Monday, December 31, 2012

Turning Towards Mecca at the County Jail

by G. Jack Urso

on fridays i see my students

turn towards mecca in prayer

i look with them into the air

and see

the blue sky over them

is the same one over me

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Star Trek Log One

by G. Jack Urso

Star Trek Log One (1974), by Alan Dean Foster, adapts the scripts from the first three episodes of the animated version of Star Trek, which ran from 1973 to 1974. The animated series continues the five-year voyage of the first televised series (Star Trek: The Original Series, 1966-1969). Expanding on the details provided in the episodes, Foster turns in three short stories with a unifying narrative, creating a sense that the stories are occurring within one extended voyage.

14th Printing: May 1977.
Author's collection.
Star Trek: The Animated Series, being a 30-minute cartoon show geared towards children, presented limitations on the literary scope of the scripts. Further, Foster’s then-audience for the Star Trek Log series was young teens whose minds are just beginning to grasp abstract scientific and philosophical concepts. Therefore, we must examine the book within those parameters, and not as adult-oriented science fiction.

The three stories of Star Trek Log One include:

Beyond the Farthest Star: The Enterprise investigates an ancient space ship locked in orbit around a dead star and finds a deadly alien presence millions of years old.

Yesteryear:  Spock travels back in time in order to save his future in this coming-of-age story.

One of Our Planets is Missing: A giant sentient cloud is moving through the galaxy consuming planets. Can the Enterprise find a way to communicate with a life form that doesn’t recognize the crew’s existence?

Beyond the Farthest Star

“Veil of stars.

Veil of crystal.” (Foster 3)

Foster expands upon the two-dimensional portrayals in the animated series to give further depth to the characters and plot. “Beyond the Farthest Star,” based on the script by Samuel A. Peeples (who also wrote the second pilot for Star Trek: The Original Series, "Where No Man Has Gone Before”) starts off with an internal monologue by Captain Kirk off-duty, contemplating the vastness of the universe while en route to the Time Planet, the mysterious world first introduced in the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969). Before the Enterprise can reach the Time Planet, it travels through an unexplored area of space where it gets trapped by the gravity well of a dead star whose mass has imploded on itself  much like a fly caught in a spider’s web.

Establishing a tenuous orbit around the dead star, the Enterprise finds a derelict alien space ship hundreds of millions of years old, where it encounters a disembodied alien presence driven mad by eons of isolation.

Each story also introduces a scientific element as well as another Star Trek staple, an exercise in values clarification, where we analyze ethical decisions in hypothetical situations.

“Beyond the Farthest Star” introduces the reader to the idea of imploded stellar material and the intense gravity generated by so-called “dead stars.” The story doesn't go so far as to call it a black hole, since in 1973, the air date of the original animated episode, black holes were a relatively new concept. The term itself was first used in an obscure publication, Science News Letter (18 January 1964), in a report about a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); however, it was arguably more widely introduced into the modern lexicon in 1967 by physicist John Archibald Wheeler, according to Michael Quinion, a British etymologist.

Therefore, in 1973, using the idea of a “negative star-mass” generating a gravity well as a plot device was a very new idea. In this way, Star Trek demonstrates its ability to serve as a venue for new scientific concepts. Moreover, the writers show faith that their young audience will not be intimidated by such new ideas, but would instead embrace them, even as some elements of the scientific community still struggled to accept these theories.

In the end, Kirk tricks the alien into trapping itself in the dead star’s gravity well while the Enterprise uses it to slingshot itself out of orbit. The immortal alien, tormented into madness by hundreds of millions of years of isolation, faces an eternity alone. Though it almost cost them their lives, the crew of the Enterprise is left feeling only pity for the malevolent creature . . . and so is the reader.

The following clip from the episode highlights the crew's struggle to rid themselves of the ancient alien threat as well as the entity’s loneliness after eons trapped in orbit around a dead star:


[Young Spock] “Is there nothing you can do?”

[Vulcan Healer] “To save him, nothing. But I can prolong his life-though he will always be in pain. Or . . . I can release him from life. In this I will need your decision. He is your pet.” (Foster 131)

“Yesteryear” is the longest section of Star Trek: Log One. Building on an excellent original story by veteran Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana, here we see Spock’s youth as a half-Vulcan, half-human child explored in detail. Story elements first introduced in The Original Series’ episodes, “Journey to Babel” and “The City on the Edge of Forever,” are expanded on in this treatment. Ideas introduced in “Yesteryear,” such as Spock being bullied as a child, continue to be included in the character’s backstory as evident in the most recent movie Star Trek (2009).

Spock was a tremendously popular character among young science fiction fans of both sexes in the early 1970s. Intelligent, strong, and disciplined, Spock served a model for a new generation of scientist-explorers who also embraced a more liberal philosophy (as embodied in the Vulcan IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). Even more so than Captain Kirk, Spock is the single most recognizable iconic image from the series, apart from the Enterprise itself.

In “Yesteryear,” Kirk and Spock take a journey to the past back in time via the so-called “Guardian of Forever” on the Time Planet. What was thought to be a mission of passive observation turns out to have had serious consequences for the present timeline.

