Archive for February, 2014

What Is Love?

By Bob Litton

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what love is in my own life.  What I have experienced in the past, and at times called “love”, I now look back on as some lesser emotion — like adolescent dependency or lust.

However, I have seen what I considered to be love — genuine love — in others’ lives.  In one instance, it was a little old lady who came to my brother’s carpet store to buy carpet to replace the worn-out floor covering in her living room.  Her husband had died a few months before.  When she started talking about how his cigarette ashes had dropped down on the carpet beside his easy chair, she choked up and, in a voice almost gasping for words, said, “He didn’t do it on purpose.  He didn’t know those ashes were spotting the carpet.”

Another time, I was watching a 60 Minutes segment about thalidomide children.  One of the victims, now a mature woman, had married and had two sons.  She had only stubs for legs. Like the two other thalidomide victims featured during the segment, she didn’t feel sorry for herself but seemed very well-adjusted and cheerful.

The most striking thing about her, however, was the way she met her husband.  She had been fitted with artificial legs and most of the time did quite well on them; but one time, when she was walking down a sidewalk, she fell and couldn’t get up.  A man came along and helped her get back on her legs.  Subsequently he became her husband.

Both of that woman’s sons loved her, and her husband loved her.  There was a difference, however, in that the boys had grown up knowing her as their only mother; so, in a sense, they had no choice but to love her.  Her husband, on the other hand, had had a choice, unless you hold that romantic love is inevitable and unavoidable.

Alpine Avalanche, February 15, 1996


A New Blog Parasite?

By Bob Litton

I wish I could play Paul Revere to all WordPress bloggers, but I only can expect to reach 46 of them (my “followers”). Oh well, maybe they will benefit from this warning.

Since the first of this year I have received “visitors” from odd places on the planet. Oh, I have counted “hits” from more than forty nations and dependencies since I started my blog 13 months ago. However, nearly all the dozen or so countries’ flags that have appeared on my stats page thus far this year have not been any of the regulars. The strangers include Thailand, Peru, Venezuela, etc. And the “referrer” that ushered them to my site calls itself “Semalt”.

If you enter that name in a Google “search” box you will find about half a dozen entries where, in some cases at least, the listings are by bloggers who are also curious about what or who Semalt is. None of the inquirers was entirely successful; but, combined, they bring in a sharper picture at least, depending on their level of cyber skills. One of the inquirers whose comments I read presented a very technical method for blocking “Semalt”; however, I am such a novice at computer lingo that I did not dare try it. You might fare better. Check them out.

The upshot is that there is a warning there to stay away from and ignore “Semalt”. The “referrer” asks for your email address and password but does not give you any substantial information about them up front.

What I am suspecting here is the use of “click farms” — places around the world where people, working for pitifully small wages, are “clicking” with their mouses (mice?) to indicate an interest in your site. Such “farms” have gained some notoriety of late for repetitively clicking “like” for various products, services or persons in order to register a false appearance of popularity. Although not exactly the same in purpose, this “Semalt” system seems similar in technique.

Of course, these false clickers can foul up one’s “stats” count, but, in my case I have already done a pretty good job of that. What I really regret losing is an accurate record of flags.

Don’t forget to investigate “Semalt” in your search engine. And ignore them otherwise.


Love Endures Even in this Cynical Age

©2011 By Bob Litton

Asians locate the emotions in the stomach.  Westerners claim they reside in the heart.  Or at least they did until a couple of centuries go.

For a long time now psychologists have been claiming the brain is the origin of our loves and hates.  No more than two years ago I read a news report that brain researchers had located the trigger of love in one tiny part of one’s gray matter…or perhaps it was a neutrino.

Such scientific nosiness will not deflect the romantic hard-core among us from persisting in pointing at Cupid’s golden- and silver-tipped arrows as the emotion stirrers.  We certainly don’t want to give up the magical challenges of glass mountains and reviving kisses — at least not as long as we are young enough to be revived.

I’m of an age where reminiscing and reflecting on love employs more time than pursuing it.

