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

Approaching the Anniversary: Good, Bad and Even Worse

Rather than provide any sort of editorial comment on the latest batch of articles related to the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, I present the links to you in order of appeal. In other words, here they are--good, bad and even worse.
© Tara Rowe, 2003

Monday, November 18, 2013

On the Passing of Doris Lessing

Perhaps the best bit of advice I have ever received about reading, of which I do a great deal of, came from a stranger to me, though a writer I highly respect. That writer, Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, passed away this weekend.

She once wrote:
"There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag--and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement, Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty--and vice versa. Don't read a book out of its right time for you."
This advice came in her 1971 introduction to The Golden Notebook, a book that nobody ever suggested I read and was never on any of the lists I was given of books that I must read in my lifetime. In fact, the only time in a college course I even heard of Doris Lessing was when a professor of contemporary European culture mentioned her in a discussion of writers from various parts of the world. At twenty or however old I was at the time, I'd never heard of Lessing and I certainly had never read her. Now, at almost thirty, I consider her The Golden Notebook one of the more profound books I have read.

The character of Anna Wulf says in the book one other bit that has stuck with me as well:
"It seems to me like this. It's not a terrible thing — I mean, it may be terrible, but it's not damaging, it's not poisoning, to do without something one really wants. It's not bad to say: My work is not what I really want, I'm capable of doing something bigger. Or I'm a person who needs love, and I'm doing without it. What's terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is the first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better."
This is the brilliance of Lessing--to make a simple statement as personal and profound as that. Wulf goes on to say, "[t]here's only one real sin, and that is to persuade oneself that the second-best is anything but the second-best." How many writers have I read that have written something very similar and yet I can't place them because they didn't seem as profound in their wordy way of emotionally-charged prose? Plenty, I am sure.

I have a hard time believing we have anyone of Lessing's caliber coming along. In fact, in the last several decades of new authors, I can't think of writer with the talent of Lessing.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pocatello Racism Existed Before 2Great4Hate

Editor's Note: The following op-ed will appear in the Idaho State Journal tomorrow. To the right is the image I scanned that day in October of 2009 of the CD in question.

Recently the Idaho State Journal reported on the accusations of one Ralph Lillig against the group 2Great4Hate on his local access television show. Lillig, as Pocatello voters know, is the man behind the referendum to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinance in the city. On the show in question, Lillig claimed that incidents of hate literature showing up in various places in Pocatello, particularly at Pocatello High School and the university area, were “fabricated” by the group 2Great4Hate as a way to get the group off the ground. Lillig called the group “extremists” and despite the Journal pointing out that the Aryan Nations’ took credit for the literature distribution in 2010, Lillig stands by his assertion that the fliers and other items of hate speech were created by 2Great4Hate.

Let’s talk about extremists.

As a student at Idaho State University and, at the time, an employee of the campus library, I encountered one of these items distributed campus-wide by members of the Aryan Nations. In my experience, it was a CD by a band performing what is called white resistance music. Over the short minutes I could stomach to listen to the CD, the band, Fetch the Rope, screamed their hatred for Jews, blacks and gays while establishing their white pride.

The pain and fear that overcame my body as I listened to the garbage on that CD is something I had never before felt and thankfully have never felt since. To hear the graphic portrayal of hanging a person is stomach-churning. That afternoon I felt sick and my heart raced. To find this kind of racism, this pure hatred, in my place of employment and at my school in the 21st century when lynching and neo-Nazism were supposedly a thing of the past was harrowing.

It wasn’t difficult to draw my own conclusions. Having grown up in Eastern Idaho, I thought this sort of hate to be a product of Northern Idaho, not something that ever surfaced close to my own home. The artwork on the album contained a noose and flames, keys to its content before I even bothered to listen to a sample of what masqueraded as music. I knew that there were a few usual suspects who could have distributed these CDs—small branches of neo-Nazis of various stripes, the Aryan Nations and the KKK came readily to mind.

Anyone that could create the kind of filth I heard on that CD is the real extremist.

I reported the item to my supervisor who reported the incident to the library’s dean and a sweep of the library commenced, removing all of the offending material. Once reported to campus public safety, we learned items had been dropped in at least one other location on campus as well.