Having gone back in time to  the point when Spock was still a young boy, a paradox is created. Two Spocks can’t exist at the same time, so one Spock must cease to exist. Since the adult Spock is under the protection of the Guardian of Forever, the child Spock dies during a Vulcan rite of passage and the paradox is resolved.

Being a story for young people, there are some holes in the theoretical rational for the time paradox. For example, if the paradox is created because two Spock’s can’t exist at the same time, how is it that he can go back in time to save himself? Fortunately, Foster layers the story with such rich detail regarding Spock’s childhood and Vulcan culture that this inconsistency is easily overlooked.

The time paradox also results in other unforeseen events, such as Spock’s parent’s divorce (a novel topic for young people’s literature in the early 1970s) and his mother’s accidental death. To stop these events from occurring, Spock must go back in time and set things right. I’m sure many children have wished that restoring their families was as easy as breaking the laws of physics.

The crux of the story revolves around young Spock’s decision to prove his Vulcan heritage by surviving a harsh Vulcan desert endurance test of manhood, the Kahs-wan. He is joined in his journey by his childhood pet sehlat, a large bear-like creature first mentioned in “Journey to Babel.”

The presence of the elder Spock, disguised as a distant family relative, alters the timeline further by causing his younger self to leave on the Kahs-wan sooner than expected. This further disruption of the timeline actually ends up restoring the younger Spock’s life, although at the cost of the life of his beloved pet sehlat, who saves his young master from a predatory Vulcan mountain lion-like creature called a le-matya.

The sehlat, who survived in the initial timeline, must die in order for the time paradox to be resolved and the elder Spock restored to his own timeline.

A bit confusing, but the young reader is presented with a classic Star Trek quandary: The elder Spock must allow his childhood pet die in order for his own existence, and the events that changed as a result, to be restored.

The younger Spock faces a heart-wrenching decision. With his pet sehlat suffering in pain from the poisonous claws of the le-matya, he must decide whether to have a Vulcan healer extend the animal's life, which will only prolong the pain, or have his beloved animal companion mercifully put down.

Young Spock decides to put his pet sehlat out of his misery. Making the logical decision also gives him the confidence needed to take the step into adulthood. The larger implication of this decision for the young reader is that if putting a beloved pet to sleep is an act of mercy, does that same principle also apply to a beloved family member?

The animated episode spends precious little time on these scenes; however, Foster develops these underlining concepts in more detail through a focal point common to his young teen readers, the pains of growing up and proving yourself to your family and peers.
The following clip from the episode captures the young Spock's adolescent angst:
One of Our Planets is Missing

[Spock]  “Someday Captain, when we are able to protect ourselves a little better, we may be fortunate enough to meet it again, or others like it.”
“And when that day comes,” Kirk agreed softly, caught up in Spock’s own sense of wonder and his own emotional release “when that day comes, Mr. Spock, the ant will stand on its hind legs and converse with the man.” (Foster 184)

After the more sublime human drama of “Yesteryear” we are plunged into sci-fi high adventure with “One of Our Planets is Missing,” which Foster adapted from a script by Marc Daniels, who directed over a dozen episodes of The Original Series. In this episode, a giant sentient cloud that consumes planets is heading towards the Federation colony of Mantilles with a population of 82 million. Kirk must decide whether to inform the planet they only have about three and a half hours to live, even though they couldn't possibly be evacuated in time.

The “sentient cloud” doesn’t recognize creatures as small as humans as life and is unaware of our existence.  The only way to stop the cloud is for Captain Kirk to destroy the Enterprise inside the creature’s brain, saving Mantilles, but at the cost of his ship and crew.

While there is little doubt about what they must do, Spock raises the morality of killing a living creature, particularly one about to be executed for a crime that it is unaware of having committed. On this scale, could the cloud be any guiltier of murder than humans are when they step on ants?

“One of Our Planets is Missing” draws on elements of The Original Series episodes “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Immunity Syndrome.” From “The Doomsday Machine” is drawn the idea of a giant planet-consuming entity; “The Immunity Syndrome” contributes the concept of an interstellar life form, and in both episodes the machine and interstellar life form can only be killed from the inside.

Unlike “The Doomsday Machine” and the interstellar amoeba in “The Immunity Syndrome,” the sentient cloud in “One of Our Planets is Missing” is intelligent and can be reasoned with, so one trusty Vulcan mind-meld later and Mantilles is saved.
What Foster captures from the original script is the cloud-creature’s sense of loneliness, its uniqueness, and its isolation; all concepts very familiar to his teenage audience.
The following clip from the episode shows Spock exchange consciousness with the cloud creature via the Vulcan mind meld:


Foster establishes a sense of unity throughout the three stories by highlighting related emotional elements. A sense of isolation and loneliness is felt not only by the alien creatures in “Beyond the Farthest Star” and “One of Our Planets is Missing,” but also by the young Spock in “Yesteryear.” This recurrent theme creates an emotional strand young readers can latch onto as they navigate the sci-fi technobabble.

