Saturday, December 14, 2013


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Music Tuesday

Glen Hansard has a new EP out today and on it he covers Bruce Springsteen's "Drive All Night" with none other than Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Seriously. Two amazing voices, one amazing song. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Four Days In 1963

Four days in 1963 saw a young, vibrant president arrive in Texas on a whirlwind trip to establish his hopes for a second term, that president assassinated in his prime, Americans across the country grapple with the terrible news out of Dallas as live television came of age, the swearing in of a new president, the murder of a young Dallas policeman as he approached the president's assassin, the arrest of the president's assassin, the televised murder of the assassin himself, the funeral and burial of the slain president and a transition of power unlike any other in sixty-two years. Four days in 1963 left a mark on the soul of America that fifty years later is nearly indescribable despite thousands of attempts to do so.

I cannot contribute to the many memories of that day in Dallas, an event that happened twenty-two years before my birth. I cannot contribute to the analysis of what Kennedy meant to the broader twentieth century. There are great historians like Robert Dallek, Richard Reeves and Robert Caro for this. What I can offer is my own reflections on what it feels like in Dealey Plaza and how the fiftieth anniversary is seen through the eyes of a young historian raised on the stories of Camelot, the Kennedy myth and the legacy of our thirty-fifth president.

When you walk into Dealey Plaza in Dallas for the first time, you are overwhelmed by the intimacy of the location. Your stomach rises to your throat. It is surreal, sad. You realize quickly that had you been there on November 22, 1963, you would have had an intimate view of one of the darkest moments in American history. There is hardly a spot in that small plaza that would not have given you a view to the horrifying shot that ended the life of a president. Had you been there on November 22, 1963, Dealey Plaza would have looked much the same. The trees are taller, the structures built by the Works Progress Administration older and the people there for entirely different reasons. Dealey Plaza remains the same because every day in that small West End Dallas location is November 22, 1963.

It is a deafeningly silent place, Dealey Plaza. There is a reverent consideration only interrupted by the men hawking their theories and despicable merchandise. It is the living reminder of a long gone man and the promise he offered his country. It is the reminder that innocence is neither definite nor abiding.

Americans converge on Dealey Plaza seeking closure, searching for answers, pleading for the return of something ripped from us that day, and yet, in the early morning hours before the sun has risen over the streets or as dusk settles on the plaza where our president lost his life, we continue to mourn a loss, the cost of which cannot be quantified or explained to our liking. On the brightest of days, Dealey Plaza remains a terribly dark place.

Tourists, skeptics, and historians alike visit Dealey Plaza every year. They wander through looking and pointing, speculating and paying their respects. His body may not have been laid to rest there, but his legacy lingers.

In the middle of Dealey Plaza stands a flag pole, a flag that must have flown at half-staff after the President of the United States was killed there. The flag pole seems a symbol of something more--no longer only death, but hope and the future. Each day going forward that flag would rise and the country would move forward. Each day after November 22, 1963, the sun came up, the flag went up and the country was pushed forward.

There are few places within the intimate confines of the plaza that don't allow a view of the sixth floor window of the former Texas School Book Depository. The tourists who flock to this place stare up at that window in wonder and horror. Most, in a non-conspiratorial manner, wonder how the leader of the free world could be struck down so quickly from shots fired from that very window. It's a museum now, the Texas School Book Depository. It's neither morbid nor an attempt to feed conspiracy. It's a memorial to Kennedy's legacy.

It is a gorgeous place, Dealey Plaza. Kept green and welcoming for the thousands who visit every year. Standing in that space, it is impossible to appreciate any of the visual niceties because the intimacy of the space, the darkness that looms there is unavoidable. The reality of seeing a man's head explode is inescapable. What the people in that plaza saw that day is stomach-churning as you stand there and realize how much they all must have seen. Knowing what we do now about PTSD, it's hard to imagine anyone that witnessed the final shot that day, whether it be the Secret Service agents there to protect the president or even the children there with their parents to see the president, not struggling for the rest of their lives with that image. Zapruder's film does not do justice to the horror of those terrible seconds as the motorcade turned onto Elm Street.

