Tuesday, May 05, 2020



John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they embraced the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada, which he is fond of calling “the peaceable kingdom.”

John’s writing appears regularly on many Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and has been regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. He has published a book, The Decline of the American Empire and the Rise of China as a Global Power, published by Constable and Robinson, London. John also writes book reviews.

Apart from his writing since retiring from the oil industry, John has taught university courses in economics, done a good deal of private tutoring, served as a professional newspaper restaurant reviewer (he likes cooking), followed his favorite hobby of photography, and created a popular family of image blogs on the Internet.

John may be reached directly at:  formersouthsideboy@gmail.com
























Always a favorite dish of mine. My ideal was what was served at a charming little Italian restaurant called Manzo’s on Chicago’s North Side in the 1960s. It was a sweet little place with checkered table cloths and Chianti-bottle candles on the tables. With subdued light and candles and family-like staff, it had a homey, friendly atmosphere I quite loved.

The spaghetti and meatballs came as a large plate of pasta covered with thick tomatoey sauce and two large meatballs, the size of small fists, on top. I never ordered anything else. Just its appearance was mouth-watering. That memory was my guide over the years in developing a recipe.

Squeeze sweet Italian sausages out of their casings into a bowl. Match with an equal amount of ground beef.

Add a generous amount of breadcrumbs - preferably Panko and salt and pepper to taste.

Two whole large eggs. Hand-squeeze the mixture until is homogenised.

Form into very large meatballs and sauté in in a frypan until golden on all sides. My favorite method is to use two forks, turning the meatballs frequently.

When browned, carefully drop them into a pot of simmering red sauce (see my recipe). For spaghetti and meatballs, I prefer the sweeter version of the sauce. Simmer slowly for a good hour.

Serve two meatballs and a generous drizzle of sauce top of a small mountain of al dente spaghetti.  Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan and serve with my garlic bread and glasses of dry red wine.

Note: the meatballs also work nicely with a generous dollop of the garlic puree prepared (below) for garlic bread, but I prefer not using the garlic for spaghetti and meatballs.



Place several large, peeled buds of fresh garlic in a mortar-and-pestle.

Sprinkle with a bit of salt, which adds flavor and gives the texture needed for successfully crushing the garlic.

Smash the garlic thoroughly, and add to some olive oil or other oil. I find simple Canola oil works nicely. It is my go-to basic cooking oil.

Generously paint this mixture onto slices of thickly-cut baguette or other crusty bread and set on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Place in a 375-degree oven until just lightly golden. Serve immediately.

An option is to sprinkle each piece of coated bread with some freshly-ground Parmesan before baking. I like it both ways, but prefer it without cheese to accompany spaghetti and meatballs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020



A little different than the classic and absolutely delicious

Bring some chicken broth, with generous splashes of dry white wine in it, to a simmer in a large stew or soup pot.

Salt and rub generously with sweet paprika some chicken breasts – ones with the skin on.

Sauté the breasts in oil until they are nicely turned orangey golden all around. Set aside.

Rub the vegetables – thick carrot slices, thick green or red pepper slices, and thick onion slices - with sweet paprika, salt, and lightly sauté the vegetables in oil. Set aside.

Add chicken and vegetables to simmering broth. Let simmer gently for a half hour or so.

Use a large container of full-fat sour cream and mix into it about a cup of white flour. Stir and mix thoroughly.

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the broth. Stir in the sour cream-flour mix until it is smooth. This is the sauce. Return the chicken and vegetables to the sauce.

Best served with Spätzle, the tiny German or Hungarian noodles.


I regard this as one of the strongest science fiction movies.

Here is a movie, quite unusual for science fiction, with something rather deep to say about the human condition. That is what sets it apart.

In the opening sequence of the film, we are watching a commercial for a large corporation which runs lunar mining operations to provide energy back on earth. The announcer puts emphasis on clean and virtually limitless energy. The mining operation is where the story is set, and this way of introducing it is brilliant. We’ve all seen such PR from corporations. The tone is just right. Very convincing.

The story is about a man who works alone at the lunar mining operation, a man approaching the end of his three-year contract, something to which he very much looks forward. His only companionship on the moon is an odd but very sophisticated robot and the occasional video of his family from back home on earth. Live communication with earth is not permitted, supposedly for unavoidable technical reasons.

He busies himself with a number of hobbies and pastimes, highly-focused small-scale gardening and the construction of a beautiful and elaborate table-top wooden village model, the demanding nature of the activities telling us that this is a man of some intelligence and focus, and not just an industrial worker.

His job is the regular collection of canisters filled with the element helium-three, canisters filled by gigantic processing machines, resembling in scale the kind of massive machines used in the Alberta tar sands. They run continuously, striping the lunar surface and processing the material to extract the helium.

Sam Bell, the character’s name, keeps track of the gigantic machines back at the base/living quarters, heading out in full astronaut gear and special vehicle to unload full canisters while the machine remains in operation. He returns to the base and regularly shoots the canisters back to earth.

That certainly sounds like a dull, uninteresting situation, but the fact that that proves not to be the case is part of the film’s strength.

We have an outstanding performance by Sam Rockwell, the performance of a lifetime one might think. We become interested in this man and invested with what proves to be a far more complex and mysterious reality than what we first see.

Rockwell, in the tradition of a lot of Hollywood “twins” films of the 1940s, plays two characters. He does so convincingly. They really are two characters, not just an actor changing his facial expressions.

We are taken for a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride with these two as they clash over personal differences and as we see assumptions about the nature of their situation gradually stripped away.

This peeling away of layers of apparent reality during the story is an effective way of holding our interest. We discover the full and unpleasant truth right along with the characters. Corporate echoes about clean energy come back to haunt.

The key to all good stories, whether in films or books, is getting the reader or viewer involved in the character’s situation. Here is a film that does that extremely well, and the more we learn, the more emotionally involved we become.

Gerty, the robot in the story, is given a character quite different than the menacing ones so often attributed to artificial intelligence in science fiction movies, from Colossus in “The Forbin Project” to HAL in “2001.”

Gerty proves empathetic and helpful. Of course, it has been programed to keep lonely workers company over three-year assignments, and that programming in the end overrides restrictions from the mining company.


Love means that it makes you feel good just to see a person.

He or she has become an integral and vital  part of your existence.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Spring comes, trailing robes of purest sunlight, to press her warm and fragrant breast to earth.

- A line of poetry written at about 19 years old.



Use crushed canned tomatoes (two large cans), a generous addition of dry red wine, a couple of anchovies or equivalent anchovy paste, a small can of tomato paste, a finely chopped onion, a sprinkling of Basil, a small sprinkling of red chilies (only enough to hint - sauce is not to be hot), and a couple of tablespoons of sugar (I leave this out these days, but it is good for Eggplant Parmesan). A splash of olive oil in the pan. Bring to boil and simmer over low heat, covered, for maybe an hour.

Many variations are possible - certainly I often use a bit of chopped garlic - but this is a pretty satisfying general purpose sauce. You may substitute a can (or even both) of crushed tomatoes with diced, giving the sauce texture for some pastas.  Of course, you can add a lot more chili flakes to make it hot which suits penne rigate. This is nice too with bits of sauteed spicy sausage.

Some always lightly saute onions and garlic first, but that isn't essential except in sauces which you simmer for only minutes, which is not the case here using wine. In simmering a longer time the ingredients literally will melt together.

One of my favorite versions is a Putanesca for spaghetti. Add some Kalamata olives and capers and substitute Oregano for Basil. You can throw various other ingredients into a Puttanesca sauce, as bits of sauteed sausage. A bit of diced green pepper is nice, but not for Eggplant Parmesan.