Why, just yesterday I was recalling my early grade school years when declarations of affection had to be committed to paper in an almost legalistic manner.  While the teacher was trying to demystify fractions for us, I and other boys would be inditing the most heartfelt of amorous missives to girls around us.  The little notes — with only the slightest variations — went something like this: “I like you. Do you like me? Answer yes or no.”  Right below these effusive sentences we would draw two little boxes with a “yes” written by one and a “no” written by the other.  We had absolutely no conception of the dilemma we were creating for the girls by our absolutist format.

Later, by the sixth grade, we had an even sillier fad going.  The girls would lend favorite boys small, merely decorative scarves to wear around our necks for a brief season.  Can’t remember if I was ever offered one or not: probably a case of selective amnesia.

Silly as that trend may seem, however, it is not too dissimilar to the way in which the emblem of love began.  An ancient Roman custom at the beginning of the feast of Lupercal was for young women to put slips of paper with their names on them in a big jar.  Young men would then draw their names and have to spend the entire feast period with the women whose names they had drawn.  This tradition continued after a fashion into the 14th century, when the young men started attaching the autographed slips of paper to their sleeves.  (Thus originated the modern comment, usually derogatory, about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeves”.)

As a child, I really did like Valentine’s Day.  Couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a holiday, unless the grownups considered the handing around of Valentine cards and cake would have been too complicated if we weren’t in school.  (The Alpine City Administration probably wonders why it’s not a holiday, too.)

It’s changed a lot just in my lifetime.  The card-giving has slackened off some, and they don’t show that movie, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, on TV as frequently as they used to every year.

Why should it be February 14, though?  Well, that’s not the birth date of the saint it’s supposedly named after: it’s his death date.

Actually, there are three St. Valentines, but the only one who concerns us here was a priest at Rome during the late third century.  Those were the days of Emperor Claudius II, not a very nice guy, who was having a problem recruiting soldiers for his unpopular military ventures.  He deduced that it was because Roman men did not want to leave their wives and sweethearts.  So, he abolished marriage.

Valentine and his colleague Marius secretly married young couples.  Upon hearing of this treasonable behavior, Claudius condemned Valentine to death.  One of my sources says Valentine was clubbed to death and another says he was burned at the stake.  It doesn’t really matter which, since the Catholic encyclopedia, although it acknowledges the saint as an actual martyr, claims the Claudius-versus-marriage business is “unhistorical”.

Another “unhistorical” yet still affecting chapter to Valentine’s story is that while he was in prison awaiting execution he cured his guard’s daughter of some disease.  Valentine and the girl thereupon became fast friends; and, on February 14 — the day he was to die — he left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty, signing it: “Love from your Valentine”.

Some fables you’ve just got to hang onto with all your heart!

The Alpine Observer, February 13, 2003

Political dialogue isn’t

©2011 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READER: The following newspaper column was initially published in 1981 and subsequently on my CD “A West Texas Journalist” (2011):  therefore, all of the persons mentioned (other than Ronald Reagan) are seldom in the headlines now, and some are dead. However, the theme of the essay is still timely and important. That is one reason I am publishing it here. Another reason is that I haven’t anything current, in the way of a suitable subject, about which to write just now; and I want to keep my blog site’s blood circulating a while longer.
— BL

I lost a friendship of many years standing recently.  He is one of my liberal associates at Southern Methodist University.

Not sure what happened, but I would suppose his coolness developed from my having shown one of his letters questioning the oil industry’s “obscene profits” to one of my local oil industry acquaintances.

“Look,” I said to this latter individual, “my friend up in Dallas keeps sending me letters like this.  And here’s a clipping, too, from the Dallas Times Herald he has enclosed describing the enormous profits the oil companies are reporting this year.

“I don’t know anything about oil prices.  But I think he deserves some kind of answer, and I believe it would be good if you two would start up a correspondence.  You should know enough to be able to answer his questions, and I know you’re always complaining to me that you can’t get your story across to any of the liberals.”

So, I left a copy of the letter and the newspaper clipping with the local acquaintance.  He expressed then an eagerness to enter into a colloquy with my old friend.  However, it was more than a month before he got around to writing the letter.  Still, he did write it, and I respect him for that.