The incident occurred in October of 2009; a date of which I am certain due to the date stamp on the image I saved to my own computer of the CD cover and the fact that I remember thinking at the time that the bright orange CD sleeves with “free” written on them were likely picked up by many an unsuspecting student thinking they had something to do with the approaching Halloween holiday.

Clearly my own story does not jibe with Lillig’s account that the group 2Great4Hate surfaced simultaneously with racist literature dropped in one Pocatello neighborhood in 2010. Why? The first newspaper account of an incident may not have happened until April 2010, coincidentally just before 2Great4Hate surfaced, but the hate lit drops were happening as early as October 2009. However, those fliers urging that white members of the community save “a future for white children” and turn away from groups supporting minorities were from the same group as the CDs. This was easy to establish as the CDs in 2009 of the group Fetch the Rope were also available on the website listed on the white supremacist fliers 7 months later.

2Great4Hate has been consistent in its statements about the group’s formation following the April 2010 flier incident. They couldn’t have known the library incident occurred. To blame the 2009 incident on 2Great4Hate, Lillig himself or the Easter Bunny isn’t possible because the incident was not made public.

To blame these incidents on a group that is truly trying to make Pocatello a better place is disgusting. A group that is striving for diversity, inclusion and equal rights in the workplace in no way compares to the group of extremists that distributes CDs that threaten “we’ll hang you from a tree twenty-feet high.” To believe otherwise is foolish.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Skewers Idaho's Gun Laws

Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow used her coveted A-block to run a story on Idaho Rep. Mark Patterson. What began as simply his story became a segment on guns and the ridiculous law in Idaho that allows this man to keep his conceal carry permit despite having lied not once, but twice on an application for that very permit about his background that includes a withheld judgment of assault with intent to rape. Once again, an Idaho Republican politician became fodder for someone with the good sense to see that there's something wrong with what's happening in Idaho.

To quote Rachel Maddow and to echo her sentiment: "I cannot believe this is who we are right now."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Approaching the Anniversary: 'This Passionate Chaos Was Set Loose'

"This passionate chaos was set loose, then, in every back yard. It is easy to be cynical about it in retrospect—being cynical about it in retrospect is by now a branch of American historical studies—and say that the poets’ overwrought grief was the product of a sleight of hand worked by Jackie, no other group so easily bought as American writers...But there was more than that. The death of J.F.K. marked the last time the highbrow reaches of the American imagination were complicit in the dignity of the Presidency." -- Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

Monday, November 11, 2013

Approaching the Anniversary: The Documentaries

While I've tried to keep up with the various television documentaries about Kennedy over the past decade, I find this year fascinating if for no other reason than the sheer amount of television coverage of the assassination anniversary. This is my brave attempt at pulling together all of the various documentaries. There is also a list available from the Washington Post of the programming for the anniversary, a schedule from USA Today and a guide from Mediaite. We'll see Bob Scheiffer, Kevin Spacey, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw and see a program produced by Tom Hanks. We'll have assassination conspiracy theories and reminders of how much people have to say about the Warren Commission even now. And then there will be the more humble attempts to explain what the assassination meant to Americans and how it impacted American life. Those, I personally think, are the most fascinating.