Best sauce to use for Eggplant Parmesan is the simple, somewhat sweet, basic.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


Haydn, while always enjoyable, in some forms - as in his string quartets, at least for me - does not quite make it into the Mozart-Beethoven-Bach Pantheon.

But he was an immensely gifted and prolific musician, and he sure does reach that level at times, and his set of piano trios is absolutely one of them.

These are delightful - joyful, uplifting, relaxing, lilting, and elegant in turn.

The quality of the playing by the Beaux Arts Trio is flawless to this music-loving but musically-inexpert ear.

The recording quality is fine.

I think I’ve played the entire set ten times since getting it.

It is among my most treasured sets.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


In my earlier review of the album, "Zaz," I somewhat diminished "Recto Verso" by saying that it was good, like "Paris," but wasn't quite up to "Zaz," which is, for anyone who likes this kind of French music, one of the most attractive albums ever made.

Well, I apologize, having listened more to “Recto Verso.” It truly is every bit as good as “Zaz,” a rare thing in popular music to do two albums to such high standards. “Recto Verso” is genuinely excellent throughout and quite moving in parts.

Of course, for all really fine music – classical or popular – being able to listen to it a number of times, still getting something from it, is almost a defining characteristic.

This is an extraordinarily talented woman. She writes fine songs, and she sings any song with great feeling, which, to my mind, is what this kind of French music is all about. I have a small collection of the great chanteuses, and Zaz ranks with the very best.

Again, just as with the album, “Zaz,” she moves me to tears in a couple of numbers. And that’s on top of all the purely pleasant music here. The arrangements always are agreeable and never intrusive. There is simply not one track on this album that does not please in one way or another.

That’s high praise, and she deserves it.

Monday, May 14, 2018


How can a major biography be both a real disappointment and perhaps of some significance to read?

If you want to understand that, you should read Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin. I found I could manage only getting through Volume Two: Waiting for Hitler, as I will explain.

Or I should say, try to read it, because Kotkin is part of that special class of writers with the academic style one finds in social studies journals filled with articles from academics trying to notch up one more publication. It is almost as dry and lumbering as some of the stuff one can read from the Soviets.

Imagine using awkward neologisms like “dekulakization” over and over? There’s several of them repeated here often, like unwelcome old friends. I also object to the author’s invariable use of “regime” for Stalin’s government. Yes, it was what many of us do indeed think as a “regime,” but that word selection in a biography is unnecessarily loaded.

It was, no matter what, a “government,” and its actions, if skillfully related, should speak for themselves. Show, don’t tell, is the master story-teller’s motto. But Kotkin is pretty much incapable of doing so, and that is a weakness of the book.

Stalin was an interesting figure (I’ve read several biographies) and his era was filled with huge and tumultuous events, so you couldn’t ask for better material. But Kotkin manages never to bring any of it to life. His recitation is rather lumbering. Bringing an important historical figure and his or her era to life, always providing the author is also accurate with facts and displays a good sense of perspective and relative importance, is my idea of the ultimate achievement in biography.

I can think of any number of fine biographies that achieve this, but Kotkin simply fails to do so. We never for a minute forget we are reading a rather dry academic’s summarizing of a huge volume of old documents.

I am not exaggerating when I say that only in some of the many letters and notes quoted from Stalin do we get a sense of life. Stalin was a pretty good writer, and it comes through, even in translation. Of course, it is also a bugbear of mine when an author quotes too much, my view being who needs the author then. We could just as well be given a series of selected documents. I wouldn’t say Kotkin goes too far in this, but the thought does cross your mind while reading, and it shouldn’t.
Kotkin is associated with an extremely right-wing institution, the Hoover Institution, so I attribute things like using the word “regime” to that bias.

Sure, Stalin was terrifying creature, but I avoid authors who in any way preach or sermonize, as so many at the Hoover Institution indeed do.

Its very name, like so many privately endowed American think-tanks, is often a guarantee of nothing that an open mind wants to be exposed to.

But I had read in a Russian source that there was balance in this new biography. So, I decided it must have value.

After all, no matter what you think of communism or Russia, Stalin was one of the giants of the 20th century, a man who greatly shaped the world into which we were born.
It is important to understand how that came to be and what are the factors which made such a role for a single human being possible.

But the way that the biography disappoints comes as a surprise.

It is packed with facts, it reflects scholarship, but it is not well-written, and it just doesn’t quite “gel” in creating a vivid, living portrait.

It has too much of the academic thesis in its writing, which is a very limited type of writing, interesting to a very limited number of people.

So, I cannot say the book is not worth reading, but it is nevertheless quite disappointing and not a little boring. If you want one that is not, read Montefiore. He may not have enjoyed quite the same access to archives, but he paints a lively and interesting portrait.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Have you ever seen Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space"?

It is undoubtedly one of the worst movies ever made, but you know that before seeing so much as a single frame because it is known for having been cheap beyond description, almost a kid’s effort at making a movie.

It has a bit of a cult following because it is so laughably bad. We all have a bit of a soft spot for something like that, with no redeeming qualities beyond its absurdity. But you cannot achieve such status if you have big pretensions, something “Blade Runner 2949” has in greater abundance than anything else. It literally drags truckloads of pretensions through scene after tedious scene.

Well, my best first go at a description for “Blade Runner 2049” is as a remake of “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” a remake with an obscenely large budget and vast pretensions. It is undoubtedly one of the worst films I have ever seen. It has literally no redeeming quality, not even its absurdity.

It has no real story to tell, terrible writing, and virtually all of the actors offer abysmal performances. The star, Ryan Gosling, walks through his role with two expressions, grim and grimmer. Even the cameo near the end with Harrison Ford is a performance you will only want to forget.

Ryan Gosling reminds me a bit of comedian Chevy Chase in his general appearance with eyes uncomfortably close together, something that the constant beard stubble on his face in this role serves to distract us from. This is not my idea of good casting, and that judgment holds for pretty much the entire company. This guy isn’t funny or even pleasantly light, ever, as Harrison Ford, the star of the original “Blade Runner” could very much be. He is relentlessly dull.

He’s grim and boring and you couldn’t care less what happens to him. The impression is not helped by some truly dumb lines not worth opening his mouth for. But the lines he delivers are no worse than those given other major characters. The language is so dumb, sometimes it reminds me of one of those old, early Toho monster movies that were dubbed in with English lines like, “Don’t be a wet noodle!”

He lives in a world that has the same dark look of the original Blade Runner, but the effort to create an ugly environment here has been put into hyperdrive, and you can only ask yourself why anyone would want to live there for even a day. Mass suicide – whether by humans or replicants - I should think would be this world’s greatest risk, not the activities of various malefactors or no-longer desired models of replicants.

Gosling drives around in a flying car that reminds me of a concept from a cheap 1940s movie serial. It flies, but it still has doors, it still has a windshield (and, yes, complete with windshield wipers for the rain), it still has seat belts, and, amazingly enough now at the dawn of the self-drive era, it still has a driver driving. This is a perfect example, typical of many in the film, of imagined gizmos or special effects without any imagination. Glitz without content, and really without interest for the viewer.

And they spent plenty on some of these gizmos trying to amaze us – the film’s budget having been the best part of 200 million dollars - but none of it does, it is all so completely lacking in imagination. There are many scenes with gimmicky special effects that have no meaning, none whatsoever, nor is there even a hint of trying to explain them – as with the golden ripply-looking walls of a company or a tall cement tree complete with guy wires.

It’s all tedious. There isn’t even a worthy villain in the whole long effort, as the original “Blade Runner” had in the fine Rutger Hauer, one of that film’s real high points. We understood his motives, and he played his almost-tragic role wonderfully. Here we have intense, shrieky women in weird, ugly clothes and make-up, trying to kill people for reasons we can’t be quite clear about.

