Too Many Shots
William Marina's "Shooting Down the Conspiracy Theory" [May] can itself be shot down from a number of different perspectives. His theory is plausible only to those totally unfamiliar with the literature on the Kennedy assassination. Consider the following:
1. If Marina insists on interjecting his own personal impressions (as to the number of shots and their direction) as an eyewitness, why not reveal that 58 ear-witnesses thought that at least some of the shots came from the general direction of the knoll in front of Kennedy?
2. Kennedy's official certificate of death, signed by his own personal physician, Admiral Burkley, described the rear nonfatal wound not in the neck but "in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra." In the Silbert and O'Neill FBI report on the autopsy, this location is confirmed by Dr. Humes and his assistant Dr. Boswell, as well as Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman. This back wound below the shoulder lines up nicely with the small bullet hole in Kennedy's jacket and shirt. The Lattimer sketch in the article is as misleading as to the position of the nonfatal rear shot as is the Warren Commission diagram.
3. The doctors at Parkland who did see a small neck wound in front place it higher in the throat than is indicated in the diagrams. Dr. Charles Carrico, for instance, the first doctor at Parkland to see Kennedy and this controversial throat wound, places the hole well above the shirt collar. Confirmation of this location can be obtained by an examination of Kennedy's shirt and tie. Although the Lattimer picture has the bullet (from the rear) going through the collar and tie, there is no evidence whatever of such an event. There are tears (not holes) in the collar area—most likely produced by the nurses at Parkland as they cut away Kennedy's tie—and there are no holes in the tie either. In addition, there were no traces of metal found on either the tie or collar. (See Harold Weisberg's Post Mortem for the first close-up pictures of the Kennedy shirt collar and tie.)
4. Marina's attempt to rescue magic bullet 399 is nothing short of breathtaking. We are to accept, apparently, that this pristine bullet caused the Kennedy throat wound and all (most) of the wounds to Connally, even though it has been reported that there was more metal left in Connally and taken from his wrist than is missing from 399. Indeed, most (and perhaps all) of the small amounts of metal missing from 399 were taken by the FBI for spectrographic purposes! We are to accept Marina's account that both were hit by the same bullet despite the fact that Connally reacts well after the Kennedy hit. (See Thompson's Six Seconds in Dallas for careful analysis that Connally and Kennedy could not have been hit by the same bullet.)
In conclusion, if there is a back (and not back-of-neck) shot, a bullet hole in the throat above Kennedy's collar, a shot that hit Connally, and, of course, the fatal Kennedy head shot (not to mention the so-called Tauge hit) we have too many shots for anything but a "conspiracy."
West Hartford, CT
Regarding the May article about the JFK assassination: It has always been my understanding that for Oswald to have made those three shots in such a short time span, he must necessarily have been one of the best riflemen in the country. Therefore, if he was an expert rifleman, why did he use an inferior weapon like the bolt action Carcano when, at that time, the much superior semi-automatic M-1 Garand was readily available on the war surplus market, and at roughly the same price? It stretches the bounds of reason to think that even a moderately competent marksman would choose the rifle the Italian soldiers called "the rifle that never hurt anyone on purpose."
The death of an unnamed Oakland fireman in the trans-Bay tube [Brickbats, May] is a historic event. As a transit historian I can think of no similar occurrence. There have been numerous subway accidents, even disasters; but death, in a subway, from smoke inhalation, is, at the very least, most unusual. One would expect that an enclosed, poorly ventilated place such as a subway, with misrouted, high-amperage currents generating great heat, would be the place for disastrously smoky fires; but this hasn't been the case. Here's why:
In 1901 New York's Interborough Rapid Transit Company was building that city's first subway. They directed George Gibbs, one of their engineers, to prepare specifications for the cars. Gibbs convinced them that they needed a completely incombustible car—a steel car with a concrete floor. But the only steel cars running at the time were prototypes. Yet when the subway opened, in 1904, the cars were ready.
No law mandated these cars. It is doubtful that a lawyer could have conceived of such a car. Engineer Gibbs did. Since then, throughout the years, subway car builders have maintained internal standards for fireproof cars, and because of the adequacy of these standards, no laws have been needed. Legislatures just haven't thought about the problem.
Then came BART with its extravagant science-fiction schemes. Their contractor, Rohr, was without car-building experience, and aerospace Rohr's venture into and then out of car building is reminiscent of the Saint Louis Car Co.'s attempt to build airplanes during the 1930s. Gibbs designed combustible wood out of his cars. BART designed combustible plastics in. Burning wood emits volatile irritants such as turpentine. Burning polyurethane emits gaseous poisons such as cyanide. The floors, the seats, the side paneling, and the head liners of the BART cars are all made of polyurethane. The fire was so hot that some of the aluminum melted. The roofs were burned off three of the cars.
Some of the IRT cars ran safely for 60 years, and one of them is preserved in the Seashore Trolley Museum at Kennebunkport, Maine, a proud monument to the foresight of Gibbs and the IRT management. It also constitutes a reproach to the transit socialists of BART who, with more funds and longer lead time, produced a car body specification which is obsolete by a factor of 75 years.