Along the motorcade route in that intimate space lied a painted 'X' on the pavement marking the place where the limousine was when the fatal shot occurred. Inevitably, there were older tourists staring at that 'X' and shedding tears for a moment in time that was truly the end of their innocence. There will be disinterested kids who can't comprehend the weight of what happened in that place. And there were those who looked at that 'X' and couldn't fathom how white paint on dark pavement can affect them so deeply. Fortunately, the city of Dallas decided this year to pave over the 'X'.

Before I visited Dealey Plaza for the first time, I read Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. Standing on the ground, looking up from that 'X' at the Texas School Book Depository and seeing the vultures all around the plaza selling their propaganda to gullible tourists, I thought about what Posner wrote:
"The search for a darker truth than the lone assassin seems unquenchable. The desire to find a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination will continue to be answered for years by more 'confessions,' witnesses who change their testimony to recall disturbing events, the appearance of papers of dubious authenticity, and by writers and researchers who present cases of guilt by association supported by rumor and innuendo. But for those seeking the truth, the facts are incontrovertible. They can be tested against credible testimony, documents, and the latest scientific advances. Chasing shadows on the grassy knoll will never substitute for real history. Lee Harvey Oswald, driven by his own impenetrable furies, was the only assassin at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. To say otherwise, in light of the overwhelming evidence, is to absolve a man with blood on his hands, and to mock the President he killed."  
 I, like so many Americans and a majority of my generation, wonder about what happened that day in Dallas. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion of men like Posner and Bugliosi. But what's lost too often in the curiosity and skepticism is the truth. The truth being the tragedy of that day, the loss for our country and what John F. Kennedy represented for not only Americans, but citizens of the world.

A few short blocks from the very place John F. Kennedy was taken down by a sniper's bullet stands a memorial to him. It is a prodigous white concrete structure designed, presumably, to resemble an open tomb. Inside the four walls stands a granite slab with the slain leader's name inscribed on both sides. It feels a betrayal in design to the man, both the reality of who he was and the myth that has grown since his death fifty years ago. A betrayal in the very city that betrayed him and has grappled with their role and place in such a dark piece of history.

With Kennedy died so much that day in Dallas. The hopes of a nation rested on the shoulders of that man riding through downtown Dallas, waving at the crowds who came to greet him. With Kennedy died a hope for peace; a hope for civil rights; a hope for a peaceful and decisive end to the war in Vietnam; and as his widow would shape the story, so died Camelot.

I don't know if Vietnam would have ended sooner. I don't know if Kennedy and Khrushchev would have found a way to end the Cold War. But I do know we still would have landed on the moon. We still would have seen the passage of civil rights legislation. We still would have the Peace Corps and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We have these things because the legacy of Kennedy allowed for them to be carried forward. We may not know what would have happened had he lived, but we know what did happen. A thousand days in office seems so few, yet so much we have today depended on those thousand days. We survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world never experiencing nuclear war. We agreed to the first test ban treaty. Universities in the south were integrated.
It has been fifty years since Lee Harvey Oswald infamously killed the leader of the free world. It has been fifty years since America said goodbye to its innocence. It has been fifty years since families across the country sat around their television sets as their young president's body was returned to the nation's capital to lie in state and to be laid to rest. Fifty years and those black and white images still capture our hearts as if we were all there in that moment when Walter Cronkite choked up as he read the flash "apparently official" about the death of the president. 

Four days in 1963 remain, fifty years later, four of the longest, darkest days in our history.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Errol Morris's 'November 22, 1963'

Approaching the Anniversary: 'A More Peaceful Future'

"Kennedy saw the presidency as the vital center of government, and a president’s primary goal as galvanizing commitments to constructive change. He aimed to move the country and the world toward a more peaceful future, not just through legislation but through inspiration." 
- Robert Dallek, The New York Times

Approaching the Anniversary: The Conspiracy Theories

© Tara Rowe, 2007

TDIH: One of Kennedy's Final Speeches

On this day fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy gave one of his final speeches at the dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio, Texas.

