This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, August 25, 2023.
Whatever your politics—and that’s a topic I generally try to avoid addressing directly in this newsletter—if you take the time and effort to read the indictment delivered last week against the former president by the district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, you will be stunned.
I say that not because it is an example of excellent writing. It isn’t. Probably the kindest word I would use for it would be “pedantic.” But I wasn’t expecting good writing. The document is legalistic and repetitive.
Reading it takes time and effort. It is 98 pages long, and it has a large cast of characters. Some of the names are familiar. Some are not.
The document is a recounting of events. Someone did this on this date. Someone else did that. So-and-so made a phone call, and this is what happened. So-and-so signed this document. So-and-so said something to a state official that induced that official to violate his or her oath of office (a criminal offense in Georgia and many other places). This kind of thing goes on for nearly 100 pages.
When I finished (and I admit that I skipped some of the repetitive parts near the end), my mind was reeling. Did all this really happen? Could all of these people really have done what was described in those pages?
How the events and actions described in the indictment will be interpreted is a matter for courtroom presentation and jury decision. But this pedantically written indictment may become one of the most important political documents of our age, and at the moment, it cannot be ignored.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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The JFK assassination: 60 years of conspiracy theories (part 1 of 3)
In November, just three months from now, the world will note the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
For those of us who were alive and aware during those dark days, nothing that has happened since matches the shock, horror, tragedy, and sadness of those dark days. Most of the people who remember the assassination, as I do, were teenagers at the time. Many of us realized we were growing up in a world that was both dangerous and full of promise.
The assassination, in a very brief moment, changed our world completely. It occurred at midday on a Friday and within an hour the president had been declared dead. In another hour or so, a man that many have identified as the assassin was arrested.
Several hours later, Air Force One arrived back in Washington, carrying the body of the slain president, his widow, and the nation’s new leader, Lyndon Johnson. Television ceased its regular programming, and for the next three days, the American people were subjected to nonstop news.
But television, while it could show us much of what was happening, was not much good at explaining why things were occurring as they did. It was all happening too soon, too fast.
In Dallas, the man arrested was Lee Harvey Oswald. As information about Oswald emerged, we began to learn that our world had been shifted by an oddball loner, whose life offered far less than a satisfying explanation for what was happening. He was a kook, a small nondescript screw-up, someone to whom on the previous day would not have merited too much attention.
By Sunday morning, less than 48 hours after the assassination, Oswald lay dying in the same hospital where JFK had been pronounced dead. A sleazy nightclub owner named Jack Ruby gunned him down as he was being transported by the Dallas police to a different jail. We were living inside an awful television drama from which there was no escape.
Oswald’s death closed off any chance that the United States legal system would have to determine what exactly happened on Friday, November 22. Legally, Kennedy’s death was a local murder. It should have been investigated by the local police force. (At that time killing a United States president was not a federal crime; it is now.)
Oswald was never formally charged and arraigned. He never had legal representation. He was never able to explain himself or tell his side of the story. We simply do not know what a legal outcome might have been.
Instead, the death of Oswald and the political considerations that followed the assassination have given us 60 years of speculation, unanswered questions, and conspiracy theories.
Next week: What we know and what some people think they know about the Kennedy assassination.
Photo: Newscaster Walter Cronkite on the air announcing the death of John F. Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963.
Harvey Firestone: The entropy of prosperity
“Sometimes it seems that it might be better to go back to those simpler days, that one might get more out of a less complex life. But it cannot be done. One changes with prosperity. We all think we should like to lead the simple life, and then we find that we have picked up a thousand little habits which we are quite unconscious of because they are a part of our very being—and these habits are not in the simple life. There is no going back—except as a broken man.”
— Harvey Firestone, Men and Rubber (1926)
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Jorge Luis Borges: Everything is a resource for a writer
“A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”
Group giveaways for August
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
Jacques Futrelle: The Mystery of the Scarlet Thread
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Great Hiatus of Sherlock Holmes, the eight years between 1891 and 1903 when Arthur Conan Doyle insisted that the world had seen and read enough of his great detective creation. Other writers took this as their cue and stepped into the breach, creating many memorable detective characters. Some of them appeared to mirror Holmes, and others were decidedly different. They kept showing up even after Holmes returned to life. The reading world couldn’t get enough. The decades that followed became the Golden Age of the Detective Short Story.
Two of the best to come from that period were G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Jacques Futrelle’s Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen a.k.a “The Thinking Machine.” Earlier this summer, I provided a link to some of the Father Brown stories. Last week we presented Futrelle’s novel The Problem of Cell 13. This week’s story is The Mystery of the Scarlet Thread.
THE THINKING MACHINE—Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D, LL. D., F. R. S., M. D., etc., scientist and logician—listened intently and without comment to a weird, seemingly inexplicable story. Hutchinson Hatch, reporter, was telling it. The bowed figure of the savant lay at ease in a large chair. The enormous head with its bushy yellow hair was thrown back, the thin, white fingers were pressed tip to tip and the blue eyes, narrowed to mere slits, squinted aggressively upward. The scientist was in a receptive mood.
“From the beginning, every fact you know,” he had requested.
“It’s all out in the Back Bay,” the reporter explained. “There is a big apartment house there, a fashionable establishment, in a side street, just off Commonwealth Avenue. It is five stories in all, and is cut up into small suites, of two and three rooms with a bath. These suites are handsomely, even luxuriously furnished, and are occupied by people who can afford to pay big rents. Generally these are young unmarried men, although in several cases they are husband and wife. It is a house of every modern improvement, elevator service, hall boys, liveried door men, spacious corridors and all that. It has both the gas and electric systems of lighting. Tenants are at liberty to use either or both.
Dan C.: When I was in high school in Southern Cal in the early 1970s, my dad planted tomatoes in a planter in the backyard. He had a good yield and every year after that for the 10 years they lived there, tomatoes grew there without him planting the seeds again.
Marcia D.: Cherry tomatoes are my favorite. The first thing that I buy at the Farmers Market.
Brenda R.: I love reading your newsletter, please keep it coming!
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Girl with a flute
Best quote of the week:
Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. Russell Baker, columnist and author (1925-2019)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Clara Barton, the Thinking Machine detective, and Kurt Vonnegut on book banning: newsletter, August 18, 2023
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