This is a truly terrible film, and I cannot understand some critics’ references I read as to its quality, references which aroused my interest. Some said it needed editing, but editing wouldn’t help this, except through the sheer fact of there being less of it to sit through. The film did not do well at the box office, but I have never considered that a standard of measurement, some of the better films in history having achieved that same distinction.

But this is not another “It's a Wonderful Life,” which did not do well at the box office despite the huge affection in which it is held today, it is more like Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate.” Just appallingly bad

Friday, May 19, 2017


Death Notice in the Chicago Tribune, Sunday, December 3, 1995


Etta Lucille Para, in Quartzsite, AZ, Nov. 30, after a long struggle. Born Sept. 19, 1923, Clinton, IN, the daughter of William N. and Nellie McIntosh. Etta came to Chicago for opportunity after high school, a working girl with big dreams about the city. Not many years later, she was left alone to raise two young sons, a task to which she devoted herself, earning their living and creating a loving home, first in Hyde Park and later in South Shore.

Her bravery, devotion, and fierce honesty in the face of great obstacles were remarkable. The last quarter century of her life was blessed with a loving husband, “Wayne” Joseph Para, who cared for her to the end. She is survived by her husband in Arizona; her two sons, John and Bill Chuckman, three grandchildren, John, Bob, and Julie Chuckman, in Canada, and sister, Wilma McIntosh, in Chicago. Her ashes will be buried in Indiana at a later date.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


I'm quite sorry to have to say that “The Martian” was a great disappointment.

I am a long-time fan of director Ridley Scott, both of his science fiction films, “Alien” being one of best ever made, as well as some of his other films, such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Thelma and Louise.”

I looked forward to the release of this film.

The first segment of adjusting to life on Mars is pretty good. Matt Damon is well cast as an astronaut type, and his behavior will remind viewers very much of the old MacGyver television show with a number of ingenious survival tricks and jerry-rigged apparatus.

I like Damon, but his role and performance are not demanding enough to warrant any award. I do very much like the little touches of humor scattered in this segment. Some viewers seem to have objected, but I think the humor was a good choice.

Then the film begins to fall apart. Scenes back at NASA sometimes are just plain tedious with orders being grunted and scads of people running about and grimacing. The casting for the Director of NASA is poor, entirely unsuitable. The dialogue is all second-rate, at best, yet writing has been nominated for an award.

The staged whole world’s interest, eventually, in one man stuck on Mars quickly tires too. It reminds me of some of the cheaper sci-fi films of the 1950s with news reel crowd scenes spliced in. No, these aren’t news reels, they’re carefully constructed new footage, but what a tedious waste of time they are. It simply fails to capture us in the drama which it claims is going on.

Good God, and then officials in China take an interest and offer a now-secret rocket system of their own to help. This is absolutely unbelievable. Great powers do not behave this way, motivated by sentimentality – certainly the United States never would.

I won’t go into details, but the actual escape from Mars is close to ridiculous and highly unsatisfying. Yes, it is all superficially plausible, but it is not truly believable. There is a difference.

Since the tedious portion of the film is at least half its length, I just cannot recommend it, and not by any stretch of the imagination is it a "best film."

By the way, there is a pièce de résistance bit of droning boredom tacked-on at the end. Damon, now famous, goes to speak to a group of aspiring students. The scene is literally silly and reminds me of a sermonette on self-reliance, which, of course, as any reasonable person knows is not something you can teach. You either have “the right stuff” or you don’t, and only real-life challenge will prove it one way or another.

This film definitely does not have “the right stuff.”

I believe Ridley Scott is now 78 years old.  Quite possibly, he has passed his productive years?

Maybe the award nominations reflect this fact. After all, they gave an Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor for one of worst performances in another, almost unwatchably boring film, "Butterfield 8," years ago because she was very sick at the time and of course was a big money-earner for the studios.

Some smaller points.

First, the escape ship, from Mars’ orbit, seems to me impossibly large and complex, given the huge engineering efforts always put in to minimize such things by NASA.

Second, in the early scene of the crew leaving Mars in their lander and leaving their comrade behind, the reason is a massive sand storm. Surely, planners would anticipate such storms. We know right now that you couldn’t go and stay any time there without adequate preparations.


Monday, June 30, 2014



I've not read this volume, but I read all of the books involved in making the diary.

Epstein is one of the more dishonest writers on the Kennedy assassination, using a terrible old technique of granting critics of the Warren Report some of their due in his first volume, thereby gaining credibility to forge ahead in his second and third volumes to assert the Warren Commission got it right in all the details that matter.

No one who has seriously studied the assassination - no one independent of certain interests and connections, that is - can possibly agree with Epstein' s so-called analysis..

His approach quite likely has something to do with the CIA connections we can infer from the publications for which he has written, all part of the CIA's "great Wurlitzer" whose keys are fingered to get "the message" out there, and the nature of what he has written.

Considering the books this diary served, it cannot possibly be worth reading.

But if you want to know how far an organization like the CIA goes "to get its story out there," then by all means read it.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I don’t know how I missed it, having read most of the good early critics of the Warren Report, but I never read Sylvia Meagher’s “Accessories After the Fact,” and that is a pity because this book is one of the most important ever written on the Kennedy assassination.

Ms. Meagher’s topic is exclusively “The Warren Report,” its contents and the means and methods used to arrive at them. Ms. Meagher had a unique advantage over some other critics and analysts: she not only studied the entire 26 volumes of “Hearings and Exhibits” published to support the single-volume summary report, she had undertaken the monumental task of creating an index to “Hearings and Exhibits.” The Commission, as was its bizarre and confusing way in so many things, published this massive collection of evidence separately with no meaningful organization and no means to search or study it, just tens of thousands of documents jammed into 26 covers like a tidy pile of recycling.  The summary volume, “The Report,” therefore does not follow the most elemental academic practice of citing an organized body of evidence for its claims and assertions. It was almost as though the supporting documents were published to impress and reassure the public, safe in the knowledge that few would ever try studying them and that the few who did would find the task impossibly frustrating.

Ms. Meagher’s admirable indexing work not only created a powerful tool for her own use and that of others but gave her in 1967, the first publication date for “Accessories,” an almost unrivalled knowledge, perhaps matched only by Harold Weisberg. But Weisberg was a fairly poor writer, and his books, most famously, “Whitewash,” often are awkward and replete with typographical errors. Ms. Meagher (at least in this edition) is almost the polar opposite: she was a clear, logical writer, often quite forceful, writing analytical reports having been part of her career work. She is a bit dry at times, but that is in the nature of the material.

Ms. Meagher brought at least one more special talent to the task of writing this book: she had eyes which missed almost nothing in the way of detail. So much was this the case that there are points in the book where you will simply feel a degree of awe for the threads she manages to pull together. Time and time again, she marshals bits of material from the supporting documents which contradict summary words in “The Report” they supposedly were intended to support.

You might ask how is it relevant to read a book nearly fifty years after its publication when so many new facts have emerged in the case. My answer is, read her and find out: her judicious and detailed evaluation of parts of “The Warren Report” has not been surpassed. Her words echo with acute unanswered questions. She also demonstrated a remarkable prescience at times, most of her best observations and conjectures being as fresh as they were when she wrote. Altogether, an amazing feat of scholarship.