His remarks that November day in San Antonio:
Mr. Secretary, Governor, Mr. Vice President, Senator, Members of the Congress, members of the military, ladies and gentlemen:
For more than 3 years I have spoken about the New Frontier. This is not a partisan term, and it is not the exclusive property of Republicans or Democrats. It refers, instead, to this Nation's place in history, to the fact that we do stand on the edge of a great new era, filled with both crisis and opportunity, an era to be characterized by achievement and by challenge. It is an era which calls for action and for the best efforts of all those who would test the unknown and the uncertain in every phase of human endeavor. It is a time for pathfinders and pioneers.
I have come to Texas today to salute an outstanding group of pioneers, the men who man the Brooks Air Force Base School of Aerospace Medicine and the Aerospace Medical Center. It is fitting that San Antonio should be the site of this center and this school as we gather to dedicate this complex of buildings. For this city has long been the home of the pioneers in the air. It was here that Sidney Brooks, whose memory we honor today, was born and raised. It was here that Charles Lindbergh and Claire Chennault, and a host of others, who, in World War I and World War II and Korea, and even today have helped demonstrate American mastery of the skies, trained at Kelly Field and Randolph Field, which form a major part of aviation history. And in the new frontier of outer space, while headlines may be made by others in other places, history is being made every day by the men and women of the Aerospace Medical Center, without whom there could be no history.
Many Americans make the mistake of assuming that space research has no values here on earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as the wartime development of radar gave us the transistor, and all that it made possible, so research in space medicine holds the promise of substantial benefit for those of us who are earthbound. For our effort in space is not as some have suggested, a competitor for the natural resources that we need to develop the earth. It is a working partner and a coproducer of these resources. And nothing makes this clearer than the fact that medicine in space is going to make our lives healthier and happier here on earth.
I give you three examples: first, medical space research may open up new understanding of man's relation to his environment. Examinations of the astronaut's physical, and mental, and emotional reactions can teach us more about the differences between normal and abnormal, about the causes and effects of disorientation, about changes in metabolism which could result in extending the life span. When you study the effects on our astronauts of exhaust gases which can contaminate their environment, and you seek ways to alter these gases so as to reduce their toxicity, you are working on problems similar to those in our great urban centers which themselves are being corrupted by gases and which must be clear.
And second, medical space research may revolutionize the technology and the techniques of modern medicine. Whatever new devices are created, for example, to monitor our astronauts, to measure their heart activity, their breathing, their brain waves, their eye motion, at great distances and under difficult conditions, will also represent a major advance in general medical instrumentation. Heart patients may even be able to wear a light monitor which will sound a warning if their activity exceeds certain limits. An instrument recently developed to record automatically the impact of acceleration upon an astronaut's eyes will also be of help to small children who are suffering miserably from eye defects, but are unable to describe their impairment. And also by the use of instruments similar to those used in Project Mercury, this Nation's private as well as public nursing services are being improved, enabling one nurse now to give more critically ill patients greater attention than they ever could in the past.
And third, medical space research may lead to new safeguards against hazards common to many environments. Specifically, our astronauts will need fundamentally new devices to protect them from the ill effects of radiation which can have a profound influence upon medicine and man's relations to our present environment.
Here at this center we have the laboratories, the talent, the resources to give new impetus to vital research in the life centers. I am not suggesting that the entire space program is justified alone by what is done in medicine. The space program stands on its own as a contribution to national strength. And last Saturday at Cape Canaveral I saw our new Saturn C-1 rocket booster, which, with its payload, when it rises in December of this year, will be, for the first time, the largest booster in the world, carrying into space the largest payload that any country in the world has ever sent into space.
I think the United States should be a leader. A country as rich and powerful as this which bears so many burdens and responsibilities, which has so many opportunities, should be second to none. And in December, while I do not regard our mastery of space as anywhere near complete, while I recognize that there are still areas where we are behind--at least in one area, the size of the booster--this year I hope the United States will be ahead. And I am for it. We have a long way to go. Many weeks and months and years of long, tedious work lie ahead. There will be setbacks and frustrations and disappointments. There will be, as there always are, pressures in this country to do less in this area as in so many others, and temptations to do something else that is perhaps easier. But this research here must go on. This space effort must go on. The conquest of space must and will go ahead. That much we know. That much we can say with confidence and conviction.
Frank O'Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall--and then they had no choice but to follow them.
This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against. With the vital help of this Aerospace Medical Center, with the help of all those who labor in the space endeavor, with the help and support of all Americans, we will climb this wall with safety and with speed-and we shall then explore the wonders on the other side.

Thank you.
To listen to this speech, please visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum website.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TDIH: The Gettysburg Address

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863