A week or so later, the oil man got a brief note from my Dallas friend, who said he was just leaving on a two-week vacation in Europe but would like to enter into a dialogue with him as soon as he returned.  He never followed through.

Before you smirk and mumble, “Ain’t that a liberal for you!”, I want to add that many of my conservative acquaintances behave with similar insularity.

A few days ago, an article appeared in the Odessa American written by William Hines of the Chicago Sun-Times.  The article described a letter written by Ralph Nader to Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman as “rude” and “abrasive”.

The article then quoted some phrases from Nader’s letter which supposedly proved how “rude” and “abrasive” he was.  As I read through the comments, however, all I could see was that Nader was being forthright in his criticism of what Stockman was doing.  He was castigating Stockman for his “‘…across-the-board obstruction of the government’s statutory lifesaving and disease-reducing missions.’”

Granted, Nader did slip into occasional rhetorical overkill, as when he reportedly suggested to Stockman that “’…a tiny kernel of empathy may be striving to survive’” within his mind.  Yet, consider that Nader’s years of work are suddenly being squeezed into near-nothing by the flick of a bureaucrat’s pen, and you must then allow him some leeway for emotional verbosity.  There still is nothing in the letter as quoted to indicate it was either “rude” or “abrasive”, just emotional and critical.

Anyway, I tried to show the article to a conservative acquaintance of mine the other day, and he pushed it away, saying, “If it’s about Nader, I don’t want to read it.”

How many people do you know who use Ralph Nader and Jane Fonda as voodoo dolls?  Stick pins in them, the notion goes, and you’ll damage the liberal cause.  Similarly, the liberals take aim at David Stockman and Alexander Haig, Jr., who, from the liberals’ point of view are evil incarnate.  In the meantime, the real problems and issues seldom get tackled.

The point is: Not many of us are willing to listen to the other side of any issue or hold any sort of dialogue with our ideological opposites.  We just want to talk to folks of our own sort.  But then, what conversation do we end up with?  Nothing but the same old sing-song about how good we are and how despicable are those other people.

It is all attributable to selective receiving.  We choose what we want to pay attention to and what we want to understand.  We are all “gate-keepers” when it comes to information dispensed and received.

As newspaper people, we at the Monahans News are obvious gate-keepers.  Primarily for reasons of space and local relevance, we block out a lot of the “news releases” we receive and severely edit others.  Often, the “flow-blocking” is simple; just as often, however, it can lead to some real head-scratching.

You the reader are a gate-keeper, too.  What you choose to read, how you read it, and how you pass the information on to others in your conversations can have enormous impact on a circle of opinion.  If you read only one type of newspaper or listen to only one commentator, you are restricting the information you receive.

True enough, we are inundated with information of all sorts these days, some of it important and much of it trivial.  It would be dangerous as well as foolish, however, to generalize about what is trivial.  The price of tea in China may not be very significant to us in Ward County, but to the Chinese tea-grower as well as the American cities wherein are located the major tea companies it would be very important news.

We therefore have to be selective about the information we receive, but we should always be on the alert for bias in the sender and the receiver (ourselves).  As for the massiveness of information, we need to decide what subjects have a significant impact on us and therefore require our attention.  Then we should be receptive to—and even demanding of—information covering all sides of those subjects.

Admittedly, that is no small task.  Too many news stories, lamentably, deal with trivial matters…like, “Ronald and Nancy Reagan were both taking a bath when Jimmy Carter made his speech conceding defeat” and “Barry Goldwater limped away, suffering from an old leg injury”.

Also, most commentaries are supportive of a single point of view.  They therefore tend to slight or ignore the opposite side.  Very few present a balanced summation of each side of an issue and then argue for that position they consider most worthy.

As a result, readers—the final gatekeepers—have to continually battle frustration and impatience within themselves if they genuinely desire to know what is really going on.  If too many of them give up the battle and slide into the easy rut of bias and insularity, then our country will be in danger of becoming another Iran.

The Monahans News, August 16, 1981

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