As to new evidence and facts, there actually is far less than many assume. Yes, the Church Committee (1975) gave us some insights into the CIA’s dirty work which Ms. Meagher did not know when writing, and, yes, the House Select Committee (1979) developed some new evidence, and, still further, the Assassination Records Review Board (1990s) published boxfuls of documents. But what those who do not follow the assassination case do not know is how remarkably little new material of genuine usefulness has appeared.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978), while uncovering important technical evidence of another shooter on the grassy knoll, still feebly drew more or less the same conclusions as the Warren Report, and their second-shooter evidence has been thoroughly muddied by other technical claims about the recording. More importantly still, the huge release of documents by the Assassination Records Review Board (1990s) is filled with redactions and incomplete documents and a great many simply trivial documents such as the fate of Kennedy’s original damaged bronze coffin. To this day, few people realize that the most crucial documents remain buried in government agency files, including information about the intelligence agency behind Oswald’s phony defection, information about how his wife (daughter of a senior Soviet police official at the peak of the Cold War) was permitted to migrate to the United States, information about Oswald’s informer work for the FBI and about the kind of people on which Oswald was informing both in New Orleans and Dallas, information about Jack Ruby’s past (including his anti-Castro gun-running) and his frenzied activities close to the assassination, information about the sickeningly-corrupt Dallas Police and those who acted either to assist in, or cover-up details of, the crime, information about the relationship (and there very much was a relationship) between Oswald and Jack Ruby and David Ferry, information about why the presidential limousine was quickly rebuilt to destroy ballistic evidence, information about the pseudonym, A. Hidell, information about ex-FBI Agent Guy Bannister’s dark operations in New Orleans out of a building Oswald frequented, information about Oswald’s supposed visit to Mexico (genuine CIA observation pictures and recording having never been released), and information about a great many other things.

Perceptive readers will understand that those are “red meat” matters in the case and that it is simply absurd to ask people to accept that clear documents around them do not exist. We also need information on so basic a matter as why the distinguished members of the Commission thought it was appropriate to selectively ignore witnesses, to alter the printed version of other witnesses’ testimony, and to write what is almost a complete fabrication from start to finish. Lyndon Johnson’s suggestive stuff, reportedly whispered to convince some recruits to join the commission, about “if you knew what I knew” and tens of millions of “lives at risk” strikes one as unconvincing rubbish even then.

Remember, the most profound question ever asked about the assassination goes unanswered to this day: Betrand Russell, after publication of “The Report” asked, "If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?"

Perhaps the most outstanding yet little asked issue around the Warren Commission is why, instead of doing a straightforward investigation of facts, it saw fit to conduct the prosecution of a single individual, “The Report” being literally nothing more than a prosecutor’s brief, and a fairly poor one at that. In a normal legal procedure, there is also a defence brief, the opportunity to cross examine, and there is a judge and/or jury acting as impartial receiver of all evidence. But the Warren Commission acted as prosecution and jury combined. Indeed, as is not widely understood, the Commission itself did almost no investigation (investigation being its true mandate) and depended almost completely on the FBI for investigative work. So the FBI, a poisonously political organization at the time under J. Edgar Hoover, collected selected pieces of evidence and selected witness accounts, and the Commission conducted selected questioning of selected witnesses and assembled a dodgy prosecutorial brief. Nothing that could be called a true investigation ever occurred.         

Readers should understand that this book is not the kind of gripping narrative of, say, Anthony Summers’ “Conspiracy.” It is a brilliant dissection, although a bit dry at times, of what remains the government’s foundation document explaining the assassination. “The Warren Report” does not explain the assassination, as Ms. Meagher so amply proved in this book nearly fifty years ago.

This book is recommended without qualification for all people interested in the assassination, in American history, in the integrity of America’s political or judicial institutions, and in the dark workings of powerful government institutions.

Here is a footnote for those interested in how twisted the assassination literature has become with unhelpful books now regularly dumped into the market. Ms. Meagher cites Edward Jay Epstein’s “Inquest,” another critique of the “The Report” published before hers. She treats him, given her knowledge in 1967, as a fair-minded and able critic. And to a considerable degree he was in that single instance, but Epstein wrote two more books after “Inquest,” “Counterplot” and “Legend,” both serving only to reinforce the main observations and conclusions of “The Report,” so much so, they are embarrassing for a knowledgeable and critically-minded person to read. “Inquest” served the purpose of what intelligence agencies call “chicken feed,” accurate but non-essential information given by a spy to the other side in order to establish bona fides. Following a number of pioneering and well-received critical books, “Inquest” granted some of the flawed nature of the “The Report” and even seemed to break a little new ground. But when you read the other two Epstein books and some unrelated stuff he has churned out over the years, you conclude he is part of what one retired CIA propaganda operative once called his mighty Wurlitzer Organ, a huge console of keys sending all kinds of misinformation through legitimate publication channels.

And so it continues today. Not only has Epstein written yet another book, but a steady stream of books is published whose main purpose is to support the Warren Commission’s “findings.” This is done along two paths. First there are the Epstein-type books, supporting the Commission through a semblance of analysis and investigation. Then there are the truly flaky anti-Warren Commission books with all kinds of outlandish claims (i.e. Oswald was a KGB spy or he was a Castro-hired assassin) and absolutely no evidence, intended to spread a shadow of discredit across even legitimate critics. Both kinds of books are produced by publishing channels friendly to the CIA, and their authors often may not even realize that they are being used, it being a common practice to use non-CIA assets with or without their knowledge as the case may seem appropriate. Sadly, the author of one of the best books ever written on the subject, Anthony Summers (“Conspiracy”), in his recent update of “Not in Your Lifetime” seems to this author, wittingly or not, to have gone over to the dark side in some of his observations and suggestions, just as he very much did in his unfortunate book on 9/11 (also reviewed).  

It is thus a rare thing to find a book on a highly controversial public issue in the United States that is an honest effort to analyze (and what else would you expect at the heart of a great empire which is constantly working to deceive people about its purposes and methods?), and Ms. Meagher’s book is one of a small number of them on the assassination.

The extent of American secret operations of all kinds was not appreciated in 1967. Today, they march in platoons across the news - Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Guantanamo, Diego Garcia, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, and others – but still the dark workings behind them are never acknowledged. America’s intelligence agencies have gigantic budgets and operate with almost no accountability, murdering and torturing and overthrowing like the secret police serving a police state. America’s Congress questions and opposes almost nothing done. America’s mainline press now never pretends to report as it did during at least part of the Vietnam holocaust (the word being justified by the killing of an estimated 3 million Vietnamese). Elected presidents seem little more than figureheads formally authorizing the dark establishment’s work, the public not being able to distinguish an Obama from a Bush. The unexplained death of a president and the government’s contempt for the understanding of America’s citizens has gone a long way to making this world possible.        


Thursday, December 19, 2013


I had hoped, for various reasons, that this book might offer a contribution to the study of the assassination, but, although it is fairly well written and contains a couple of small bits of interest, it is largely a dud. I say this for several reasons, the chief being that Mr. Corsi does not answer his own question, does not even pretend to answer it. But beyond not answering his own question, Mr. Corsi just gives us a core-dump of his past reading on the assassination and leaves us with that, and, indeed, many of his offerings are highly contradictory in nature and occasionally even silly.

Here are a couple of quotes from the book’s dust jacket: “[the book is] the culmination of decades of meticulous research” by a best-selling, investigative journalist. “Corsi sets a new standard for JFK assassination research….”  

Well, I could see no evidence supporting either of these claims, unless it took Mr. Corsi an extraordinary amount of time to read the books he surveys. His book is actually a survey of other people’s books and views on the subject, and, since I have read most of them, not a bad job of capturing some key points. But is that what Mr. Corsi’s book pretends to be? Not at all.

I have no objection to books which survey the literature on a subject – indeed, they can be quite valuable - but in taking the survey approach, an author is supposed to make a selection, a meaningful one, both in the books included and in the contents featured from each, and to offer a comprehensive point of view woven from the mass. Mr. Corsi’s book utterly fails in this first rule of survey literature.