As a former teacher, I relived the horror (the word is not lightly chosen) of my brief career in the public schools when I read Ms. De Soubiese's article, "Surviving the Blackboard Jungle" [May]. If people think that she is exaggerating the nonacademic character of today's public schools, they are fooling themselves.…
Almost everyone realizes that public housing, public transportation, public health clinics, and the like, are of extremely low quality, the last resort for those who are unable to procure the desired service in any other way. Why do so many people who realize this still persist in the belief that "public education" can somehow be other than wretched? One has no reason to expect a public school to be any less dismal than a publicly owned housing project: both are the provider of last resort, required by law to accept anyone or any thing that crawls up to the door. No standards are permissible: it's public.
My own experience in the well-to-do school district of Arlington, Virginia (a Washington suburb), which closely parallels Ms. De Soubiese's, suggests that even if it costs your last dime to place your child in a private school, it is money well-spent.…
Libertarians need to hit hard on the idea that "our" state-run schools are nothing short of a disaster. This must be done at the local level. The average parent would be shocked literally speechless if he or she could candidly observe what actually goes on inside those public schools that the local politicians ceaselessly assure us are so excellent! The typical American accords the idea of "education" near-deity status, and a carefully documented debunking of the myth of local schools' "excellence" will shake up many a complacent taxpayer. (Perhaps students who want to learn can bring compact portable tape recorders to class and secretly make tapes documenting the chaos. A dozen or so such tapes played at Board of Education meetings, or for the local newspaper, will shatter many illusions!) If a significant percentage of taxpayers can be made to recognize the fraud that is being perpetrated upon them by the education establishment and begin to realize that excellence and public ownership are mutually incompatible, the collapse of the State education monopoly would not be far off.
Silver Spring, MD
Theresa Hale De Soubiese ["Surviving the Blackboard Jungle," May] has no business teaching unless it's a course of cynicism and apathy.
Ms. De Soubiese was hired to teach—not to babysit—yet her suggestions to "water it [education] down, provide no challenge" show all she is capable of doing is babysit. So-called teachers like her are merely a parasite on the taxpayers.…
"The suicide rate…among teachers is the second highest of all occupations." Look at the statistics for teen suicide.
Until I read "Surviving the Blackboard Jungle" I had one major misconception—that my teachers were bad. I'm truly thankful that I never had Ms. De Soubiese for a class.
Junior, Lee's Summit H.S.
Lake Lotawana, MO
Aw, Come On!
Somehow, I always expect REASON's readership to be a cut above that of others such as National Review, Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, etc., but alas.
To cite a couple of recent examples, in your June letters column two readers lambaste the poor guy [Bruce Lagasse, March] who had the audacity to offer his personal—repeat, personal—list of great romantic films. He even allowed as how anybody can agree or disagree with the inclusions or exclusions, but his list was offered for those who may have similar feelings. So what happens, but he becomes targeted as though he has committed the crime of the century for sins of omission as well as commission. My goodness!
The second example consists of the letters berating REASON for its so-called pronuclear, anti-solar-and-windmill energy potshots. Quote from one: "For example, the person who installs solar heating and a wind electric system in his home effectively liberates himself from any future government energy manipulations or the abuses of monopoly utilities. Nuclear power and fossil fuel energy sources, on the other hand, will always be vulnerable to government interference." What in the world does this reader recommend when his neighbor's tree shades his solar panels and blocks wind from his windmill? Will he ask government to regulate the height of shade trees, to say nothing of nearby walls and high-rise structures?
There are other examples, but you get the idea.
No to Movie Masochism
Thank you very much for printing Bruce Lagasse's review of libertarian-oriented movies. Bruce and I have talked about old movies for years, and there are some that I would like to add to the list, but none that I would take away.
For years I have complained about the negative movie reviewing in REASON. By negative, I mean reviewing what is running currently at the theatres with no selection of what might be enjoyable and entertaining, as well as uplifting.
Ayn Rand has said that art is the barometer of a culture. If this be true, when I get as serious about self-abuse as I would have to be to pay $4 to sit through some of today's movies, I won't waste my time at the theatre. I'll put an ad in REASON for a partner with whips and chains.
The Rocky's are too few and far between, and if one must occasionally step back into those thrilling days of yesteryear when heroic and romantic lines were not only uttered, but believable, then we should all be glad that that heritage in film is there to draw upon.
Of course, the current reviews are necessary to help best evaluate what is being offered in the present, but when you would like to curl up at home and watch some good old friends who will share with the wonder and pride of being MAN and WOMAN, Bruce's list will serve you well.
Thank you, Bruce.
Los Angeles, CA
Liberty and Reason
"All who are friends to liberty are friends to reason, the champions of liberty; and none are foes to liberty but those who have truth and reason for their foes. He who has dark purposes to serve, must use dark means: light would discover him, and reason expose him.…Liberty only flourishes where reason and knowledge are encouraged…" (from The Antifederalists, ed. Cecelia M. Kenyon, p. 21).