In determining a book’s success, one should attempt to view it through the eyes of its intended audience, in this case that means young teens in the 1970s. Being a member of that demographic, I feel uniquely qualified to bring that point of view into this discussion. Star Trek Log One was a Christmas gift from my father in 1977, a small gesture by my dear old dad trying to connect with me through my interests. As I was entering adolescence at the ripe old age of 13, I could relate to many of the themes in the book, particularly the coming-of-age story in “Yesteryear.”

I still have that cheap paperback of Star Trek Log One I received as a stocking stuffer some 36 years ago and rereading it brought back many memories. If a book, any book, can take us as far away as our youth, then the text even one as ephemeral as adaptations of Saturday morning cartoon scripts becomes something a bit more than just words on a page. 

Work Cited
Foster, Alan Dean. Star Trek Log One. New York: Del Rey, 1974. Print.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

My First Poem: Winter 1978

by G. Jack Urso

As I sit recovering from our first real snowstorm in nearly two years, my thoughts are drawn to the winter of 1978. I was a 13 year old seventh grader at St. Teresa of Avila Middle School, in Albany, NY. My English class was given the assignment of writing a poem in honor of the season.  I recall looking outside at the snow falling on the ground and remembering the excitement felt only when we are young and the prospect of spending long periods of time in the cold and snow is something you actually want to do.

Upstate New York experienced some brutal winters the late 70s, so there were no shortage of snow days off from school. My friends and I would gather at my house, build snow forts, snowmen, have snowball fights, and drink hot chocolate in our family’s wood-paneled, 1970s kitchen, decorated in burnt orange, avocado green, and harvest gold. I recall having this image in mind when I wrote the poem.

I had quite forgotten about it until recently when I found it among my school memorabilia, published in a copy of the St. Teresa’s Tribune (Vol. I, issue #4; June 1979). I was initially appointed as the “photographic editor,” primarily because I owned a German Agfa camera (a gift from my fascist Italian grandfather). This proved  to be a rather meaningless title since photographs can’t be printed off a mimeograph machine.

Here is my awkward first effort, not bad for a young teen suffering through puberty at a Catholic middle school:


The snow falls gently on the ground

As I stand upon my self-made mound

Not a thing moves, shivers or quakes

For tonight we are in the snow’s wake

Harder and harder as it falls

Fun we’ll have in the shape of a ball

Nine, ten, eleven inches deep,

Harder and harder it gets to reap

Inside I sit all snug and warm

Until my friends come in a swarm

So here we sit all together

Drinking hot chocolate and hoping for warm weather

I’m sure my critics will say I have not much improved. One can view a scan of the original publication below.

Of note, in the publication is an interview with Father Gary Mercure, a priest then assigned to St. Teresa’s who later was convicted of raping two alter boys (click on link for more information). Mercure was not convicted of anything related to St. Teresa’s, though I do recall he went on an extended leave or a sabbatical shortly after this interview, purportedly due to a “nervous breakdown.” I stopped serving as an altar boy at some point in 1978, so I had little contact with him beyond my annoying questions in catechism class. This is at least one way my early skepticism at the validity of a hierarchal approach to spiritualty served me well.   

Below are scans of the St. Teresa’s Tribune (Vol. I, issue #4; June 1979) in glorious mimeograph, and of no particular interest to anyone but alumni of the school, which was razed in 2012 to make room for a Mormon Temple

                    Page 1                                 Page 2                                Page 3

                   Page 4                               Page 5                                 Page 6

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Somnus . . . Somnium*

by G. Jack Urso

tears of sweat on my brow alight

often when i wake at night

like the rain from a grey sky

pours into pools of lingering sighs

my dreams are streams

that flow and ebb

from depths into seams

at the edge of my bed

i dread the night i caress alone

while my mind takes flight to parts unknown

i’ll feel your hand across my back

then fall asleep to dream of that

* Sleep . . . Dream

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Winter Dawn Haiku

by G. Jack Urso

clear winter water

runs under a frozen skin

breaking underfoot

great bright lights shimmer

exposing dark things hidden

like dreams or shadows

webs of influence

strong enough to bind me up

clear — to let me see 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012


by G. Jack Urso


late winter rain

boiling away

early spring heat


forces seeking equilibrium

dissipating in embrace

 Saturday morning meditation, March 1991. Copyright 1995. 

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Medieval Death Poem

by G. Jack Urso

when death comes, he will not wait
“Denise Poncher Before a Vision of Death,” circa 1500

he will not stand nor hesitate

he’s often early, rarely late

and invites us all to meet our fate


death, my friend, you have no name

but i know you well just the same

you come from where from whence we came

to take the fallen and the slain


my thoughts are on fire and my life burns

like a cold, hard wind on a bitter sojourn

descends from the heavens and howls to return

embracing the land in a long winter nocturne


and when the four horses come

i swear, by God, he will be riding one

upon a pale horse with blood-red wings

slaying paupers and princes who pray to old kings

death, my friend, i know you well

you live in-between heaven and hell

from the dawn of the day to the toll of the bell

you dance in the shadows wherein we all dwell 

“Danse Macabre,” by Michael Wolgemut, 1493

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald

by G. Jack Urso

“Nobody’s going to shoot at me.” The last words of Lee Harvey Oswald.