My humble and undoubtedly flawed attempt at compiling a schedule of assassination programming:
Nov. 7: JFK: A President Betrayed (DirecTV's Audience Network, 8 p.m. ET; DirecTV on Demand, Nov. 14)
Nov. 8: JFK: The Smoking Gun (Reelz Channel, 8 p.m. ET and midnight ET)
Nov. 11-12: American Experience: JFK (PBS, 9 p.m. ET); (12) Capturing Oswald (The Military Channel, 10 p.m. ET)
Nov. 13: Nova: Cold Case JFK (PBS, 9 p.m. ET, times may vary)
Nov. 14: The Sixties: The Assassination of JFK (CNN, 9 p.m. ET)
Nov. 16: As It Happened: John F. Kennedy 50 Years (CBS, 9 p.m. ET); Fox News Reporting: 50 Years of Questions: The JFK Assassination (FOX News, 9 p.m. ET)
Nov. 17: The Day Kennedy Died (Smithsonian Channel, 9 p.m. ET); Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy (TLC, 9 p.m. ET)
Nov. 18 & 22: My Days in Dallas - a Remembrance with Dan Rather (AXS TV, 8 p.m. ET); (18) Frontline: Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? (PBS, 9 p.m. ET)
Nov. 20: Costas Tonight Special — No Day for Games: The Cowboys and JFK (NBCSN, 11 p.m. ET)
Nov. 21: JFK: The Lost Tapes (Discovery, 7 p.m. ET)
Nov. 22: JFK Assassination the Definitive Guide (History, 8 p.m. ET); Tom Brokaw Special: Where Were You? (NBC, 9 ET); JFK: The Day That Changed America (MSNBC, 7 ET); The Kennedy Brothers (MSNBC 8 ET); 50 Years of Guns (MSNBC, 9 ET); Up Late with Alex Baldwin, interviews Mark Lane (MSNBC 10 ET).
In addition to this new programming, there will be various previously released documentaries and movies airing. Turner Classic Movies will air the four Kennedy documentaries by Robert Drew (Primary, Adventures on the New Frontier, Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment and Faces of November) as well as Mel Stuarts's Four Days in November and the documentary PT 109 all on November 21st and 22nd. 

On final note on the assassination programming: As I linked to in a previous post, Dan Rather was not invited to take part in the CBS special on the Kennedy assassination. As a thirty-two year-old newsman working for CBS News, Rather's reporting on the assassination of Kennedy is some of the most remembered and recognizable reporting outside that of the network television anchors of the time. At the time of the assassination, Rather was the CBS Southwest bureau chief in Dallas. Rather was one of the first to view the Zapruder film. He reported everything from the assassination to the burial and then followed the case of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. Without his on-the-ground reporting on the assassination, Rather may never have become the CBS White House correspondent. It was truly his first national test and he passed with flying colors.

It is my opinion, one I share with many, that Rather would have solidified the CBS coverage of the anniversary and would have brought to their coverage something that he will now take on air on AXS TV--gravitas and the living memory of one of America's darkest hours. It is unfortunate that CBS declined to offer an olive branch to Rather, ignoring his tumultuous departure from the network, for the sake of history.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On My Radar

It's been a big week in Idaho politics with the sitting Secretary of State announcing he will not run for re-election, a state legislator's previous guilty plea to assault with the intent to rape coming to light as his concealed carry permit was questioned, and the news that 4 Boise couples are stepping up to finally mount a challenge against Idaho's ban on marriage equality. But those are the only stories on my radar. Here are a few more:
There's something about the Patty Murray story that I find particularly fascinating and yet can't pinpoint. Western Democrats have been particularly strong on budget issues and Patty Murray is no exception. There's an x-factor with Murray as well, the component that I can't seem to place.

I may recommend the Twitter story by Schulz to everyone I know and everyone who knows my Twitter obsession. It is that true to me.

If you read nothing else, please read the Popkey piece on Rep. Mark Patterson and his concealed carry permit application that brought to light his previous arrest for rape which he took a plea for the lesser assault with the intent to rape. It is stunning and infuriating. His potential loss of the concealed carry permit should come with it the loss of his seat in the Idaho legislature--his dishonesty on the matter is disturbing.

Friday, November 8, 2013

TGIF Tunes

Tom Odell's "Another Love."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

ENDA Passes U.S. Senate

Office of the Press Secretary
November 7, 2013
Statement by the President on Senate Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013
For more than two centuries, the story of our nation has been the story of more citizens realizing the rights and freedoms that are our birthright as Americans. Today, a bipartisan majority in the Senate took another important step in this journey by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would help end the injustice of our fellow Americans being denied a job or fired just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Just as no one in the United States can lose their job simply because of their race, gender, religion or a disability, no one should ever lose their job simply because of who they are or who they love.
Today’s victory is a tribute to all those who fought for this progress ever since a similar bill was introduced after the Stonewall riots more than three decades ago. In particular, I thank Majority Leader Reid, Chairman Harkin, Senators Merkley and Collins for their leadership, and Senator Kirk for speaking so eloquently in support of this legislation. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives. This bill has the overwhelming support of the American people, including a majority of Republican voters, as well as many corporations, small businesses and faith communities. They recognize that our country will be more just and more prosperous when we harness the God-given talents of every individual.
One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law. On that day, our nation will take another historic step toward fulfilling the founding ideals that define us as Americans.

