Nov 242016


On this date in 1963 – in the first live, televised murder – night club owner Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of John F. Kennedy, in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. I remember it well. I was 12 years old at the time and living in South Australia. This means that my personal timeline is off by a day because all the momentous events of the time were delayed in reportage on Australian television. So, for example, I did not hear about the assassination of Kennedy until I was on my way to a cricket match on the morning of Saturday the 23rd of November, and news of Ruby’s murder of Oswald did not reach us until Monday the 25th. Still it was a shocking, breathless time and seemed to be the launch of a decade of political murders in the U.S. –  Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X – amidst all the general turmoil of the civil rights movement, which to me seemed incomprehensible at the time. Scarcely had we assimilated the death of a president than we had to take in the murder of his accused assassin in front of television cameras. For days and days the indistinct images of Kennedy’s and Oswald’s murders were played over and over, followed by the state funeral with more flashbacks to the murders.

Here’s the Oswald murder:

In the case of the Kennedy assassination there was very little to show at the time. It reminds us of how different those times were. Nowadays, a presidential motorcade would have blanket video coverage, both official and by personal phones and cameras, so that you’d have all manner of angles. In 1963 there was no official video of the moment of assassination, and only some grainy home movies. Lack of good video evidence has led to an endless stream of conspiracy theories that cannot be laid to rest, no matter how many times the evidence is raked over.

Conspiracy theories are further fueled by the fact that we never got to hear from Oswald. He made a few brief statements to the courts and to the press, essentially denying everything, and then he was murdered. This time it was caught on video, so we got to see it all (again and again and again). But the murder only deepened the mystery of the original assassination. We barely knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was or why he had been arrested so soon after the assassination. Now we had to wonder who Jack Ruby was, why Oswald was being paraded out in public for all to see, and how Ruby had managed to walk up to Oswald without interference, pull out a gun, and shoot him at point blank range. Those are my boyhood images of the United States, and they have not changed a whole lot.


I’m not sure how much sense it makes to rehash what we now know, over 50 years later, about Ruby and Oswald. There’s still a great deal of murk covering the light. In my mind the enduring mystery is why Ruby shot Oswald at all. His overt motive, which he stated repeatedly, was that he was devastated by the assassination of Kennedy, and wanted to spare his widow the trauma of returning to Dallas to testify at Oswald’s trial. But also, over and over, as Ruby was interrogated and then tried, he asserted that he knew “true facts” (I’m not sure what other kinds of facts there are), and these “true facts” would shock the world. Ruby never revealed in oral testimony or in writing what it was that he allegedly knew, so conspiracy theories abound. Was Ruby a hit man for organized crime or union bosses, paid off to silence Oswald before he could reveal his true motives in killing Kennedy? Was Ruby paying off a debt without clear understanding of why Oswald needed to be silenced? Or was he just your average Texan with a gun in the right place at the right time?


Just based on gut reaction after sifting the most commonly available data I’m inclined to apply Occam’s Razor to it all. In both murders dumb luck and coincidence seem to have played a part, and, unfortunately, neither sit well as explanations when it comes to world shattering events. Oswald’s movements and actions on 22nd November seem pretty firmly established by eye-witnesses. It’s also reasonably well established that he bought the murder weapon, he was a trained sniper, and he was working in the book depository (and was seen there) on the day of the assassination. It does not take much brain power to put 2 and 2 together. Add to this the fact that Oswald was not well educated, had well documented sympathies with Russia and Cuba, and could be impulsive. You don’t need to look further for motive and opportunity.


When it comes to grand conspiracy theories things come unstuck very quickly. Oswald could not have secured a job at the book depository a month earlier because he knew about the motorcade passing by on the 22nd – it had not been planned yet. Kennedy’s visit and the parade route were last minute affairs. Of course there are always loonies intent on assassinating presidents and popes and kings, and often a conspiracy is necessary, as in the famous cases of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Abraham Lincoln. Maybe there was a conspiracy afoot to kill Kennedy. Who knows? But even if there were one in the making, I can’t see how Oswald was involved in the affairs of shady union bosses or mobsters in Chicago. I can see a methodical, intelligent, uneducated, skilled marksman with a grudge taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and then getting caught because of lack of sufficient planning.


My same thinking applies to Ruby. He could not have timed the murder precisely and been on the spot at just the right moment because of elaborate advanced planning by conspirators because Oswald’s movements were not carved in stone, nor well known ahead of time. True, press were on hand for the move from the police department to the jail. That part was well known. Timing was not, and the move was, in fact, delayed by circumstances. Ruby’s ability to get into what was supposed to be a secure area and mingle with reporters was largely happenstance. All of the talk afterwards about shocking “true facts” (adding fuel to conspiracy theories) seems to me to be nothing more than the throwing out of possible bargaining chips as his trial, sentencing, and appeals were underway. Ruby claimed to be in fear of his life after Oswald’s murder, and would not talk without adequate protection, which he claimed repeatedly he was not receiving. Why then would he not have talked on his deathbed when the threat no longer had force? It seems much more likely to me that he was playing the system with loose talk that had no substance. I don’t think luck, impulsiveness, stupidity, not to mention poor judgment and irrationality are given near enough credit in the analysis of historical events.

The anniversaries of these events often coincide with Thanksgiving. This year today is Thanksgiving Day which seems to me to be another lucky coincidence when it comes to food. Finding a dish suitable for celebrating murder is a trifle macabre. Talking about Thanksgiving is a lot simpler, and both turkey and JFK are national symbols of the US. I’ve said my piece about Thanksgiving turkey here  No need to repeat. I don’t like turkey all that much, and U.S. cooks have precious little idea how to cook it. My “secret” for roasting all poultry so that it is succulent is summed up in three instructions: highest possible heat | quickest time |smallest bird. That’s it. I used to cook an 8 lb turkey at 500°F for 2 hours. The skin was crisp, the breast was juicy, and all the meat was succulent. If you need more meat cook 2 or 3 small birds. Gravy should enhance the dish, not be the replacement for moistness in the meat. Would you eat cardboard if it had gravy on it? Long, slow cooking at ultra-low temperatures has an intuitive feel about it, but it is the classic recipe for dried out breast. When simmering in liquid, long and slow works; when roasting it does not. Get it through your skull.

Let’s turn to the venerable turkey sandwich, the favored after-Thanksgiving snack whilst watching football. With dried-out roast turkey breast as your basis, how do you compensate? Lots of people slather the sandwich with mayonnaise. For me that’s the same as using gravy for moistening. Ross Geller from Friends makes a big deal out of his sister Monica’s sandwich which includes the “moist maker” – an extra layer of bread in the middle soaked in gravy. Yuck !! Add soggy bread to an otherwise tasteless sandwich. My answer: don’t dry out the turkey in the first place. Succulent breast makes excellent sandwiches, and the trick is not to try to add moistness but to find a way to add to the flavor. Here’s my lunch sandwich for work today. I made roast turkey and roast potatoes with gravy for breakfast to tip my hat to the celebration.


My sandwich is a big slab of juicy breast dotted with mostarda di Cremona (sweet, sour, spicy, and fruity). I have no doubt that it will go down a treat between morning and afternoon classes.



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