps frustrated, perhaps disgusted, he was mostly known for his chronic absenteeism during Warren Commission meetings.

According to political writer C. David Heymann, Cooper privately expressed to members of the Kennedy clan his concerns that a conspiracy had, in fact, assassinated John Kennedy:
Regarding his service on the Warren Commission, Senator Cooper publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the commission's findings, terming the group's 1964 report 'premature and inconclusive.' In no uncertain terms he informed Jack's surviving brothers, Robert and Teddy, that, having personally examined thousands of shreds of documentation, he felt strongly that Lee Harvey Oswald had not acted alone.

According to Heymann, Jacqueline Kennedy responded to Coopers information by asking, “What difference does it make?  Knowing who killed him won’t bring Jack back.” 

Cooper replied, “No, it won’t....But it’s important for this nation that we bring the true murderers to justice.”

Where are they now?  Currently lies in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA


John McCloy (1895-1989)
Resume: LL.B, Harvard University (1921).  Captain, USA (1917-1919); US Budget Director (1933-1934); Assistant Secretary of War (1941-1945); President, World Bank (1947-1949); US High Commissioner of Germany (1949-1952); Chairman, Chase Manhattan Bank (1953-1960); Chairman, Ford Foundation (1958-1965); Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations (1954-1970)

Background: McCloy had numerous Nazi ties stemming from his firm’s representation of I.G. Farben and similar companies.  He also shared a box with Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler during the 1936 Olympic Games.  Not surprisingly, his views could be fairly characterized as racist, right-wing and sharply anti-Semitic. Roosevelt appointed him to Direct the federal budget in 1933, but McCloy resigned the post for ideological reasons, describing the New Deal as a communist-infiltrated plot against American business.  Along with Earl Warren, he strongly advocated for the illegal interment of Japanese Americans.  And he blamed what he called a “Hebraic influence” for leading Roosevelt astray, asserting, “...most of the bad things which it [the FDR administration] has done can be traced to it.  [As] a race they seem to lack the quality of facing an issue squarely.”  As Assistant Secretary of War he worked to prevent Allied Bombers from attacking the rail lines leading to Nazi death camps, despite the feasibility of such missions, and the enormous number of lives that action could have saved. 

After WWII, McCloy helped protect fugitive Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie--at the time living in a US-provided safehouse--by refusing to acknowledge his new employment by the US Counterintelligence Corps (CIC).  By this time heavily involved with US Intel, McCloy and like-minded hardliners saw Russian expansion as a far more serious threat than fascism. As High Commissioner of Germany during the Nuremberg proceedings, he ordered the release of nine convicted war criminals, among them businessman Alfred Krupp, and financier Friedrich Flick.

Through President Eisenhower, McCloy met and befriended Clint Murchison and other Texas oil barons who politically and financially supported Lyndon Johnson.  Despite his connections to Johnson, however, McCloy was skeptical of the single-shooter theory to begin with.  Moreover, he was appalled by the Commission’s “lack of urgency” in solving the case, complaining, “...trails of evidence will be lost.”  An early critic of the magic-bullet explanation, he eventually came to endorse it and squelch his other doubts about the single-shooter theory.

Where are they now?  Currently lies in Old Leacock Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Lancaster County, PA.


Thomas Hale Boggs (1914-1973?)
Resume: B.A. Journalism, Tulane University (1934); J.D., Tulane University (1937); Ensign, USN (1942-45); US Representative, 2nd District, Louisiana (1941-1943, 1947-1973); House Majority Whip (1962-1971); House Majority Leader (1971-1973).

Background: Throughout his life, Boggs’ opponents depicted him as a communist, or communist-sympathizer.  As a result, his political career took hit points, most notably in his failed gubernatorial bid, and his defeat for reelection in 1943.  He nevertheless managed to reclaim his seat four years later, and became a respected member of Congress.

Along with Senators Russell and Cooper, Boggs scoffed at the magic-bullet theory.  As the lone public dissenter of the magic-bullet theory, he pretty much regarded the whole investigation as a coverup.  Like Cooper and McCloy, Boggs had severe doubts about Oswald’s guilt (in whole or part) before the investigation began.  But unlike the others, he increasingly expressed doubts about both the non-conspiracy explanation and the workings of the panel itself.  As early JFK assassination researcher Bernard Fensterwald wrote:
Almost from the beginning, Congressman Boggs had been suspicious over the FBI and CIA's reluctance to provide hard information when the Commission's probe turned to certain areas, such as allegations that Oswald may have been an undercover operative of some sort. When the Commission sought to disprove the growing suspicion that Oswald had once worked for the FBI, Boggs was outraged that the only proof of denial that the FBI offered was a brief statement of disclaimer by J. Edgar Hoover. It was Hale Boggs who drew an admission from Allen Dulles that the CIA's record of employing someone like Oswald might be so heavily coded that the verification of his service would be almost impossible for outside investigators to establish.