Mr. Corsi has Oswald as a KGB spy, a CIA spy, a double-agent, and a number of other things at various points, leaving any sensible reader confused and dissatisfied. What I believe Oswald so clearly was is a young man who joined the Marines and was selected on the basis of his talents to be part of a “phony defector to Russia” program, one of many hare-brained schemes of American intelligence during the Cold War. Although not a CIA program, it was overseen by James Angleton, chief of CIA counterintelligence for many years, a man who was ultimately proved paranoid and was finally removed from the CIA after creating a huge, destructive internal battle over the Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko. Further, Oswald, on his return to the United States, worked as a paid informant for the FBI, perhaps looking into the training camps which Kennedy wanted closed after his agreement with Khrushchev. It was this work which brought him into close contact with the people intending to assassinate Kennedy, although I doubt Oswald ever knew their ultimate purpose, and his rather weird (by 1960s’ standards) background gave them the perfect material to mold a patsy. 

The author spends, for example, a good amount of time on Ion Pacepa, a defector from Romanian intelligence. Mr. Pacepa’s notions include a reading of Oswald’s writing (!) and other materials to conclude that the KGB was running Oswald as an agent. Not just any agent, but one who was to carry out Nikita Khrushchev’s “desire” to kill Kennedy over his embarrassment from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For any informed person, this is a preposterous notion. First, Khrushchev actually had some grudging admiration for Kennedy and had established a backchannel of communications with the President. Second, the outcome of the Crisis was not entirely unfavorable to Soviet interests since Kennedy’s pledge not to invade Cuba again – a pledge which infuriated America’s large terrorist armies of Cuban refugees and their CIA trainers and paymasters – met a major goal of putting missiles into Cuba in the first place. Third, the Soviets at that time were the absolute leaders in creating human intelligence networks – they had many great successes - and there is no way they would use a fairly marginal figure like Oswald as a major spy, much less as an assassin since he had zero skills, experience, or knowledge of such matters. Fourth, the risks in the Soviets giving anyone the task of assassinating an American president were beyond calculation in an era when the Pentagon still bristled with madmen who would have loved to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Russia. Fifth, Mr. Pacepa had a double motive for his far-out claims: ingratiating himself with the CIA faction which was intensely, insanely anti-Soviet and his own resentments against the Soviets, coming from, as he did, a Soviet satellite country. Sixth, this view of Oswald’s position is about as far as you can get from some of the other views presented, so why bother presenting it?   

Clearly, you do not give readers a perspective with such a hodgepodge of views, but if the author’s aim was to present many views – which I actually cannot accept since there are views not represented – then it was incumbent upon him to do in each case what this reviewer has done above in the case of Ion Pacepa, present some analysis and perspective, but he does not do so.

I cannot recommend this book, although it might be of some use were someone unfamiliar with the assassination literature to use it as a beginning survey, but even there the risks of misinterpretation are considerable. Besides, there are other books to serve that purpose, books of far greater merit.


If you like books with very little material to read, and much of that repeated two to three times in a page or two, books with great sections of type set in heavy bold or inserted into shaded boxes, all with a generous sprinkling of exclamation marks, and if you like being addressed as “hey, folks” as by a pitchman on an infomercial selling sponge mops and you enjoy photos that seem to have been copied from dingy newspapers, then you will like this book.

The book is sub-titled as an “in-depth investigation,” but as someone with an abiding interest in the Kennedy assassination who has read a good deal of the literature on the subject, I think I can fairly say that this book’s only remarkable quality is that it has nothing new to say: it reflects virtually no research and remarkably little thought. Even its format is unpleasant, much resembling a high school newspaper from some backwater town.

This is the very kind of book which makes those genuinely interested in finding out what happened on November 22, 1963, subject to ridicule. It is simply a shameless grab for dollars, offering readers a chance to reach into a twenty-dollar-or-so grab-bag to discover a plastic toy from the dollar store.

Sunday, December 08, 2013


This is a good, vigorously written biography by an author who is sympathetic with his subject, but it suffers from faults which exclude it from true excellence or being regarded as a definitive life.

First, the author is fixated - a strong word, but appropriate here - by notions around Jewish identity, an odd focus for a biographer of Oppenheimer, a man who was raised in a secular environment at home and at school and who seems to have given very little thought to Jewish culture. Indeed, Oppenheimer, with his piercing blue eyes and tall thin figure, almost certainly was of mixed ethnic background, but even here the author assures us, his rather ethereal mother, the dominant parent in contributing to his looks and temperament, was as Jewish as his hearty German Jewish father.

The author more or less accuses Oppenheimer of ignoring cultural roots to his peril, regarding the act of having done so almost as a character flaw and as an explanatory variable in his personality. Monk makes himself a bit silly in this because countless migrants to the United States from scores of ethnic backgrounds, including my own paternal grandfather, did things like change the spelling of family names or adopt English-sounding first names or nick-names, and many gave up traditional customs. They wanted a fresh start in a brave new world, and no one would sensibly assert they were flawed in doing so.

Monk starts the book by quoting the physicist Rabi, generally a brilliant observer, on the something which seemed to be missing in Oppenheimer’s personality, and from there weaves the theme of missing Jewishness. Actually I think Rabi (whose view here, it should be noted, would have been influenced by his being an old country Orthodox man) got this observation wrong because it is very likely that Oppenheimer was something of an autistic, perhaps the milder form called Asperger’s Syndrome, which explains his extreme awkwardness with other people and difficulty seeking or making friends. Combined with his rather ethereal character plus other personality quirks, Oppenheimer undoubtedly communicated a sense of undefined otherness. Missing ethnic roots is not on the mark for analysis.    

A good deal of attention is given over to rising anti-Semitism in the United States, something which had had no long-term history but seems to have arisen after the stock market crash of 1873. The rude turning away of Joseph Seligman from the Grand Hotel at Saratoga in 1877 was a watershed event which other hotels and institutions soon began to copy, if for no other reason than not wishing to lose their customers to those who catered to prejudice. This, of course, is relevant to the life of a man like Oppenheimer, but coming along, as it does in this book, with all of the author’s emphasis on the theme of Jewishness and anti-Semitism, it becomes a bit wearying. Oppenheimer went only to the best schools and received magnificent appointment after magnificent appointment during his career, so the relevance of anti-Semitism to his life seems marginal if not obscure, and as we know from glancing at a list of Nobel-winning physicists, being Jewish was no bar.

Monk’s worst excess is introducing virtually every scientific figure to whom a descriptive epithet may apply as “Jewish Dutch” or “half Jewish” or “German Jew,” etc. This not only contributes nothing to the story, its repetition many times communicates a sense almost of reverse prejudice. The ethnic origin of any scientist surely is irrelevant except where it may have a special bearing, as in someone’s escape from Hitler’s Germany.

Contributing to the sense of a man with a missing center was Oppenheimer’s true tragic flaw: he is almost a case study of the exceptionally brilliant man who does not achieve top recognition in his chosen field. Yes, the world community of theoretical physicists certainly came to have his name on their tongues, but while Bohr, Dirac, Rutherford, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Born, and others made historic contributions in the revolutionary scientific period of Oppenheimer’s early life, and received Nobel prizes in recognition, Oppenheimer did not. Oppenheimer, despite all his cleverness and literally tireless efforts to keep on top of theoretical and experimental work in his life as an active physicist, gained his position in history for what was essentially a management job, heading up the scientific teams of Los Alamos in building the atomic bomb.

What’s more, having as his great achievement the construction of a terrible weapon which shortly was used brutally to extinguish tens of thousands of souls simply had to conflict with Oppenheimer’s acute aesthetic, poetic sensibilities. The author tells us that Oppenheimer never regretted his work on the bomb, but if that is so it goes to the same tragic flaw of needing to achieve and accomplish and impress yet not quite being able to do so in his field of pure science. 