I was born in November 1964, a year after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Indeed, my middle name  "Jack" is partially in tribute to the then not-so-recently deceased late president. Kennedy's death hung over the children of my generation like a specter.

Like many, I too was convinced that JFK’s death was the result of CIA machinations, or a jealous J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI, or the Mafia. Perhaps the deed was done at the hands of pro-Castro Cubans upset over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, or maybe it was anti-Castro Cubans upset over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, or it was Castro himself, striking back after failed CIA assassination attempts. Maybe it was the Soviets, angry at being bested by JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Like most, I knew few specifics, but since so many believed there was a conspiracy I assumed where there was smoke there must also be fire.

Spurred on by what I was convinced was the weight of evidence that favored a conspiracy, including the 1979 United States House Select Committee on Assassinations which concluded that there likely was a second shooter on the infamous grassy knoll and that President was likely assassinated as the result of a conspiracy, I decided to investigate the matter for myself. In the early 1990s, I began reading every book or magazine article I could find on the topic. Using my access to the library at the college I worked, I used interlibrary loan to get books I otherwise would never have been able to read. I taped and watched a mind-boggling number of “documentaries” which purported evidence of conspiracies. I read the Warren Report, various autopsy reports, ballistic studies, and investigative reports from all sides of the debate.

I admit freely, in retrospect, that I was looking for evidence of a conspiracy. I was convinced that President John F. Kennedy was so powerful a threat to the military-industrial complex, or the intelligence community, or the Mafia, or disgruntled Cubans, arch-conservatives, or Communists that one of these groups carried out and got away with the crime of the century.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that while some groups had motive to kill President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald got there first and acted wholly of his own accord. It is a conclusion I came to only after years of research and deliberate contemplation.

Lee Harvey Oswald

After my first year of research, I noticed that the one common element to every theory was Lee Harvey Oswald. Sometimes Oswald is the hub of a theory an agent working for the government, or the Soviets, or on behalf of the Mafia, etc. 
Sometimes Oswald is a peripheral element, a dupe, a patsy, the fall guy. I could spend an eternity exploring the minutiae of every theory, and did for years, or I could focus my energies on Lee Harvey Oswald.

To that end, I created a timeline of Oswald’s life. Only facts gathered from the most verifiable and objective sources were considered for inclusion, which helped me to determine which theories were possible within the context of the timeline.

Oswald’s upbringing, in his own words and as verified by his brother Robert, was largely marked by neglect. Their father, Robert Oswald Sr., died about two months before Lee Harvey was born on October 18, 1939, leaving his upbringing in the hands of his mother, Marguerite. Without a husband, Marguerite felt her children were a burden and placed them in an orphanage (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”). Marguerite was intensely self-centered and emotionally distant from her children and as a result Lee Harvey Oswald grew up without making any significant connection to a nurturing influence.

In 1952, Marguerite and Lee moved to New York City and into her step-son John Pic’s apartment, who was newly married with a young son.  Like the mother-in-law from hell, Marguerite planted herself in Pics’s home and showed no desire to find a place of her own. Oswald hated the move and showed his displeasure by getting into loud arguments with his mother and hitting her. In one incident, Oswald pulled a knife on Pic’s wife and punched his mother in the face when she tried to interfere. Oswald’s behavior carried over into the classroom, when he showed up, where he got into fights, had temper tantrums, did no homework, and refused to salute the flag (Posner 10, 13). Already, the spirit of the young Marxist was becoming evident.

While it is tempting to suggest that the 11 year old Oswald was acting out in response to being uprooted from his native south, there is sufficient eyewitness testimony to establish that Oswald’s dysfunctional, and violent, behavior had already manifested itself in Texas prior to moving to New York. Neighbors in Fort Worth observed Marguerite was “overbearing,” but at the same time did not discipline Oswald, whose behaviors at this time included throwing stones at other children, public displays of temper, and threatening older brother John Pic with a butcher knife on one occasion, and throwing a knife at him another time (Posner 9, 10).

In 1953, Lee Harvey Oswald was remanded to a youth detention center for his persistent truancy and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Evelyn Siegel (née Strickman), a social worker assigned to Oswald, noted Marguerite “never gave a damn” about the young Lee Harvey Oswald a sentiment echoed by his probation officer who thought Oswald’s mother contributed to her son’s socially maladjusted behavior (Posner 12, 14).

Siegel remembered Oswald in an interview for the PBS documentary series Frontline:

He was just emotionally frozen. He was a kid who never developed a trusting relationship with anybody. From what I garnered, he really interacted with no one. He made his own meals. His mother left at seven and came home around seven and he shifted for himself. You got the feeling of a kid no one gave a darn about. He was just floating along in the world with no emotional resources at all (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”).