Approaching the Anniversary: 'Swept Up In the Spirit of the Thing'

"It was easy to get swept up in the spirit of the thing. The assassination seemed sufficiently distant to allow big historical thinking yet recent enough that its shockwaves lingered, and not just among those who remember Camelot fondly."
-- Jack Dickey, Time

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
 -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet 
(as translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Hitchcock: Is It Right to Vote on LGBT Rights?

Editor's Note: The following was submitted to the Idaho State Journal by former professor Leonard Hitchcock. It appears here with his permission.

On one side are those who think that the scheduled referendum on Pocatello’s LGBT ordinance is not only appropriate, but desirable; on the other, those who are believe that, to quote a City Council member, “Human rights should never come to a referendum.” 
The former will argue that the referendum is a fundamental right of the electorate and provides a necessary check upon the power of legislative bodies, bodies which may, intentionally or unintentionally, betray the trust of the citizenry and pass laws contrary to the general will.  Referenda are especially appropriate when a piece of legislation has involved heated controversy, and opposition to it has been not just conspicuous but widespread. 
This argument has considerable plausibility.  The referendum, along with its usual partners, initiative and recall, has long been regarded as a valuable instrument of “direct democracy,” even though the Founding Fathers, it must be noted, made no provision for it in the federal Constitution.  It was in the early years of the 20th century that the Progressive Movement championed the virtues of these instruments.  Many states in the western half of the country adopted them, largely in order to combat state legislatures that had been corrupted by special business interests.
But a strong case may also be made by those who deplore the success of the campaign to put the LGBT ordinance on the May ballot.  To begin with, the use of referendum is in itself of questionable value.  The Founding Fathers had, no doubt, a pronounced fear of the corrupting influence of power upon politicians, but they also feared placing too much power directly in the hands of the people.  They feared that the public would behave irresponsibly; that it would be easily influenced by demagogues and swayed by special interests.  They therefore created, as we all know, a representative, not a direct, democracy, and clearly intended representatives to exercise independent judgment. They also rejected direct election of the president, and believed in limited suffrage. They didn’t support the principle of “one man; one vote;”  they created a Senate in which each state had two representatives, no matter what its population, thus insuring that the vote of a resident of Rhode Island was far weightier than that of a resident of California.
The Founding Fathers were particularly disturbed by a tendency of the body politic that had been all too evident from colonial times up through the confederacy: the predilection of majorities to oppress minorities.  Democracies give to the majority the same sort of power that older systems gave to the king.  De Tocqueville, traveling in America in 1831, saw the consequences of this. He called it the “tyranny of the majority” and found it to be a besetting evil in state governments.
He also noted, however, that the Federal Constitution had made a strong effort to combat that evil.  Because the Founding Fathers mistrusted unchecked power whether it was wielded by the executive branch or a legislative majority, they created a list of legislative actions that congress was forbidden to take, however great the number of supporters of those actions might be, either in congress, or, by implication, in the general public.  That list of forbidden actions, contained in the Bill of Rights, became the first ten amendments to the Constitution.  It’s often said that those amendments established “inalienable rights,” but we should also remember that the threats to those rights usually come from those in the majority.
And it is the majority, in the referendum on Pocatello’s LGBT ordinance, that will determine whether that ordinance is nullified or sustained.  For those who believe that what is at stake is the right of those belonging to the LGBT community to be free from discrimination, and who further believe that that right has been recognized in U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in the policy of the U.S. Armed Services, and the legislative action of twenty-one states, it is singularly inappropriate to let the majority decide the issue.  When a right has been established, the opinion of the majority is irrelevant.
But those who favor the referendum could respond that discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations has not, in fact, been recognized as a violation of their rights by definitive court decisions or legislation at the federal level, and the State of Idaho has refused to add sexual preference and identity as a protected right in the Idaho Human Rights Act.  Clearly there are Pocatello citizens who believe that this issue has not been settled and that discrimination against gays is justifiable.  They wish to be heard. 
In passing the ordinance, the city Council sought to join several other Idaho cities in taking a progressive position on gay rights.  Its decision may well have been an enlightened one, and there’s little doubt that majorities are often wrong about human rights, but even the Bill of Rights wasn’t handed down from God: it had to be ratified by the vote of majorities in state legislatures.  The referendum is therefore appropriate, I believe, though some of us will nurse the hope that by May a national consensus confirming gay rights will have been reached, and the opinion of Pocatello’s majority, whatever it is, will turn out to be of no consequence.
As of this writing, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill to ban discrimination against gays by employers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Andrelton Simmons vs. Rafael Furcal

