Getting Just One Second Right
It comes down to one second, like the universe in a grain of sand, if we could only see it.
If we could just get that one second right, we’d know something:
How many bullets hit the President and where did they hit him
How do we know anything? Who would wade into one of the most contentious topics of modern history and claim that anything can be known?
The two biggest enemies of knowing anything are:
- thinking that we already know something
- thinking that we can never figure this one out
When Josiah ‘Tink’ Thompson started writing, ‘Last Second in Dallas’ he couldn’t help but think he knew something because he wrote, ‘Six Seconds in Dallas,’ fifty years earlier. Plenty of people still believe what they believed fifty years ago especially if they worked hard to come to that belief, like Tink did. And even more so if they received tremendous acclaim for producing by far the best forensic reconstruction of the shooting based on evidence at the time, like Tink did. No one else was close.
Then came the murky decades when new evidence, new research techniques, and new reasons to re-open the investigation created what felt like a quagmire and the second enemy of knowing grew stronger.
One reason for reading about JFK Now is the sheer audacity of Tink Thompson facing those two formidable obstacles to knowing, precisely at a time when there is no agreement about how to know anything at all in the culture at large.
Another reason is to see how well he handles the impossible issues he is up against.
On one hand, he is open to new ideas and to following them no matter where they lead. But at the same time he never deviates from his goal of forensic reconstruction.
He notices all the distractions without getting engaged in them, always returning to the object of his inquiry. If that sounds like meditation it’s because the application of what is in effect a meditative practice in everyday life is what kept his research from going everywhere and getting nowhere.
He stated the Threshold Question as:
Was President Kennedy fired upon from any location other than the sixth floor corner window of the book depository?
Not only did this focus keep him on track, it also gave him what we would now call ‘a brand.’ It’s why Life Magazine brought him on-board early on — they needed a go-to person with total command of the actual shooting and Tink, through the work he had already done, his obvious intelligence, and knowing some people, became that guy, which helped make him somebody, the shooting expert Life brought in.
‘Last Second in Dallas’ is in part a personal story about working on a difficult question for a long period of time, questioning long-held assumptions, and finally solving long-standing puzzles.
Of course it is also much more.
Another reason to read about JFK Now is that Tink’s approach shows a way forward in solving other complex problems. We see that Governments have a role to play. Governments have the power to collect evidence, for example, to gather information that probably could not be gathered any other way. Most of the time, governments do a decent job with the care and custody of the evidence, no small matter.
But when it comes to the breakthroughs, conceptual or evidentiary, that help solve tricky problems, Special Commissions or other Government institutions are almost never able to play a role due to their inherently political and thus protective nature.
From the moment of the JFK assassination on November 22, 1963 through early 2021, it has been independent researchers who have moved the process of discovery forward — some who were in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, like Abraham Zapruder, or others who saw something no one else had and worked countless unpaid hours trying to validate their finding, like Steve Barber, Keith Fitzgerald, and Don Thomas.
The final chapters of the journey toward knowing have taken place largely in the pages of peer-reviewed scientific journals. This form of resistance to new ideas plays out very slowly, over years. Anyone seeking to change the cultural viewpoint has to have staying power. The contentiousness involved, the use of language to obscure, the sometimes impossible to understand interpretations make an inherently exclusionary forum even less welcoming.
It is worth reading the detailed descriptions of certain forms of research, where scientists were so sure of what their findings meant, only to have their entire field dismissed a decade later; e.g., Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA). Or other cases where, for example, the acoustic sampling definitions were too large to detect the entity being looked for. Over and over we see that when new techniques come together with big egos in a hot button area, anything can happen, but learning is not usually one of them.
Reading ‘Last Second in Dallas’ made me feel less intimidated and more able to understand real science that is written to be understood. It is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a while, because it is a successfully resolved Heroes Journey.
The author sets out, with a some trepidation, on a path of discovery that he knows is at least in part self-discovery. He encounters obstacles, makes friends and allies, and is seen by some as an enemy. He gains new powers but he is also humbled. Finally, in the fullness of time, after a 32 year backburner interval, he returns to the Journey and completes it.
Yes, you read that right. He completes it. He answers the Threshold Question.
He demonstrates clearly and conclusively that two bullets hit the President’s head, one from the front and one from the rear, within seven tenths of a second (.7 sec). He demonstrates this with visual evidence from film and photos, with acoustic evidence from the finally well-understood Dallas Police Department recorders, and with eye witness testimony, some of which he recorded himself in interviews with the subjects. He also answers all published or well-recognized counterclaims to his narrative.
It’s because he had a threshold question that was answerable — answerable by someone who was highly intelligent and who could stick it out for fifty years.
Do other seemingly intractable problems have similar threshold questions?
Do we have fifty years?
Josiah ‘Tink’ Thompson isn’t your run-of-the-mill intelligent person who somehow assembled a gazillion confusing facts into a clear narrative sequence after fifty years of working on the problem. He has published more books about Kierkegaard than he has about the JFK assassination.
Kierkegaard didn’t think that being a Christian meant going to Church every Sunday looking fat and happy, or that acting on Christ’s message could be easy and comfortable. He wrote what he believed and it didn’t make him popular around Copenhagen.
Kierkegaard thought being a Christian meant taking risks, belief-risks. To be free and to live the way he imagined Christ wanted us to live, we had to act. It wasn’t just about thinking, perseverating, for Kierkegaard, which is why one of his Big Ideas (even though he never actually used the phrase) has been deemed, ‘the Leap of Faith.’
Plenty of well-credentialed thinkers have weighed in on what Leap of Faith means, instead I will briefly describe a few aspects of Tink Thompson’s life.
He published ‘A Lonely Labyrinth,’ about Kierkegaard and ‘Six Seconds in Dallas,’ about the JFK assassination, in the same year, 1967. He was a young man, at the beginning of his career as a professor at Haverford College, a highly ranked liberal arts, Quaker-owned institution. He did not yet have the leverage that seniority confers. He had no leverage other than the leverage he created by living life as a meditation.
Leap of Faith doesn’t mean doing something wild and crazy; it just means there is an intuitive component to moving forward. We can pay attention to what filters up from our unconscious and act on it, maybe within parameters set by more deliberate thinking.
Tink’s intuitions had him on the JFK path while his years of disciplined graduate work had him on the tenure track for a nice academic life. He chose both, which is impossible.
Kierkegaard is considered the first existentialist philosopher. Like, ‘OK, here we are, God’s will is not so obvious, now what?’
Tink shows us a possible Now What.
I arrived as a Freshman at Haverford College in 1966, exactly when Tink was analyzing Zapruder film frames to calculate bullet trajectories.
His work changed my life. The empirical research I saw as an eighteen year old forced a large mental paradigm shift about what I could ever accept uncritically and more importantly, about our ability to work at coming to our own conclusions.
A few years later, he left the academic dream job and ended up spending most of his career as a licensed Private Detective, which he wrote about in1988, Gumshoe Reflections in a Private Eye. To some, that kind of a career move may have seemed like the wild and crazy Leap of Faith. It wasn’t. It was the same blend of intuition with hard work and careful planning that had him deeply inside the Time-Life investigation about 25 months after the assassination.
In early 2021 Tink Thompson is still inspiring, still showing us what Leap of Faith means by publishing, Last Second in Dallas, a book about the Kennedy assassination right now.
He has thrown out an Idea Bomb that cannot be defused with false claims at a time when the United States as a nation cannot go back and has no certainty about what it is moving toward.
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