As Gerald Posner notes in his book Case Closed, Oswald joined the U.S. Marines very likely for the same reasons his older brother Robert and step-brother John Pic. Pic reported Oswald joined up “. . . to get from out and under . . . [t]he yoke of oppression from my mother.” Robert concurs, stating Oswald “. . . had seen us escape from mother that way. To him, military service meant freedom” (Posner 19).

Comrade Oswald

Oswald’s early interest in politics is well documented. I Led Three Lives, a jingoistic mid-fifties television show about an FBI agent who infiltrated the Communist Party, intrigued Oswald, noted his brother Robert for Frontline:

. . . he became really engrossed in that particular television show. I think he just liked the atmosphere that you could do anything that you wanted to do, that you could imagine you could do. (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”)

By the time he was in high school, Oswald was vocalizing his Communist beliefs to classmates, who later testified to early discussions with the budding young Marxist. At 16, Oswald wrote the Socialist Party of America and asked about joining a local branch of their youth league (Posner 16-18). Any theory that Oswald was not a Communist has difficulty challenging the well-documented evidence of Oswald’s early political leanings.

With no fellow Socialists to mingle with, Oswald diverted himself by joining the Civil Air Patrol, the youth auxiliary of the Air Force. Though his time with the Civil Air Patrol was brief, it does lead us to one intriguing bit of evidence, a photograph (see fig. 2, below) which connects conspiracy theory favorite David Ferrie with Oswald.

David Ferrie’s role in the conspiracy theories stems from his work as a private investigator for a lawyer representing New Orleans Mafia head Carlos Marcello. Additionally, Ferrie was an associate of Guy Bannister, a retired FBI agent who also worked as a private investigator and is reported to have organized anti-Communist activities from his office in New Orleans.

The anti-communist activities of Guy Bannister and David Ferrie were not isolated.  Training camps for anti-Castro Cuban forces were shut down that summer of 1963. Ferrie’s alleged activities flying for anti-Castro Cubans was not an entirely uncommon activity. A deceased relative of my family flew with arm shipments to anti-Castro forces to Cuba in the early 1960s and still spoke bitterly about the U.S. “abandoning” anti-Castro forces decades later (Sartorio).

The photograph below (fig. 2) shows a teenaged Lee Harvey Oswald in a group picture with David Ferrie at a 1955 Civil Air Patrol cookout (“Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald”). Ferrie actually had been officially suspended from the Civil Air Patrol at the time, purportedly for giving “unauthorized political lectures to the cadets” (Posner 142). One can only surmise the reaction of the budding young Socialist Lee Harvey Oswald, who refused to salute the flag even at this young age, to the political rantings of the anti-Communist David Ferrie.
Fig. 2: David Ferrie (circled on left) and a young Lee Harvey Oswald (circled on right)
at a Civil Air Patrol cookout in 1955. Proof of a conspiracy or that young men eat lunch?
While intriguing, the photograph itself does not further any conspiracy theory. Oswald’s Marxist beliefs were set during his formative teen years and there is no evidence to suggest that he abandoned his political beliefs, even after his failed attempt to enter Cuba via Mexico City in October 1963.

I do, however, believe Oswald may have attempted to use his previous acquaintance with David Ferrie during the summer of 1963 in an attempt to infiltrate anti-Castro Cuban organizations and build up his credentials as a Communist activist prior to his planned attempt to defect to Cuba later that fall. This is an old theory, but one that seems to fit the facts.

It is well-known that Oswald attempted to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in New Orleans in August 1963, when he approached lawyer Carlos Bringuier, a delegate to the anti-Castro Cuban Student Directorate. Bringuier, at first, thought Oswald was an FBI informant, so he was suitably surprised four days after his initial meeting with Oswald to find him on a street corner handing out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets (Posner 151-152).

On those leaflets, the address for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee’s was stamped 544 Camp Street. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee New Orlean’s chapter was comprised of exactly one person, Oswald himself, and there is no evidence that he ever rented an office at the Camp Street address. Guy Bannister, however, did have an office at that address and David Ferrie was reported to have visited there numerous times that summer of 1963 (Posner 137-138). Interestingly, 544 Camp Street is approximately one block away from the Reilly Coffee Company, where Oswald worked the summer of 1963.

Are such coincidences possible? In my essay, Arthur John Shawcross: The Monster on Alexander Street, I noted how I discovered years after the fact that my odd ball next-door neighbor in Rochester, NY, in 1988 was a serial killer. I later found out that in 1987 Shawcross, following a long stretch in prison, spent a brief period of time in Delhi, NY, at the same time I was visiting my mother in the small New York hill town. Coincidence? Yes, absolutely.

Oswald and Ferrie were essentially two sides of the same coin. Each had political agendas regarding Communism that were driven by deep-seated personal issues. Both lived in New Orleans and worked within one block of each other. The possibility that their lives intersected is not so much a coincidence as much as it was a statistical probability.