As Monk informs us with many interesting anecdotes, Oppenheimer in his twenties could be something of a terror with his sharp tongue and his incessant desire to demonstrate he knew more than others, even during other scientists’ presentations which he would interrupt many times. I tend to think that these acts too demonstrate Oppenheimer’s tragic flaw: he almost knew or feared he might not achieve what many of them had achieved, yet he felt impelled to make an indelible impression on them with questions, anecdotes, and witticisms. 

So too Oppenheimer’s two half-hearted attempts at killing male friends in his academic years, both involving friends whom he admired but likely felt over-shadowed by in grace and attractiveness and success. The incidents may well also have reflected frustrated sexuality in a man who had a hard time relating to people and whose actual sexual identity may have not been strongly fixed: more than a few hostile observers regarded him as homosexual. These violent acts are anecdotes of which I was not aware – in one case leaving a poisoned apple on the intended victim’s desk - and they speak strongly to Oppenheimer’s odd personality. He did also suffer from severe depressions and was once diagnosed as schizophrenic. On the subject of his personal life, I think it fair to say the author does a less than adequate job with, for example, the nature of his strange marriage to Kitty barely touched upon.

During the unpleasant period of hearings over Oppenheimer’s security clearance, the author depends too much on transcripts, always in my view a questionable approach. It would be much more interesting to learn more about how this affected Oppenheimer’s private life. In this sequence of events, there is Oppenheimer’s own terrible mistake of having previously called into question the political reliability of others, particularly that of his old friend Chevalier. The author gives us Chevalier’s exchange of letters with Oppenheimer, and I believe we see in this yet another aspect of Oppenheimer’s true tragic flaw. It was almost as though Oppenheimer were once again poisoning an apple to be left for a friend. He destroyed Chevalier’s career and never expressed regret for having done so.   

Monk seems to regard the possibility of Oppenheimer’s having served Soviet interests as almost impossible. He cites as proof Oppenheimer’s deep affection for America, as for the geography of the Southwest or his determination to show Europeans that America could build its own school of theoretical physics, but those kinds of feelings are simply not proof against the possibility of espionage. Kim Philby, one of the legendary British spies for Russia in the 1950s, in his sad Soviet exile, relished receiving the Times of London from the KGB and reading such utterly banal English things as cricket scores. Anyway, Oppenheimer worked in a cesspool of McCarthyite insanity, the very thing which in part motivated the British Cambridge Five and other spies for fear America might launch a nuclear attack on a yet unequal Russia. Indeed, the author neglects communicating the well-developed plans and advocacies in Washington for a massive, pre-emptive strike on Russia.

The fact remains that Sudoplatov, in his memoir, tells us that Oppenheimer did serve as a spy. I know full well that spy memoirs are frequently riddled with disinformation, but Sudoplatov’s claim is a rather large thing which any biographer pretending to comprehensiveness cannot ignore. I say this without believing the claim, but, if the claim were true, it would not outrage me the way I suspect it would Mr. Monk. I have always regarded the acts of the period’s British spies as a healthy antidote to the nuclear-armed insanity of early 1950s America. If extreme measures are regarded as needed to defend freedom, as they so frequently are in America, how much more so to defend masses of humanity from insane attack?

This is a book well worth reading, and it moves along at a good pace, but its shortcomings should be kept in mind and its claims judged against the observations of other biographers.  In a sense, the book is as tragically flawed as its subject, quite interesting but missing some important elements.

Sunday, October 06, 2013


What a pleasure to discover a book of this quality near the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. As someone with an enduring interest in the subject who has read a variety of books, I assure readers that here is one of the best and most informative books written on the subject since Anthony Summers’ original Conspiracy of 1980.

Alex Cox has not done the same kind of original investigation that Anthony Summers did (indeed, it is too late in time even to attempt that again), but his approach is that of extracting and assembling the key findings of other studies and investigations, and it is a valuable approach when done well, as it very much is here. The timeline method of highlighting two parallel lives yields some eyebrow-raising coincidences and discoveries not commonly found with other approaches.  

Perspective, and not mere recitation of facts like data points on a scatter graph, is an important element to understanding historical events, and a powerful perspective is what this book offers, perhaps more so than any other.

Mr. Cox gives us a fact-packed and well-written narrative, and he doesn’t waste a sentence telling his story. You will be riveted by the text. Importantly, here Oswald is not regarded as a villain and Kennedy not over-rated as a saint. Indeed, it is a major flaw in perhaps the majority of books on the subject to assume the opposite of one of these characterizations.

Despite the graceful and polished public image, the Kennedys were often unattractive people who made many enemies as their driving ambitions scraped against or crushed the interests of others, although one believes by the time he was killed, the President had learned some hard and valuable lessons about governing and was on his way to some worthy achievement.

Oswald was, as goes the typical recitation of his background, a poor young man with little formal education and a chaotic upbringing, but he was also a young man with talent and decent motives (and, indeed, a man possessing the rather typical American patriotic views of his time) seeking an interesting and unconventional life of service when he got sucked up into powerful, murderous events he never fully understood.  

The insights offered in this book include not just facts and issues around the assassination but a deadly accurate (I did live through these years) sense of the poisonous and complex political atmosphere in the United States during the late 1950s and early 1960s.   

I highly recommend the book to those trying for the first time to understand the assassination, faced, as they are, with a daunting pile of claims and counter-claims in a large and contentious literature – one unfortunately larded with opportunism, fantasies, propaganda, and authentic disinformation. But all students of the event can learn from this book, as can all students of modern American history, the Cold War, and the true workings of dangerously powerful government.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Readers should note that while Not in Your Lifetime (published in 1998) was advertised as an updated edition of Anthony Summers’ earlier work, Conspiracy (published in 1980), it is almost an entirely different book. The original Conspiracy stands, in this reviewer’s judgment, as the best single investigative book ever written on the Kennedy assassination, and it is the place for anyone new to the assassination to start.

Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Summers, in this “update,” fell too much under the influence of Robert Blakey, Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Mr Blakey became Chief Counsel only after the original appointee, Richard Sprague, had to step down. Sprague’s leaving had to do with his unmistakable intention to conduct a thoroughgoing investigation of the assassination, not depending on the FBI as the Warren Commission had or on other investigative agencies and not constrained in its comprehensiveness. The congressional establishment was having none of that, knowing full well that a lot of bodies lay buried, and Mr. Sprague lost his political leverage through the retirement of his key congressional supporter.

Mr. Blakey became chief proponent of “the Mafia did it,” his past government service having been involved a good deal in fighting crime and racketeering. I read Mr. Blakey’s book and other related ones, and I have never found “the Mafia thesis” convincing. Yes, some important Mafia figures were angry with the Kennedys, but would they put their entire billion-dollar industry at risk? I think not. Anyway, other activities towards the end of killing Kennedy were underway, and some Mafia figures were undoubtedly aware of them. After all, the gigantic secret anti-Cuba terror program conducted by the CIA in the early 1960s made bin Laden’s later little mountaintop operation resemble a boy scout outing. The CIA had thousands of Cuban refugees trained and armed and spent millions on attempts to assassinate Castro, run guns into Cuba, and conduct horrific acts of terror from shootings to bombings.   

As with all of Anthony Summers’ investigative books, Not in Your Lifetime (1998) is well written. And there are some interesting new tidbits added to the story, such as the fact that Oswald, at one point during his publicity stunt over renouncing his citizenship (something he never actually did) at the American Embassy in Moscow, was taken behind some doors not open to the general public. But the immense detail of Mr. Summers’ 1980 book, Conspiracy, is gone, details looking into almost every interesting aspect of the assassination. And the author seems to lean towards the “Mafia did it” thesis.

