Observation for Now

It has always seemed to me that the human race needs more things to wonder about, rather than less.

-- Gregory L Reece

Thursday, February 28, 2013

More Intriguing Amazon Suggestions

Amazon's "suggestions" algorithms sometimes leave me bemused.



Do you think they are trying too hard?  Maybe it makes a strange kind of sense....

You see, a year or two I added Fallout Shelter: Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War (Architecture, Landscape and Amer Culture), by David Monteyne, to my Amazon "wish list."  This is not because I want to build a hideout, but because this volume looks like a cornucopia of Cold War and "retro" visuals.  Thes kind of graphics that I love.

I guess it's a case of misunderstood intentions.  If I truly wanted to build a shelter, then I might also be interested in buying all of these first aid supplies.  After all, a Doomsday Prepper would want his First Aid Kit stocked, yes?  With skin staples?  OUCH!

Not me, I just like to look at the pictures.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review -- Enemy of the Truth by Sherry Fiester


Sherry Fiester is a forensics expert who has turned her attention to the known facts in the murder of President Kennedy.  I was honored and pleased when she asked me to read and review her book.  Here's that review....


            Enemy of the Truth is a fascinating look at some of the “myths,” or perceived truths, about the assassination of President John Kennedy.  To the extent that “myths” – untruths – are held or believed by society at large, these fallacies are “Enemies of the Truth.”  The book’s subtitle tells you Sherry Fiester’s emphasis – a forensic look at the crime.
            The eight main chapters examine some of these “myths” and pretty much wipe ’em out.  Fiester’s style may come across in places as dry or dispassionate, but that’s to be expected when you’re reading about technical stuff like parts of the human skull and bullet fragmentation.  The actual subject matter will hold your attention without the need for chatty narration.
            The first chapter examines the mistaken idea that the Dallas, TX police followed correct procedures in investigating the shooting of the President.  Compared to today’s standards such as digital photography and DNA sampling, many of what the DPD should have done, according to their own rules, seems pretty basic and straightforward.  But even basic protocols were flubbed or ignored, such as a complete photographic and drawn-to-scale survey of the Book Depository’s sixth floor.  Even the so-called “sniper’s nest” and the rifle, when discovered, were not documented in situ before they were moved.
            Fiester quotes extensively from the textbook protocols that in 1963 were required for a professional and legally valid crime scene investigation.  And in nearly every way, the behavior of the investigators falls short.  Everything from the bullet casings (not photographed or marked to preserve chain-of-evidence) to boxes by the window (moved and arranged several times by ungloved hands) demonstrates a cascade of failures.
            Now, in this chapter Fiester lets pass two of the things I've always harped on.  The first report of a rifle’s discovery on the sixth floor described a Mauser, not the Mannlicher-Carcano which supposedly belonged to Oswald.  Does this mean that there was a rifle switch-out?  Also, in her discussion of the “paper bag” that Oswald supposedly used to smuggle the rifle into the building, she doesn't mention the well-documented fact that the rifle and bag were too long to have been carried between Oswald’s palm and armpit, as Warren Commissioners would have us believe. 
            Chapter Two describes the science and research behind sound localization, and demonstrates how easy it is for somebody to misplace the source of a sound.  You may honestly think that a sound came from such-and-such a place – but several factors may act, singly or in combination, to mislead your ears.  Examples are:  your location within a certain landscape; your distance from the sound; any refractive surfaces; and even the position of your head.  All can influence your perceptions.
            The next chapter discusses the controversies surrounding a single frame of the Zapruder film, Z313, which depicts a red cloud or mist in front of JFK’s forehead.  This scarlet fog appears ONLY  in this one frame, and a few researchers have held that this crimson haze appears and then vanishes much too quickly to be an actual event caught by the camera.  At least one book cites this cloud as “proof” that the Zapruder film has been altered.
            But Fiester explains the facts behind a phenomenon called “backspatter,” about which she knows as part of her expertise in forensics.  The red flicker seen on frame Z313 is an absolutely accurate depiction of backspatter, and what forensically you SHOULD EXPECT TO SEE following a shot to the front of the head.  Backspatter appears and dissipates in an amount of time much briefer than a single Zapruder frame, and that’s why we see it in mid-dissipation for only one frame.  It’s not a red blotch that was painted onto the film by forgers, as some have said.  It’s what is to be expected as the result of a front headshot.
            Chapter Four talks about some witnesses’ claims that the President’s car slowed to a crawl or stopped outright (perhaps to make it easier for an assassin to aim and fire).  This idea can be laid to rest with some of the reasons explained by Fiester in this chapter.  She explains some of the research behind the mind’s perception of time and how, in crisis situations, the passage of time can be felt to speed up or conversely “stand still,” despite the objective passing of seconds, minutes, and hours.  Furthermore, none of the extant films depicting Dealey Plaza show a car stop, or give any indication of having a car stop edited out.  There are multiple video sources for various parts of this crime.