Despite his misgivings, Boggs nevertheless signed off on the Warren Commission report without endorsing it.  According to friends, this drove him to a crisis of conscience.  Said one, “Hale felt very, very torn during his work (on the Commission) ... he wished he had never been on it and wished he'd never signed it (the Warren Report).” 

According to another: “Hale always returned to one thing: Hoover lied his eyes out to the Commission--on Oswald, on Ruby, on their friends, the bullets, the gun, you name it.”

Perhaps this explains why he urged Orleans Parish DA Jim Garrison to reopen his own investigation into the case.

Where are they now?  Boggs’ flight disappeared over Alaska on 16 October 1972.  Although reelected the following month, he was declared legally dead on 3 January 1973 by Congressional Resolution.  His cenotaph currently stands at the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC.

______________________
*Kennedy subsequently entrusted covert ops to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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From Leon to Lee

Figure 1.  Excerpt from Evidence of Revision


video

Just think!  The President of the United States is coming to your home town.  And the first thing that comes to your mind is....

...Assassination?

This clip, a kinescope featuring live coverage of President John Kennedy arriving at Fort Worth, Texas on the morning of his death, seems prescient beyond belief.  This broadcaster started out by mentioning--as off-handedly as possible--that Kennedy had disobeyed his Secret Service protectors just moments earlier (how he knows this, we can guess).  But then this reporter just so happens to have a laundry list of extensive details on the assassination of US President William McKinley.  Moreover, he apparently feels this info has some relevance to JFK’s visit to Texas.

It’s clear that the announcer prepared this material beforehand.  As such, it comes across as a rather strained foreshadowing, something even the worst novelist in the world would try to avoid.

Incidentally, there are many who suspected a conspiracy in the death of William McKinley.  Among them were authorities of that time, who arrested eleven others (including writer Emma Goldman) in addition to their prime suspect, Leon Czolgosz, a prototypical lone, angry nut.  Witnesses at the Pan-American Exposition, where McKinley met his maker, saw a man with a rifle on one of the balconies overlooking the room.  Curiously, the bullet doctors eventually pulled out of the President was a .35.  Czolgosz’s gun was a .32 revolver.  

President McKinley lived for over a week after his fatal shooting.  Over the first six days, doctors reported improvement in his condition.  After it became clear that they would have to remove the bullet, doctors couldn’t find it.  As luck would have it, the Exposition had on display a real, working X-ray machine.  No one thought to use it, however.

Mind you, I’m not saying there was a conspiracy in the death of President McKinley.  My point is that glib statements and unquestioned suppositions often gloss over troubling questions.


For more stuff on the JFK Assassination, click here.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: The Fuzzy Gist of It

In 2005, two Cornell human ecology professors, Drs. Charles Brainerd and Valerie Reyna, published a book titled The Science of False Memory.* Here, they cited Sir Frederic Bartlett’s "War of the Ghosts" experiment as an example of memory fallibility. While it’s quite possible for everyone here to memorize the folktale word-for-word, the limited nature of exposure precluded this for all except those manifesting exceptional or eidetic memory.

Such research demonstrates that when recalling something with culturally and temporarily limited exposure, most people cannot recall the event (i.e., the story) verbatim. What they retain is the ‘gist memory,’ an overall understanding of the story. As Professor Bartlett found, this gist is guided by a number of psychological and sociological factors, the basic framework upon which we organize our thoughts and incoming information, an internal construct of the cosmos. Psychologists refer to this as our ‘schema.’

"The War of the Ghost" story challenges our memories because of its unfamiliarity. It simply lies outside our schema. Drs. Brainerd and Reyna demonstrate the power of schemata to shape our memories by citing a number of studies that simultaneously show how familiarity fosters verbatim memory, and how it also distorts memory.

On a commonsense level, we might expect to forget some of the details of a story, just like we forget the minutiae of the day (unless you’re Marilu Henner or someone else with hyperthymesia). What results is a soupy kind of recall, the general remembrance of experience that lies outside any context that details might provide. As Drs. Brainerd and Reyna put it:
The core precept of constructivism is that people remember what they understand to be the meaning of their experience, not their experience per se….If people remember what they understand, it is not in the least surprising that they remember false information that preserves the gist of their experience. [emphasis original]

In one study, researchers led subjects to an office desk cluttered with all sorts of items typically found on an office desk. If they put in something incongruous to the setting (in this case a toy truck), then the anomaly was recalled without problem. However, when nothing anomalous appeared on the desk, respondents often remembered many items accurately, but then said that something typically office-like (e.g., a stapler) was on the desk when, in fact, it wasn’t.