But, to rephrase Bertrand Russell’s famous question about the Warren Commission’s conclusions, if the Mafia did it, why all the state secrecy? It was then just a sensational ordinary murder, and a good excuse to crush the Mafia, not a political crime discrediting some of the secret agencies of government.

Blakey also thought Oswald was involved, but I have never accepted that. Oswald – with his past connections to security services, being trained in Russian while in the Marines, sent on not-well-understood assignments in Japan, and ultimately carrying out a long fraudulent defection to the Soviet Union – fell, when back in the United States, into a murky situation he did not fully understand. He was likely working as an informant for the FBI, the agency charged by the Kennedys with closing the refugee terror-training camps in the American South following the settlement with Khrushchev of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Oswald’s Russian-defector background made him a perfect patsy for the assassins, and his FBI status made him pursue all avenues to information about training camps and those running them.  After all, the key to the Kennedy assassination is communism in Cuba and the paranoid, blood-soaked drive to end it. Everything points that way, right down to Oswald’s ridiculous leafleting and his supposed trip to Mexico City, his association with anti-Castro fanatics like Guy Banister and David Ferrie, and his creating a phony, one-man chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

The assassination planners wanted to get rid of a president who didn’t support (adequately in their view) the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and who settled the Missile Crisis in part by agreeing not invade Cuba again while at the same time creating a new reason for attacking Cuba. And the people most upset by the situation in Cuba were the various Cuban refugee terrorist groups and their key low-level handlers in the CIA: these all were totally ruthless, hate-filled people with unlimited resources and answerable to virtually no one.

I am hoping that a new edition of this book, coming out in 2013, reflects more the original approach of Conspiracy, but I am not overly hopeful since being disappointed by Mr. Summers' book on 9/11.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Well, the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination is almost here, and loads of new books on this yet not-fully-understood subject are being published.

Always having been interested in the subject, I will be reading some of the new or updated books. This is necessarily a risky task because the Kennedy assassination literature has consisted of about five-percent genuine books, with the rest an ugly swamp of disinformation, quick-buck products, and just plain stupidities.

I know that we can never fully understand the event while so many vital documents remain buried in classified government files, especially those of the CIA and FBI, but clever researchers do sometimes manage to piece together interesting new conclusions in sorting through the mounds of public evidence.

You try the best you can to not trail again into the swamp, but unless you can actually page through a book in a store, sampling its logic and writing quality – and who does that now very often with the convenience of Amazon? - you are bound to land in the muck a few times. Amazon’s reviews provide a helpful device, but experienced readers know they are larded with meaningless praises from relatives, friends, colleagues, or unscrupulous publishers trying to gin up sales. Humans do have a tendency to abuse every good thing. You really must read a number of any set of reviews with a critical eye, but then information has never been free.

I had some reason to think there might be a new approach in this book, and indeed there is, a new approach to abusing readers. Not only is the author embarrassingly uninformed, but the publisher employs a new sales gimmick: this book is incomplete, virtually ending in midstream, and you must buy volume two (and who knows after that, volumes three or four depending on sales volume?) to let the author finish.

Well, I finished with the author before he finished with me. What can you say about a writer/researcher who doesn’t know so basic a fact as that Oswald never renounced his American citizenship in Russia? The fact is that In front of State Department official (and ex-CIA employee), Richard Snyder, Oswald made a big show for possible witnesses about renouncing at the Embassy, even handing over a legally-meaningless, scribbled note. Snyder explained that the only method of renouncing citizenship involved a standard form to be sworn and witnessed. Oswald never pretended to do so. Further, Anthony Summers, in his second book on the assassination, tells us that Oswald at one point during this whole little stage play for any KGB watchers was admitted to a restricted area behind closed doors.

Yet Mr. Albarelli asserts twice that Oswald renounced his citizenship, contradicting the testimony of everyone involved including Richard Snyder, and contradicting plain logic, too, because had Oswald actually signed the papers and taken the oath he would certainly not have been entitled to return to the United States. Swearing off your citizenship is not a game, it comes with real consequences.

Albarelli pooh-poohs the idea of some highly-informed researchers that Oswald himself never did travel to Mexico City – an idea supported at least in part by the CIA’s never supplying a photo of Oswald (the Cuban Embassy there being under constant photo-surveillance) and claiming telephone-recording tapes of calls Oswald supposedly made were routinely destroyed. No, Albarelli claims Oswald went to Mexico City three times, a bizarre claim I have never come across before.

Albarelli is immersed in notions about the use of drugs and hypnotism to interrogate people and to possibly set them up for carrying out ordered acts. While it is true that the CIA did a huge number of illegal and unethical studies on uninformed people and even hospital patients - killing some of them - it is difficult to see what application this has to the Kennedy assassination. A drugged and/or hypnotized Oswald would have been no more suitable a candidate for assassin than a not-drugged, not-hypnotized one. The man was certifiably a poor shot, and the rifle he supposedly used is a ridiculous piece of garbage.

 We can surmise that many pro-Warren Report books on the assassination - Gerald Posner, Priscilla Johnson, or Edward Epstein in the last book of his trilogy come to mind - were generated (either wittingly or unwittingly on the part of authors) through CIA contacts and assets. After all, many who do work for CIA assets and cut-outs never even understand the truth behind their paychecks. But I suspect many of the more outlandish anti-Warren Report books also owe their genesis to CIA assets, it being an effective method of discrediting critics to publish silly or lurid stuff that supposedly represents their views – the precise method used to discredit Jim Garrison’s investigation.  

Avoid this book and its sequel or sequels because you will learn nothing worth knowing from it/them.

Readers interested in this reviewer’s perspective on the assassination will find it set out in the essay, “Forty Years of Lies,” found at Chuckman’s Words on Wordpress and other places.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Why do you think this book was so widely and highly praised in the mainline press? The list of praising quotes reminds me of the spontaneous outpourings we read and heard later for Gerald Posner’s inaccurate and manipulative book on the Kennedy assassination, Case Closed.

Under the pretense of telling an off-beat romantic story, this book serves as a hatchet job on Oswald, the intent being to confirm Oswald’s character as in keeping with the Warren Report’s one-sided prosecution brief. After all, many who knew Oswald and accounts from people in Russia tell us he was not a man who could have shot anyone, much less a political figure he admired. Ms. McMillan’s brief for this book, and it does seem to have been a brief, was to counteract such first-hand observations of Oswald’s character.

Priscilla Johnson McMillan’s book is one of the most dishonest I have ever read. She employs every tidbit of selected material to manipulate her subject, Marina herself having sadly supplied much of it over time. Any conscientious biographer would be ashamed to do what is done here, even for a disliked subject

Ms. McMillan never knew Oswald: she briefly met and interviewed him in Moscow, 1959, after a mysterious tip as to his location, activity with a close-to-zero probability of being coincidental, activity never satisfactorily explained and fully in keeping with a traditional practice of intelligence services to use go-betweens to check up on the progress of their sensitively-placed employees.

Ms. McMillan had worked as a translator at the American Embassy and became a “journalist,” working for a news agency no one ever heard of, and almost certainly worked directly or indirectly for the CIA: after all, many if not most CIA contractors never even know for whom they are working. The profession of journalists abroad in the 1950s and 1960s was so thoroughly compromised by the CIA – Reuters, Life Magazine, The New York Times, and others crawled with disguised agents and contract employees – that security services like the KGB regarded it as the norm to assume suspicious connections.

As to her knowledge of Marina, well that comes long after Marina found herself in an impossible situation and had been brow-beaten into submission by American authorities. After the assassination, Marina found herself alone with a child in a strange land, a Russian speaker in a United States consumed with anti-Communist hysteria, her husband, falsely portrayed as a Marxist and traitor, having been summarily accused of killing the President and then murdered. She was quickly taken in hand by the Secret Service and the FBI after the assassination and whisked away for a long period with no public access, supposedly for her own protection, but in fact to make her understand, one-on-one, the hopelessness of her situation and the one avenue open to her to be able to remain and earn a living in the United States: to confirm whatever nonsense the FBI came up with to blacken her husband’s reputation.