Since both Oswald and Ferrie were known to have worked in the same area of New Orleans, my wholly unsubstantiated opinion is that there is a probability that Oswald may have run into Ferrie. Could Oswald have attempted to approach Ferrie, as he did Carlos Bringuier, with an eye towards infiltrating the anti-Communist/anti-Castro groups with whom Ferrie was involved? Ferrie, being a rabid anti-Communist, would very likely have remembered the one boy from his Civil Air Patrol chapter who defected to the Soviet Union. One can only imagine what transpired when these two borderline personalities met, if they ever did. Ferrie, however, denied ever knowing Oswald and the trail went cold when Ferrie died in 1967.

Listing 544 Camp Street on the Fair Play for Cuba leaflets was more likely than not Oswald thumbing his nose at the anti-Castro movement, who he clearly saw as his nemesis that summer of '63.
Video Clip 1: WDSU-TV Interview with Lee Harvey Oswald. 
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Back in the U.S.S.R.

Oswald’s study of the Russian language in the Marines, long cited as evidence of a conspiracy, did not raise any suspicions at the time since others, including one of his commanding officers, studied the language as well (Posner 31). Oswald’s Russian language skills, however, were rated poor when tested by the Marines. Oswald did cultivate an interest in Castro while in the Marines and likely made contact with Japanese Communists while stationed there, from whom he may have gotten the idea to defect (Posner 24-25).

The Soviets, however, did not need Oswald. He was a low-level radar operator and any codes he knew were changed once it was known he had traveled to the Soviet Union (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”). Indeed, Oswald had been busted to private prior to leaving the marines and his last job was not as a radar operator, but rather doing janitorial work (Posner 32). Higher ranking members of the U.S. military and various intelligence agencies had defected to the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s, with far more valuable secrets that the few paltry outdated codes Oswald could offer.

Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959 and remained through June 1962. The Soviet government did not trust Oswald and after his initial request to stay had been rejected, Oswald attempted a “suicide” in a thinly veiled attempt to draw on their sympathy. Oswald slashed his wrist, but the wound was not particularly deep, and it was planned just minutes before his Soviet “tour guide” was due to arrive.

The doctor on duty who examined Oswald, Dr. Lydia Mikhailina, was interviewed for Frontline and reported she thought this was a “show suicide since he had been refused political asylum.” In short, Oswald blackmailed the Soviet Politburo in order to avoid an international incident by having an American citizen die under mysterious circumstances (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”). It worked and Oswald was permitted to stay.

Oswald, however, never got the appointment to Moscow University that he sought and instead was shipped off to Minsk to build televisions and electronics. This is rather ironic since in an interview with reporter Priscilla McMillan (née Johnson) shortly after his arrival in Russia, Oswald stated that he defected because, “He did not want to live like a worker under capitalism as his mother did and be exploited all his life” (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”). This, of course, is exactly what Oswald would experience in the Soviet Union.

He settled into his job as a factory worker and enjoyed a “luxury apartment” befitting his status as a high-profile foreign émigré (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”). A perk a young man his age would not ordinarily enjoy, and no doubt helped the socially awkward young man attract a pretty young Russian bride, despite his language problems and general loathing of humanity.

While Oswald “defected” to the Soviet Union, he never actually officially renounced his citizenship. He may have been hedging his bets since the Soviets were never completely welcoming of him. His ideal of a worker’s paradise quickly eroded into a dull, gray existence as he discovered he was as out of place in Russia as much as he was in the United States. The government did not trust him the KGB kept Oswald under surveillance, thinking that he could be a sleeper agent. In the end, they determined they had little to fear from Oswald.

We concluded that he [Lee Harvey Oswald] was not working for American intelligence. His intellectual training, experience, and capabilities were such that it would not show the FBI and the CIA in a good light if they used people like him. Vladimir Semichastny, former head of the KGB, who handled Oswald's case (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”)

Oswald, despite his earnest claims of allegiance to Marxism, had no credentials as a Communist activist and this, in part, was what led to his initial rejection by the Soviet government. The lesson Oswald learned was that if he ever planned to defect again, he should have a better resume. This, in my opinion, was the driving motive behind Oswald for his subsequent activities in New Orleans after his return to the United States.

Video Clip 2: Oswald Arrest News and New York City Street Interviews. 
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
The Bloody Facts

The cabal of politicians and academics living in the bubble of the House Select Committee who assembled the carefully constructed conclusions of its 1979 report had its integrity successfully challenged by of all things, rock and roll and porn. Gallery magazine included a flexible plastic recording of a police dicabelt that purportedly proved that four gunshots took place in a six-second period, an impossibility with the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald used. This suggested a second gunman.

Steve Barber, a rock drummer with experience in audio production, purchased the issue and listened to the recording. Barber discovered a faint, but discernible, “Hold everything secure . . . ” that was attributed to Sheriff Bill Decker and known to have been spoken by Decker approximately one minute after Kennedy was shot. This meant that the “sound impulses” noted by House Select Committee experts and attributed to the assassin, took place after the assassination. The sound impulses were not gunshots and because of this, and other errors, the House Select Committee’s report was conclusively refuted by the National Academy of Sciences in a 1982 investigative report (Posner 241-242).