Tibor Machan [Editorial, Apr.] is good at condemning instinct—"[as] instinct can be conceived of in human affairs, as reliance on past habits and forms of thought regardless of reason, logic, and the facts of reality"—but not good enough, precisely because he condemns what he calls "instinct" and I call "magical thinking" (REASON, Sept. 1976). The insight that the irrational is wrong is not enough, and not even very difficult. What remains—where the difficulty lies—is for the champions of reason and liberty to explain the power of the irrational over the human mind in its various forms—religion, mysticism, politics.
I challenge Dr. Machan, one of the libertarian movement's foremost thinkers, to make such an explanation. It is time for rationalists to shed light on the dark purposes and dark means of the irrationalists, altruists, and collectivists—discovering and exposing perhaps not a satanic conspiracy to destroy mankind but simply a human failing that can be understood and remedied.
Mr. Machan replies: Although I am well occupied with things I could think of doing, I don't deny that Mr. Morrone's topic is interesting. Briefly, my general idea is that the irrational is powerful somewhat as a car or plane or any otherwise very useful machine can be when it has gone out of control. Essentially, there is nothing powerful about evil, but by the suspension of reason one can let loose wild forces, as it were. Then, by trying to cover up, a sort of system of epicycles of unreason comes about which can have the greatest of horrors at its various points of impact. Any more than this would require the study of the matter in its various specific manifestations—for example, Jim Jones, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Al Capone, FDR, JFK, John Kenneth Galbraith, Ralph Nader, and the millions of other instances of the phenomenon. I commend Mr. Morrone's interest in this and only suggest he do a detailed job.
It is a pleasure to see Carrol Kilgore's book, Judicial Tyranny, reviewed at last [March] in the libertarian context where it belongs. Michael Goode's skillful summary of the thrust of the book tops all previous published reviews I have seen.
However, I should like to comment on Mr. Goode's statement that "Kilgore includes a proposal for reform—that the doctrine of stare decisis should have no bearing in constitutional law. This is the common-law doctrine that past decisions of the court are binding upon the Court and, especially, on lower courts."
Goode has correctly reported that Kilgore contends the individual judge's oath to support the Constitution eliminates the modern doctrine from application to constitutional decisionmaking. However, the modern definition that says the latest opinion of the Supreme Court is "the law," binding on persons not before the Court, actually turns the common-law doctrine on its head.
Even in purely common-law cases involving only rules of "unwritten" law derived from past litigation, stare decisis only expressed a rebuttable presumption of the correctness of a well-considered prior decision on a particular point of law. When confronted with two former conflicting decisions (a not infrequent occurrence), a court in a later case would be forced to study both of the prior cases to determine which, if either, was right. To say that the latest one was right simply because it was latest is to give the judges with the least regard for stare decisis the greatest force in making precedents.
In interpreting statutory law, the doctrine had less force because, as the courts have often said, the statute is "positive law" and the judges' duty is to apply it, with no room for interpretation except to the extent the statutory language is ambiguous.
In constitutional cases, the presumption favoring former decisions must necessarily be little more than a duty to give the former decisions respectful attention, because the former decisions are necessarily inferior to the Constitution itself. Where the language of the Constitution and the language of former opinions conflict, the judge's sworn duty is to apply the constitutional language. No judge and no lawyer is sworn to uphold what shifting Supreme Court majorities may say, but all are sworn to uphold the Constitution itself.
Mr. Goode notes that there are anti-libertarian provisions in the Constitution.…[Nevertheless,] I believe that an insistence by all lawyers and judges on adhering to the Constitution and questioning the integrity of judges who depart from it would usually (but not always) result in advancement of the libertarian aspects of the Constitution. Those provisions inconsistent with libertarianism would then stand out as prospects for amendment.
Libertarian lawyers should take a leaf from Thurgood Marshall's book: He kept hammering on the court doors to reverse the obviously wrong interpretation of the meaning of "equal protection of the laws," and the doors finally opened not only to his argument but to him. He is now a member of the Court.
But libertarian lawyers should keep in mind that Marshall's success went beyond the mark and created new and different departures from the constitutional language. Let those new departures be contested with the same persistence but with more fidelity to the Constitution, and we may have a rebirth of judicial understanding of the imperative of judicial integrity, and a renewed understanding of the imperative of liberty.
Philip M. Carden
In spite of what Szasz says, we have madmen. Metzger's article, "Environmental Activists Capture Washington" [May], is a case in point.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But corrupt men seek it out and enhance it. They do not become corrupted by the power, but it attracts those whose ravening lust for power is best sated by existing power, which they then use to magnify.
Men whose egos drive them to put themselves above others, at any price, have used government through history with the same results. Twenty out of twenty-two civilizations that we know about were destroyed from within, by the same kind of people who tight furiously to become members of the Supreme Court, Congress, or whatever political job is available. They spend many times what the job pays, in some cases to profit more, but most of all to play God, to force others to do what they want, even when it obviously destroys them and their victims eventually.
Insanity is the force that drives men to force others to do their will. Thus we are ruled by madmen.
Thomas S. Booz
Congratulations for your excellent work on REASON. Each issue is a source of satisfaction I look forward to receiving. You are making history—along with your team.
Hugo Salinas Price
Mexico City, Mexico
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".