And she did as she was told. Anyone who has seen old video of Marina speaking, or who has read her testimony, gets the impression of a flighty-brained or impossibly-distracted person, or indeed of a mentally unbalanced one. The effect of her words on any topic about her husband is immediate for any unbiased reader or watcher. One almost suspects her treatment by some of the drugs we now know the CIA then was spending millions on to develop and prove both as interrogation drugs and as a means to induce psychological control of unwitting people. The CIA went so far at the time as to conduct many illegal experiments on various uninformed patients and populations, ending in the uncounted deaths of quite a few.   

Questions rarely asked and never answered about Marina herself include why she even was admitted to the United States at the height of the Red Scare, why the FBI wouldn’t have kept constant tabs on her as a likely Russian agent, and why she was permitted to remain in the country after such cataclysmic events?

Well, you will learn nothing about those matters nor about anything else of substance from this poor book.

There is only one valid reason for ever reading this book, and that is to understand the bizarre lengths to which American security services have gone to create a legend around Oswald. Why is that? Why should that be necessary? After all, if he was what the Warren Commission and Hoover’s FBI – who incidentally did all of the actual investigating for the Commission - portrayed him to be, he was just one more disgruntled malcontent who committed a murder.

But all clear-thinking people know that isn’t so.

Monday, July 29, 2013


The theme of the book, as the title implies, is about truth and lies – a retelling of that ancient observation that what people hold as truth is often a lie and what they regard as a lie is just as likely to be the truth. In the parlance of war, war being part of the book’s subject matter, history is what the victor says it is.

This is a subject of never-ending fascination, and, in a world where the President of the United States speaks of rights and freedoms while sending fleets of high-tech death squads to kill thousands of innocents on the other side of the planet, it certainly has fresh relevance.

While there are a great many lies told and truths lost along the way in this book, I think the author largely fails in making her case. Indeed, I think the book says things she likely never intended.

To my mind, an important theme of the book is the truly suffocating nature of life on a small island where little happens and there is almost no opportunity.

Boredom in the characters’ lives and their need to feel part of a relatively small gang of peers and neighbors, no matter how obnoxious their behavior or dull their character, this reader found genuinely oppressive.

I also feel certain the author did not intend to write a novel about mental illness and the terrible damage that severe cases inflict on friends and family, but that is what I believe she has done. Is the evident mental illness of several characters here unintended? I think so. For the author and a number of reviewers seem to think there is humor and humanity in lunatic thoughts and vicious acts.

Does mental illness’s importance in this story (again for me) reflect the effects of inbreeding over the centuries in so small a place as Guernsey, further enhancing the suffocating social effects of island life? I think so.

In her effort to explore truth and lies, Ms Horlock mixes fiction with fact and has two stories running in alternate chapters, one is the main, later fictional story and the other a part-fictional blend of earlier events. One at first thinks of an admirable effort like the great German film, People on Sunday, an original mixture of documentary and a fictional story from 1930.

But to my mind Ms Horlock does not succeed in blending fact and history, and again, as with other parts of the book, there is confusion. She makes a surprising number of errors in her history, as in often calling German troops Nazis, when in fact the average German conscript was no more a Nazi than the average Russian conscript was a Stalinist or the average Italian a Fascist.

Again, the author badly confuses concentration camps with death camps (note: camps are not a significant part of either of the author’s two stories). Despite the term concentration camp having come down to us in Hollywood movies as the places in which mass murder was organized, the truth is that there were broadly two distinct and different sets of institutions.

Concentration camps - of which there were many and in which the nature of the populations and the severity of their treatment by the state varied just as with modern prisons ranging from minimum to maximum security – were mainly places to isolate and punish dissidents and political undesirables or to hold people until some further disposition were decided, which could, of course include death for political crimes.

Along with some other allied nations, the United States too had concentration camps during the war. They were for resident Japanese, some Italians, serious dissidents, and others, but it called them internment camps. The many people interned lost their freedom for years, lived meagre lives under harsh conditions, and had their property, homes and businesses and bank accounts, stolen and never returned even after the war. But mainly they were not killed, and just so for the most part in Germany.

The death camps – most infamously Auschwitz – were disguised as concentration or work camps but were places for organized, industrial-scale murder in Eastern Europe under covering chaos of the invasion of Russia. The death camps were not run by police or by the German Army, whose leaders mostly wanted nothing to do with Hitler’s brutal excesses in breaking military traditions and international codes.

They were run by a special (lowlife) branch of the SS, itself a political army which served as Hitler’s Praetorian Guard whose officers were selected and indoctrinated to provide an elite corps of Aryan future-society types.  

The author also speaks of the underground field hospital the Germans built on Guernsey and leaves the suggestion that German field hospitals away from the fronts were for the hideous Nazi experiments with prisoners. That is simply not true.

The problem with this book is that confusion so often prevails, and not just in historical facts, but in the main story, especially in the main characters. Cathy, the protagonist, is supposed to be very funny - an older, more earthy and sophisticated version of Martha Grimes’ Emma Graham. But Cathy is in fact a pretty nasty piece of work, someone with little affection for members of her family, someone given to ugly impulsive behavior, and someone who tells lies extreme enough to destroy the lives of others. She does not represent a “typical” adolescent in my experience.

Cathy is often not funny despite author’s effort to have it so. Cathy’s light and elliptical adolescent descriptions strike me as not consistent with her acts, which vary from just dumb to genuinely vicious.

Nicolette, alternately Cathy’s close friend and poisonous enemy, is one of those adolescent beauties intensely and neurotically aware of her attractiveness to others – always flipping her hair and spending considerable time at mirrors and acting as though a moment’s attention from her were a rare gift bestowed. The key to her nature is that she endlessly uses her attractiveness to play the tyrant over the lives of virtually everyone with whom she comes into contact.

Unless you like tales of “those good old boys drinking whiskey and rye,” neither of these characters is attractive or particularly interesting. Indeed Nic, for so Nicolette is called, is so lacking in human values it seems unreal that many people in the story continue to crave her attention and the glow of her presence. Nicolette is an extreme narcissist with no loyalties to anyone or anything beyond her own perverse amusement and poisonous humor. She is pretty close to what we today call a sociopath.

While we have all met characters like Nic in life, and may well have been taken in for a while by false charm and glamor, the people in this book are all taken in all the time. She is a walking center of attention for Cathy and other girlfriends, a dark star in whose orbit they rotate, and it strains credibility that someone this vicious and inconstant could long sustain the interest and loyalty of others, at least of those with intelligence, as Cathy is supposed to have.

The book is well written, and it has its moments, but there are not nearly enough of them. In the end we left feeling the sort of fetid horror of being at the mercy of someone like Nic, or Cathy for that matter, in a small isolated place. And we are left with a long trail of bad decisions and stupid acts trying to pass for amusement.

And it does seem very much to me that the author’s late explanation for Nic’s treatment of Cathy is contrived and unconvincing. The same circumstance, which I won’t reveal, is used to almost justify Cathy’s criminal treatment of an excellent teacher, revealing not so much a web of lies as a set of very warped values.

“Cathy’s teenage voice is a joy – funny, endearing and credible….Horlock has created an authentic adolescent voice and…illuminated the history of a small island….”  The Independent

“Irresistibly funny and poignant….”  Financial Times

This reviewer cannot agree with either of those statements, and they only demonstrate the fatuous and even incestuous nature of so much of the book review industry.