Subsequent investigations established that Oswald had in fact approximately eight seconds to make three shots, sufficient time to make the kill. Further, there was no fourth shot. Oswald displayed sufficient skill in the Marines to make a head shot of man moving slowly away from him in a straight line. The “Magic Bullet” is a red herring, Governor John Connelly’s and President Kennedy’s bodies were positioned to permit the path the bullet followed. Reverse ballistic trajectory projection of Connelly’s and Kennedy’s wounds leads back to the area of the sniper’s next in the sixth floor window of the School Book Depository (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”).

Video Clip 3: NBC News Break November 22, 1963, WBAP-TV. 
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

The head shot caught so dramatically on Abraham Zapruder’s film is misleading to the untrained eye. The reaction backwards is the result of the “jet affect” of the energy of the bullet being absorbed by the brain which in turn shoots out the hole created by the exiting bullet with enough force to push the head back (an effect which has been repeated in tests). As gunshot exit wounds are larger than entry wounds, this also corresponds with the existing physical evidence, unless conspiracy theorists would have us believe that basic laws of physical science and ballistic dynamics were temporarily suspended in Dealey  Plaza for about eight seconds.

Attempts to link Oswald to the mafia via Jack Ruby have similarly fallen apart. There is no evidence that Oswald had any underworld connections. Ruby, despite his underworld connections, was a low-level hustler not trusted by either side of law. Tony Zoppi, a Dallas reporter who knew Ruby, stated in an interview with Gerald Posner in 1992:

People in Dallas, in those circles, knew Ruby was a snitch. The word was on the street that you couldn’t trust him because he was telling the cops everything. . . .You have to be crazy to think anybody would have trusted Ruby to be part of the mob. He couldn’t keep a secret for five minutes. He was just a hanger-on, somebody who would have liked some of the action but was never going to get any. (Posner 361)

“Somebody who would have liked some of the action but was never going to get any.” The very same thing could be said about Lee Harvey Oswald.

According to former Dallas Detective Jim Leavelle, who was escorting Oswald when Oswald was shot, noted in an interview on the PBS program Frontline, the time selected to transport the prisoner where spur of the moment. Therefore, no inside informant working for the mafia could have contacted Ruby to “tip him off” when Oswald would be transported, a key element for the mafia conspiracy to be true. Ruby was nowhere near a phone when the decision to move Oswald was made.
Fig. 3: This non-descript door leads to the underground garage where Oswald was shot.
It sits diagonally across from the School Book Depository.
More significantly, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to assassinate General Edwin Walker, a hard-right conservative leader, in April 1963. A fact attested to by his wife Marina, who reported that Oswald admitted doing so, and saved several of the photographs Oswald took of Walker’s residence when planning the assassination attempt (Posner 114-116).

Oswald missed Walker when his bullet was deflected by the window frame. Oswald aimed close enough that Walker reported his arm bled in three places after being hit with glass and wood from the window (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”).

Oswald would have another shot that November, and at a target much bigger than even he could have anticipated.

The Deal with Dealey Plaza
Fig. 4: Layout of Dealey Plaza on historical marker at Dealey Plaza.
Dealey Plaza is flanked by two semi-circular colonnades between an overpass and two low walls in front of reflecting pools. Three roads run through it and buildings situated on the outskirts include the Texas School Book Depository and County Court House and jail. Dealey Plaza is an echo chamber made of concrete, asphalt, brick, and stone.
Fig. 5: The view of the colonnade and the grassy knoll.
A similar colonnade sits opposite the plaza.
The crack of a high-power rifle in this acoustic arena led some witnesses to claim they heard a sound from the grassy knoll. Sound waves of the gunshot from the Depository Building would have echoed off the semi-circular colonnade nest to the grassy knoll. After years of my own research, I determined that so-called witness reports were not credible. There was no second gunman on the grassy knoll. There was no need. Oswald had the better shot from a better position. For one, the grassy knoll is actually quite close to the colonnade and not far from the street. Abraham Zapruder filmed the scene while standing on top of a wall about 30 feet away from the fence where the alleged second shooter stood.
Fig. 6: A view of Zapruder's position from the grassy knoll.
I took the picture above (fig. 6) standing from the point on the grassy knoll where the second shooter would have stood had he actually existed. I am looking over to the short wall by the stairway where two people are standing. Zapruder stood on top of that wall, flanked by his secretary and stopped filming right on the point in the fence where the second gunman should have been standing. No one is there.
Fig. 7: A view of the grassy knoll from Zapruder's position.
Despite being so close he did not identify a gunshot from this position.
Zapruder himself is not clear on where the shots came from. Initially he reported he thought the shots came from behind him, and the grassy knoll is to the right of Zapruder at about the 2 o’clock position. Later, Zapruder testified before the Warren Commission, “There was too much reverberation. There was an echo which gave a sound all over. In other words that square [Dealy Plaza] is kind of it had a sound all over.”

Neither Zapruder’s original statement nor his Warren Commission testimony supports a conspiracy theory. Further, it confirms the "echo chamber" acoustics of Dealy Plaza a point often dismissed or overlooked by conspiracy theorists.