Editor's Note: The following piece was cross-posted at

With the exciting, though not altogether surprising, announcement that Andrelton Simmons has been awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove as well as named by ESPN 2013's best defender, we wondered how Simmons stacks up against a former Braves shortstop to which he's often been compared: Rafael Furcal.

Simmons became the first Braves infielder to win a Gold Glove since Terry Pendleton did it in 1992 and immediately surpassed Furcal who shockingly never won the award with Atlanta, Los Angeles or St. Louis. Let's start by taking a look at the defensive numbers for Simmons and Furcal in their first full seasons. For Furcal, the numbers listed are an average of his time at shortstop and second base (where he played 31 games during his rookie season):

Age Position PO A E DP Fld%
Andrelton Simmons 23 SS 240 499 14 94 .981
Rafael Furcal 22 SS/2B 192 362 24 72 .971

Take a minute to consider where Simmon's fielding percentage in 2013 ranks against some of the best shortstops to play the game. Troy Tulowitzki has the highest career fielding percentage at shortstop at .985%. He is followed by the gifted Omar Vizquel who, with 24 seasons to his big league career, finished with a .984%. You get to sixth on the list, Rey Sanchez, where you'll find the .981% that Simmons put up this season. Sure, he has only put in a season and a half in the big leagues, but even with minimal playing time in his young career this is rarefied air that Simmons shares. You have to scroll clear down to 185 on the list to find where Rafael Furcal's 13 seasons rank for shortstops (at .965).
Furcal's first full season was not rewarded with a gold glove, but due to it being his first season of substantial play and his impressive offensive numbers, Furcal was rewarded for his effort with the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Of course, Simmons was not eligible for the RoY due to the injury-shortened 49-game 2012 season that qualified as his rookie year. Otherwise, there's no question that he would be int he RoY conversation.

Offensively, there are clear differences between Furcal and Simmons. While Simmons has been superior defensively, Furcal put together better numbers at the plate. While Simmons hit more home runs, drove in more runs and had more total hits than Furcal, there is no disputing the brilliance Furcal displayed his rookie year on the base paths. Before we discuss the latter point, let's take a look at how Simmons and Furcal's first full seasons in Major League Baseball compare offensively:

Andrelton Simmons 157 658 606 76 150 17 59 6 40 55 .248 .296 .396
Rafael Furcal 131 542 455 87 134 4 37 40 73 80 .295 .394 .382

Simmons' strikeout total stands out immediately, given Atlanta's strikeout-happy lineup. The runs are less, the hits more for Simmons. Furcal displayed less pop in his rookie season, but hit for a high average. The clearest contrast, however, is Furcal's sizable edge on the base paths. Furcal reached base safely far more often than Simmons and once there, he made opposing pitchers pay for putting him there.

With clearly better-than-average speed, it's peculiar that Simmons isn't more of a base stealing threat. He played his first full season for a team far better equipped to wait for the 3-run homer than to run opposing pitchers ragged. Certainly, that's a factor. And while he doesn't have Furcal's blinding speed, he has proven himself to be a smart, heads-up base runner.

Furcal was always a lead-off hitter. It was quite apparently the role he was born to play. That's just not Andrelton Simmons. He will never be the quintessential lead-off guy. However, if Simmons can develop better plate discipline and find his way on base more consistently, it would seem a waste not to put his speed to better use.

When Simmons appeared on Atlanta's radar, some speculated that he might be the next Rafael Furcal. It now appears that "Simba" is even more impressive with the leather than Furcal, which is saying something. Whether Andrelton can become the offensive force that Furcal was when at his best remains to be seen. He'll never steal 40 bases, but he may eventually provide a similar spark to the lineup in other ways. Simmons' potential appears to be as a run-producer, rather than a table-setter.