            The next chapter dissects the myth, held by some since the day of the murder, that “Ballistics Prove One Shooter.”  Fiester lays out some of the many problems facing somebody who wants to believe such a thing – because science dispels the possibility.  Examinations of various recovered bullet fragments and casings don’t show them to have been fired from the same gun – or even the same KIND of gun.  Not even Neutron Activation Analysis can match some of the fragments with each other or with the nearly-whole bullet that supposedly passed through JFK and Governor Connally.  These inconclusive test results were withheld from the Warren Commissioners at the time.
            The sixth chapter really rumbled my cage when it disallowed the Grassy Knoll as the location of a shooter.  Like many folks who believe that this murder wasn’t undertaken by one man in the TSBD, I’ve agreed with the various eye- and ear-witnesses that something was going on behind the wooden fence atop the Grassy Knoll.  But Fiester first determines the location of JFK’s head in relation to the limousine and thus the street and Plaza.  Working from there, she examines the locations of JFK’s wounds – all on the right side of his head – and points out that a shot from the right would have exited on the left.  But the left side of the President’s head, according to doctors and witnesses, was undamaged.  The fence atop the knoll was almost perpendicular to the President, and therefore could not have been the origin point for the fatal headshot.  A more likely location, as indicated by the wounds, would be the triple overpass on the opposite side of Dealey Plaza from the infamous Knoll.
            Grassy-Knollers like me can always believe that a shooter was back there, but that he missed!
            Next Fiester tells me something else that I didn’t know – that the concept of deducing bullet trajectory by examining the beveling (angle of chipping) in the bone is an outdated idea that has been shown not to be accurate.  Being a ballistics expert, she should know!  Evidently there have been so many instances where the beveling angle does not match with known circumstances that the whole doctrine of trajectory-by-beveling has been discarded.  There have even been times when inner and outer beveling has been encountered in the same wound!
            In presenting her case against the Grassy Knoll and for the Triple Overpass area, Fiester jogged my memory and I flipped back to Chapter Two, in which she described the unreliability of sound location by “ear witnesses.”  However, here in Chapter Six, she quotes several people who reported hearing shots that seemed to come from the Overpass area.  The effectiveness of this testimony is somewhat diluted when you remember how in Chapter Two the author showed how unreliable “ear witness” testimony can be.
            Chapter Seven talks about the common belief that there were two headshots, based on the observation from the Zapruder film that JFK’s head moves slightly forward just before jerking rapidly backward from the final bullet strike.  Such a movement seems contrary to common sense, but our forensics expert explains once again, that such a thing is actually to be expected.  Fiester quotes several sources, ending up with the statement that “the forward movement of Kennedy’s head followed by a rearward movement is consistent with a single gunshot to the head from the front.”  So, the Zapruder film shows just what a forensic examination expects it to show:  a tiny forward motion and an almost instantly dispersing backspatter.
            The final myth, Chapter Eight, “The Single Bullet Theory,” is to me a nearly slam-dunk of a topic.  But then, I’m one of those “assassination nuts” with several dozen books in my library on the topic.  Some folks reading this book might not know the doubtful origins of the “Magic Bullet,” Commission Exhibit 399.  Or that the bullet fragments removed from John Connally’s body weigh more than the amount missing from the bullet.  Or that the bullet now known as CE399 was found in Parkland Hospital, on a stretcher known NOT to have been occupied by Connally.
            Anybody who looks even a half-inch into this matter can see the unbelievability of Senator Arlen Specter’s half-baked suggestion, “The Single Bullet Theory,” which was introduced after the Commission found that Oswald’s rifle couldn’t fire fast enough to have launched all of the bullets then known to have been fired in Dealey Plaza.  Just looking at photos of the President’s shirt and suit jacket shows that the bullet hit him in the back, towards the bottom of his right shoulder blade, and not in the back of the neck, as required by the Single-Bullet Theory.
            Fiester then proceeds to decimate the “official” autopsy report for sloppiness and the changes made to it.  Connally’s wounds are also enumerated, raising the possibility that his injuries alone might require the action of more than one bullet.
            And it’s pretty sad to realize that various FBI and other investigators could not even identify the bullet now known as CE399 as the bullet originally found at Parkland Hospital.
            Now, the final part of the book, a section called “The Witnesses,” is for me a delightful change-of-pace.  In this section Fiester tells of her meetings and interviews with various witnesses in the JFK murder case.  Unlike the rest of the book, the writing here is not scientific and clinical; it’s warm and engaging and sympathetic – a great way to balance the hard science in the earlier chapters.
            I really enjoyed this section because Fiester is able to take off the analytical scientist’s hat and talk to these folks as people.  It’s refreshing to end the book with a feeling for the personalities of the witnesses:  Marina Oswald; Bill Newman; Bobby Hargis; Robert Frazier; Beverly Oliver; and Aubrey Rike.
            Through these personal encounters we get a more intimate feel for Fiester herself, her empathy for the witnesses’ pain, and her frustration in confronting an unresolved call to justice.
            All told, Enemy of the Truth told me plenty of things I didn't know about the murder of JFK – and that surprised me!  This book is proof that not all of the questions about JFK’s death have been answered.  Some of the right questions haven’t even been asked!  But Enemy of the Truth does a fine job of shattering some of the myths that have stood in the way.

You can buy Sherry's fine book at her website.

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