The authors use the term ‘semantic intrusion’ to describe the above, where an object that would be a logical item on a list, is in fact not on the list. It is here where the authors begin to form a definition of false memory. After all, if you remember stapler on the desk, and the stapler isn’t there, then the memory of that stapler is false.

Likewise, when trying to recall a list of words after minimal exposure, subjects could often recall many of the items if they kinda went together. For example, the words tower, mark, melon, table, boy, cooler, logged, and loo can all logically follow the character string ‘water.’ When remembering a list like this, some (if not many or all) respondents could very well add other words to this list, such as ‘bottle’ or ‘pipe.’ If the list does not contain linkable words, or if the subject has to respond in a precise order, then he or she might be subject to primacy and recency effects. We often remember the first few items of a series, and the last few items of the series. But as one of the respondents in our "War of the Ghost" exercise wrote, we’re often "losing some of the middle here."

In The Science of False Memory, Drs. Brainerd and Reyna went on at some length to discuss the dominance of gist memory over verbatim memory, although most people can handle both. This idea constitutes one of the basis of Fuzzy-Trace Theory (FTT), a concept the two developed back in the late-1980s. Basically, FTT describes how people intertwine memory, rationality, culture and emotion in their personal assessment of risk. Because we tend, primarily, to remember the gist of things (hence the term ‘fuzzy-trace’) as opposed to details (verbatim memory), we often see risk in very broad, and sometimes irrational terms. We might say, for instance, that New York City is a dangerous place, because we not only hear about real crimes committed there, but we also see the dangers of NYC in movies and television programs shot in the Big Apple. Tourists are especially leery of getting mugged or worse. In this case, the Fuzzy Trace recall of dangerous events linked to this city elevates the assessment of risk. However, the violent crime rate in NYC is fairly low, measured in objective terms.***

So, concluded the authors, memory is fallible. They would also say that it’s malleable. Even worse, they maintained that the memories of children are especially subject to manipulation.


___________________________

*The College of Human Ecology (CHE) at Cornell University should not be confused with the CIA research front, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, even though both were based at the same Ivy League school. The latter came about through consultation with Psychology Department professor Dr. Harold Wolff after World War II. The former, according to its official website, grew out of the College of Agriculture in 1907 as The College of Home Economics. They changed the name to CHE in 1969.

**Brainerd and Reyna published their first paper on the subject in the 1990 edition (v. 10) of Developmental Review. It’s title: "Gist is the Grist: Fuzzy-Trace Theory and the New Intuitionism."

***Albuquerque, NM; Anchorage, AK; Atlanta, GA; Bakersfield, CA; Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY: Charlotte, NC; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Columbus, OH; Corpus Christi, TX; Dallas, TX; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA: Greensboro, NC; Houston, TX; Jacksonville, FL; Kansas City, MO; Las Vegas, NV; Long Beach, CA; Louisville, KY; Memphis, TN; Miami, FL; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Mobile, AL; Nashville, TN; New Orleans, LA; Newark, NJ; Oakland, CA: Oklahoma City, OK; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Sacramento, CA; San Antonio, TX; San Francisco, CA; St. Louis, MO; St. Paul, MN; Stockton, CA; Tampa, FL; Toledo, OH; Tucson, AZ; Tulsa, OK; Washington, DC and Wichita, KS ALL have violent crime rates higher than New York, NY, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, Table 6.

I should point out, though, that, for some reason, the FBI cautions against taking the rankings too seriously(?). Nevertheless, the FBI’s statistics offer one more gist to offer your schemata.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Limelight Dimmed

X Dell: [ L], I just heard you were laid off.  I’m so sorry.  Is there anything I can do?
L: Oh, [X], relax.  I’ve always known how to survive.
--1993 conversation.

Last week, I got into a nostalgic mood, reminiscing about all the high times and comradery with “the old gang.”  I thought to Google some of my old pals, find out what they were up to, perhaps send them an e-mail or two.  Many of them had gone on to do some wonderful things.  In some cases, their small children had grown into adults.  Other friends had been promoted to senior positions.  Reading about their successes was a lot of fun.

The fun suddenly turned into horror when two of the search queries turned up obituaries. 

I wanted to believe that there had been some mistake.  Perhaps the obituaries were of other women with the same, or similar names.  After all, these two took care of themselves.  They were both far too young to die.