We can only hope the young shortstop proves to be more durable than Furcal, about whom every conversation begins with the words "if he's healthy". Because if Andrelton Simmons is able to remain on the field, largely unencumbered by the ailments that have derailed far too many promising careers, we could be watching a shortstop for the ages.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Ghost of George W. Bush

If it weren't for the drone program, the NSA spying program and the never ending War on Terrorism, this story presented by Rachel Maddow would be the biggest story connected to President Bush's time in office. Unfortunately, the ghost of George W. Bush appears more frequently than we would like.


In a few pieces of late, I've thought of additional points I wish I'd made or bits of information have turned up afterward worth mentioning. Here they are in no particular order:
  • Another stalwart of the House of Representatives that passed away recently and deserved mentioning in my "Gentlemen of the House" piece was Major Owens. Owens deserves a great deal of credit for one of the greatest pieces of legislation in the last 30 years--the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a floor manager during the debate and vote on the ADA, Owens worked with both parties to ensure the legislation received the support to send it to President Bush's desk. As the New York Times pointed out, he was a former librarian who valued education above all else, advocating for it throughout his tenure in Congress. He was, in a lot of ways, the House version of Senator Tom Harkin. He served in the seat held previously by Shirley Chisolm. He served from 1983-2007.
  • When I mentioned the service of the late Speaker of the House Tom Foley, what I failed to mention is that Foley was a strong supporter of Idaho's own Richard Stallings and even came to Idaho on Richard's behalf. Foley had encouraged Stallings to run again for the House in 1992, but Stallings opted for the Senate race against Kempthorne that he then lost.
  • In my piece on the Florida case of Freddie Hall, I failed to mention another book on the death penalty in this country that is both fascinating and terrifying. I Am Troy Davis tells the story of Troy Davis, much of it in Mr. Davis' own words, as he fought for his life before being executed by the state of Georgia. Davis contended 'til the very end that he was innocent of the crime for which he was charged. His story, like far too many others, reminds us of the flaws of the system that are leading directly to the death of innocent men and women in this country.
  • As a follow-up to the piece I wrote on the Times-News editor visiting Zeb Bell's radio show, just days after her piece ran, the Times-News had another piece mentioning Bell. This time, the Times-News was reporting on the changing of the speed limit on Highway 30 outside of Murtaugh. It turns out that Zeb had been railing against the highway department on his show, much the same way he does the Times-News itself, and said he would continue to do so until they slowed the traffic down outside his ranch. Still don't think Zeb Bell has any influence? Think again.

Approaching the Anniversary: 'The Long Weekend'

† This is part of the 22 Days of JFK series currently running at The Daily Beast.
‡ This is part of the JFK50 series at The Dallas Morning News running throughout 2013.

Television Coverage of 50th Anniversary of Kennedy Assassination

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Gentlemen of the House

Imagine a politician who valued compromise over controversy, whose candor was refreshing and never nasty. Imagine a politician who worked effortlessly with his own party and the opposition party. Now, imagine that politician is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It may seem a distant memory given the recent turmoil in Washington, D.C., but two decades ago the tenure of one such Speaker of the House came to a close and with it the existence of compromise.

That politician was former Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D-Washington).

Imagine a politician that opposed abortion rights, was an adamant supporter of the Second Amendment and actually voted against President Obama's chief legislative achievement while still losing his seat in the next election. All of this as a member of the Democratic Party. Imagine a politician whose legacy will forever be his dedication to the men and women who serve this nation in uniform and his chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee as this country took a new direction in two wars.

That politician was former Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Missouri).

In the last two weeks this country lost two dedicated public servants who truly put their love of country and their belief that they were making decisions in her best interest above all else. Both men put that belief above partisanship, reaching across the aisle to work with colleagues who may not have shared their ideology, but shared their dedication to the greater good.

Over the last several weeks we have had a front row seat to a dysfunction in Congress that brought this country to the brink of breaching the debt ceiling and shutdown the government over established law that a small minority believed should be halted. Whether Tom Foley or Ike Skelton would have made the difference in the brokered deal or even in the days leading up to the shutdown itself we will never know. But as hard as it is to imagine politicians like Foley and Skelton, it is even harder to imagine that this nation wouldn't be better with more like them serving it.