Video Clip 4: Oswald Arrest and Eyewitness Reports.
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel

My Pilgrimage to Dealey Plaza

In April 2002, I travelled to Dallas to do media relations for the International Reliability Physics Symposium. This gave me the opportunity to see Dealey Plaza for myself. I made several visits, taking photographs and retracing Oswald’s and Ruby’s steps. Visiting the location where a historical event actually took place gives one a sense of context that cannot be replaced by photographs, video, or the written word.

Hawkers of cheap tabloids purporting claims of conspiratorial cover-ups roamed the plaza. I find this somewhat on the level of Jesus finding money-changers in the Temple, an absolute sacrilege; however, I found it hard to get angry at them. These  were men clearly at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder and trying to hustle up enough money for their next meal.
Fig. 8: The Texas School Book Depository. The sixth floor sniper's nest window is partly opened.
Two street vendors selling conspiratorial tabloids can be seen just left of the entrance.
I was more outraged by a woman who set up a table on the walkway between the grassy knoll and where Abraham Zapruder stood while filming the assassination. She was pushing a conspiratorial theory involving an elderly couple that was both complex and breathtakingly stupid in its construction. Her display was comprised of a poster board with photographs and notes made in marker, not much removed in quality from a grade school project. Of course, she was selling a vanity press publication about the “theory.”

I interrupted her presentation to a young tourist couple and rattled off about a dozen questions, none of which she could answer and all of which exposed her theory as a self-serving attempt to score a buck. Deciding I made my point, I marched off before I lost my temper on what I considered to be sacred ground.

Walking towards the reflecting pools, I realized, here I was in my black suit and sunglasses aggressively questioning a conspiracy nut at Dealey Plaza. I ironically had become a “Man in Black” and rather than casting doubt in the woman’s mind about her theory, I probably just reinforced it. I can only imagine what her reaction would have been if she found out I was a defense information-corporate intelligence consultant in town doing media relations for a symposium that included scientists who worked in the defense industry.

Dealey Plaza is a Rorschach test we see in it what we bring there ourselves.

Parting Shots

Lee Harvey Oswald’s life was marked by rejection rejected by his mother, the Marines, the Soviet Union, and even Cuba during his failed attempt to defect to the Caribbean Communist nation in the summer of 1963. Returning to Dallas, Oswald’s future was bleak. He was separated from his wife, now pregnant with their second child, due to his inability to earn a living.

Oswald ended up at the School Book Depository with the assistance of Ruth Paine, a friend of his wife. The president’s exact route was published just two days before the visit. No secret agency or a conspiratorial cabal of criminals put Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, at the School Book Depository, or a gun in his hand (“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald”).

Barely a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the USA and USSR stood on the brink of nuclear war, no one knew better than Lee Harvey Oswald that the assassination of John F. Kennedy by an ex-marine who defected to the Soviet Union could be the trigger to finally plunge both super powers into a war of total annihilation.

Oswald, however, like any number of criminals I worked with during my tenure as a prison educator, denied any involvement in the crime, even when faced with overwhelming evidence. Indeed, Oswald even feigned surprise when informed by the press that he was charged with the assassination; as though he fully did not expect that any suspicion should fall on a Marxist, ex-marine, former Soviet defector.

My purpose here is not to discuss every detail regarding the assassination; there already are exhaustive resources available in print, on video, and the Internet that explore the evidence. In any event, it is not likely I could change the mind of anyone who is committed to the conspiracy theory that the assassination is not the result of a lone gunman. I am merely sharing my research experience and encouraging those interested in the matter to do so themselves.

The complication for any conspiracy theory is that the number of people involved to make them happen is staggering. For any of these theories to be true many people would have to be involved, yet not one credible confession, death bed or otherwise, has come forth. Time has proven that the Mafia’s “code of silence” lasts only until the D.A. can offer a good plea deal and witness protection. CIA agents sold national secrets to the Soviets. Nixon, with all the power he wielded, could not keep his attempts to subvert democracy a secret, even with a cadre of men as loyal as G. Gordon Liddy. As a result, I am incredulous that a secret such as a conspiracy to kill the President of the United States could be kept quiet for 50 years.

In the end, the debate over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy reveals more about the debaters than the debate. The truth really is out there, but sometimes it is easier to believe that the leader of the United States of America at the height of its power and influence during the Cold War could only be removed by a vast conspiracy rather than a sociopathic loner with a gun and a grudge.

We could not possibly be that vulnerable, could we?

Related Content on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel

JFK Assassination: As It Happened – 6 1/4 hours of compiled NBC news reports.
No narration, just original unedited footage.

Related Content on the PBS America YouTube Channel

PBS Frontline Special: Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald (1993) – A well-researched documentary on the life of Oswald. Its conclusion, that he acted alone, continues to stand the test of time.

Works Cited
“JFK Assassination: As it Happened.” NBC News Special Coverage.
              National Broadcasting Company. 1993. Television.
Posner, Gerald. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the
              Assassination of JFK. Random House , Inc.: New
              York. 1993. Print.
Sartorio, Donna. Personal interview. July 2005.
“Who is Lee Harvey Oswald?” Frontline. PBS. 1993. Television.