Unfortunately, I could confirm L’s passing all too easily.  Going to Find a Grave, I read a brief biography (which I could have written myself).  The site posted a photograph, too.  Those familiar brown eyes staring back at me, the lips drawn into the warm smile that has kissed this face more often than I can count--it was her.  The site also posted a picture of her final resting place.  Strange.  The last place you’d expect to find a woman so full of life is six feet under.

L studied drama at the University of Texas, and was a part of Austin’s hippie scene of the 1960s, along with such notables as Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson (she was a big fan of his).  She left her native San Antonio, and came to New York to ply her trade on the stage.  Of course, like many actors, she got sidetracked from her dream, and ironically found herself working up the executive ladder of corporate filmmaking.. 

Nevertheless, L found some success plying her other talents, mostly in the area of visual art and photography.  I remember her laughter as she told me the story of the first serious display of her work.  It was a show featuring female artists of color.  On the day that should have been one of the triumphs of her life, her then-boyfriend decided to dump her.  Consequently, she couldn’t enjoy the reception.  As she sat alone, weeping, a man approached her and asked her what was wrong.  She spent the next hour spilling out her sob story about the rotten boyfriend, his rotten timing, and so on, literally crying on the shoulder of this stranger. 

The man had come to support his wife who also had work in this show.  Her name was Yoko.  His name was John.

L cackled to no end telling that story.  After all, she was a Beatlephile.  So, she finally met her idol, but couldn’t do anything more than be miserable. 

Of course, when L told me this, I had alreadty read Albert Goldman’s biography of John Lennon, and was still strongly affected by it.  This would be the first of many stories that led me to change my opinion of the man.  So, as you can see from the Lennon series, L has had some influence on The X-Spot.  I thought of her when posting each item.

One story that typifies L, in a nutshell, was the time me and my ex (?) spy friend were chatting at our favorite watering hole.  A couple came in, and sat in the corner.  Another couple came and sat beside them.  Although both couples primarily spoke Spanish, I could see they were having difficulty communicating with each other.

Then L walked in, just off from work.  She realized the problem right away.  The first couple was from Mexico.

Apparently, Mexican Spanish is somewhat quirky, and a lot of hispanophones have difficulty understanding it.  As a proud Texas Chicana, L knew Mexican Spanish like the back of her hand.  And after living in Manhattan for so many years, she spoke fluent Nueva Yorker.  So, as odd is this might sound, she volunteered her services as a Spanish-to-Spanish translator for the night.  Right away, the couple had a lively discussion about visiting America, with me and the ex (?) spy friend getting in on the conversation (she translated into English for us).  It all worked so seamlessly, too.  Sometimes we even forgot that she was translating, and began speaking directly to each other.

Then, three Parisian businessmen came in.  It was at this point that we found out that L also spoke perfect French--without a hint of a Texas drawl!  Hell, she can’t couldn’t speak English without a twang. 

So there she is, translating into and out of Spanish, Spanish, English and French when the Japanese tourist came in. 

You guessed it.  L spoke Japanese better than he did (I say that because he stuttered).

So if you can picture all this, we had this wildly fun night conversing with people who couldn’t speak our language or anyone else’s.  And it was all because of L.  You see, she had a knack for bringing people together--especially remarkable compared to nowadays when we’re so easily torn apart by ideological polarities and marketing demographics.  But there was more to it.  She had an enthusiasm for living, a sunniness instilled in her from the hippie days that never left her.  And it was so infectious. It’s kinda difficult to explain, but everything seemed to be better when she was around. 

Of course, L always went out of her way to let me, X. Dell, know that I meant something to her--whether we were out on the town, or hanging out by ourselves at her place writing songs.  She had an even greater love for humanity, and a fierce determination to live within her own moral code.  I always admired and respected her for having the courage to be herself.  After all, you can take the girl out of Texas, but you’ll never take Texas out of the girl.  Besides, I draw comfort in the fact that sometimes a flower child remains a flower child.  Even if you dress her up in a navy pinstripe business suit.  Even if gray hairs one-by-one replace the black ones.

Unlike many an artistic “type,” she was as non-pretentious and genuinely empathetic as our species gets. To say that she was a good woman is not only hackneyed, but grossly understates what she was. Quite simply, I’ve never met a more beautiful soul in this life.  I doubt I ever will.

As is it goes with life, things kinda came full circle for L.  Nine months before her death, she co-starred in an off-Broadway play, and got a very favorable reaction from the critics at The Village Voice and The New York Times

I wonder if she can hear me, somewhere in the background, yelling “Encore!  Encore!”

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