Approaching the Anniversary: 'The Weekend America Lost Its Innocence'

This weekend on Face the Nation, Bob Scieffer spoke about being one of the few remaining newsmen who covered the Kennedy assassination and what the assassination meant for America. It was a powerful commentary and one everyone should take a few minutes to view.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

11 Years in the Making: The Case of Freddie Hall

Editor's Note: For legal purposes, the Court refers to those with mental disabilities as mentally retarded. My distaste for a word that is used too often as an epithet has resulted in me referring to Mr. Hall as mentally disabled and other inmates in similar cases as such.

Freddie Hall is sitting on Florida's
death row for the kidnapping
& murder of a store clerk in 1978.
It was announced last week that the United States Supreme Court will hear the case Hall v. Florida during the winter session and a decision could come in early summer. Hall's case hinges on whether the states can rely on a single, simply IQ test for determination of mental disability. The court decided in 2002's Atkins v. Virginia that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally disabled and in 1986's Coker v. Virginia that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally ill or insane.

It has been an issue since 2002 when the Court ruled in Atkins how the states would determine whether an inmate was disabled. Many have relied on a single IQ test and a threshold of a 70 point IQ to decide whether or not an inmate may be executed. 

 Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic how overdue the hearing of this issue is:
"For over a decade, especially in the South, those rules have been manipulated by local officials and judges in ways that undermine the Court's 2002 landmark ruling in Atkins v. Virginiawhich banned the execution of the mentally disabled—but permitted states to define for themselves that loaded term."
Freddie Hall's case is not unique. It seems every month there is a new case that comes to my attention that regards an inmate awaiting execution who is challenging the constitutionality of their execution based on mental competence. The last case I noted was that of Warren Hill.

That there can be states that define mental disability in a way that is different than their bordering neighbors is ludicrous. That some states like my own can have no route for a defendant to plead guilty by reason of insanity makes it equally frustrating for those of us who believe that justice is blind and, at its core, equal. Unfortunately, we have seen far too often in the history of this country that justice is not equal whether it be from county to county or state to state.

Coinciding with the decision by the Court to hear this decision, I happened to pick up a copy of A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America by Evan J. Mandery (Norton, 2013). It was eye opening in its portrayal of how the justices came to the decision that reinstated the death penalty in the states in 1976. 

Wild Justice addressed the decision in Tison v. Arizona, a 1987 decision that concluded, "that the death penalty could be appropriate for participants in felonies who didn't kill if they nevertheless displayed reckless indifference to human life." This, of course, followed a distinct line from Coker v. Virginia, a 1986 decision that laid the groundwork for the Eighth Amendment argument that executing the mentally disabled could be deemed unconstitutional and indeed, the 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia established just that. I anticipate all three cases will be cited ad nauseam in whatever decision the Court comes to in Hall v. Florida.

Where Cohen, Madery, SCOTUSblog and I all agree is that addressing the underlying issue in Hall v. Florida is long overdue. Unfortunately, the overall issue of capital punishment is not to be addressed by the Court anytime soon. I say unfortunately, not only as someone who opposes the death penalty, but as someone who believes what Justice Antonin Scalia said about the decision to return to the process: "The decision of the constitutionality of capital punishment boiled down to the feelings and intuitions of the justices (p. 460)."

Mandery elaborates more on this in the book, a book a highly recommend to anyone interested in moral justice and the history of the Court on this topic:
"Finally, what if the constitutionality of the death penalty could have been decided by each justice at the end of his life, with the benefit of his full collected wisdom? Almost certainly history would have been changed, for three of the men who decided the 1976 capital cases, including two members of the notorious troika, later changed their views on capital punishment (p. 433)."
We can only hope that when the Court hears Hall v. Florida, they will think seriously about case law and the responsibility we have as moral human beings and not about any ideology, political viewpoint or unsubstantiated feeling. There is room for intuition in Court rulings, but that intuition must be supported by case law and, in this particular case, the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.

As Cohen wrote, "too late for those already dead, perhaps in time for those still living."

For more on Freddie Hall's case, you can visit the Commission on Capital Cases here. Unfortunately, in 2011 the Florida Legislature voted to no longer fund the Commission, but the page exists as an historical reference.