Archive for March, 2014

Good Ol’ Boys

By Bob Litton

I’ve recently been refreshing my memory by reading a little bit of ancient history. All kinds of visions can come out of musing over ancient history to those who are susceptible…as I am.

One fact I picked up was that the Chinese for centuries looked upon soldiers as being  on the bottom rung of the social ladder together with thieves and beggars. While most peoples had only three social classes, the Chinese had five: scholars, farmers, artisans, merchants and soldiers. Note how humanistic yet utilitarian their sense of social values was. Of course, in actual fact the warlords were frequently on top of things, from the material standpoint at any rate.

In the West, soldiers, while seldom considered to be the first in the nation — the obvious exceptions being Sparta and Rome — were nevertheless usually accorded at least second place. Plato, for instance, dreamed of a perfect society ruled by the Guardians (philosophers), protected by the Soldiers and supported by the Common People.

All this got me to thinking how we might classify people in the United States, especially in Texas. That’s how I came up with the categories of Good Ol’ Boys, Ostriches and Pollyannas. You will please forgive me if my nomenclature is not very original; I considered it important to stick to the old-fashioned names for things rather than confuse matters by inventing fancy new ones.

For those of you who don’t know or who may have forgotten, a “good ol’ boy” is one of the established figures of a community, very often the great-great-grandson of an early settler of the area.  He and his kin will own much of the property and be involved in most of the essential enterprises either directly or in some hidden fashion. He may or may not be on any of the local governing bodies, but he and the other “good ol’ boys” still dictate what decisions are made by those bodies.  He knows what’s going on in secret councils because he’s there, although he might find it expedient to deny as much. If a new entrepreneur comes into town offering something the “good ol’ boy’ either doesn’t like or doesn’t understand, he’ll try to cut the new man out by passing the word along via the other “good ol’ boys” that the fellow is to find financing hard to come by and other means of community support unavailable.

Next comes the “ostrich”. He hasn’t been around as long as the “good ol’ boy”. Maybe he’s just the great-grandson of a settler. Still, he doesn’t threaten the “good ol’ boy’s” authority and is useful for being on the front line where the dirty work gets done. Although the “ostrich” might be one of the politicians, that doesn’t mean he’s one of the decision-makers. He knows what goes on in the secret councils only because the “good ol’ boy” tells him. Sometimes edicts from the secret councils of the “good ol’ boys” are positive decisions in terms of the community. And sometimes they will have a negative effect on the community but foster the fortunes of the “good ol’ boys”. The “ostrich” realizes when either situation is the case, but he nevertheless supports the negative decision just as enthusiastically as the positive. That’s why he’s called an “ostrich”.

Last comes “Pollyanna”. Although the title is feminine, a true “Pollyanna” can be of either gender. “Pollyannas” simply don’t know what’s going on, not even enough to stick their heads in the sand. They can be dangerous for that very reason. That’s why “good ol’ boys” stay away from them as much as possible and watch their tongues whenever an encounter cannot be avoided. “Pollyannas” are not necessarily newcomers. Their lineage in a community might actually be longer than a “good ol’ boy’s”. They are simply naïve. Even when a bit of skullduggery is explained to them point by point they have a hard time seeing where the villainy lies. On the other hand, they quickly jump at superficial faults which they have learned to recognize by rote…like dirty language.

All three terms — “good ol’ boys”, “ostriches” and “Pollyanna’s” — have been around for a long time. However, I believe this is the first time they have been brought together in a sociological essay. Odd.




Double-think Representation

© 2011 By Bob Litton

May I presume to point out something to the body politic?  You demand that your “representative” voice and vote the regional interests of his district or you’ll “vote him out”, while at the same time you complain that he doesn’t have the gumption to “bite the bullet” on difficult issues because “all he’s interested in is being re-elected.”

Doesn’t this strike you as somewhat a situation of “double-think”?

I can understand, but still do not much respect, representatives who send out questionnaires to their constituency, tabulate the responses and then vote according to the majority opinion of those who filled out the questionnaire.  Yes, that’s “voting your constituency”, all right, or at least the part of it which has enough interest or anger to fill out a questionnaire.

I never fill them out myself.  The questions are always phrased in such a way as to anticipate short answers where only longer answers are sensible.  Also, they often put the respondent into a situation of “either/or”.  Too many issues decided by our legislatures have more than two alternatives and, even when there are only two, the value of one choice over another depends on some factor being left out of the question.

Certainly it is proper for a legislator to feel out his constituency.  I submit, however, that the purpose of such feeling out is not to have a majority of the constituents do his job for him but rather to see if they have any insights or possible solutions which he and his colleagues have not even thought of yet.  This warrants a few phone calls or even a visit home, not a questionnaire.

When a man or woman runs for office, especially for the first time, ideally their primary message to the people should be: “Here is my general philosophy.  This is the kind of person I am.  Any decisions I make on specific issues are going to be decided on the basis of the personal principles I am espousing to you.  The part I take in any particular issue is going to be guided by how it will benefit the larger group, not the smaller group.  If that is the kind of person you want in office, then vote for me.  If not, then vote for the other guy.”

Of course, in the real world that’s not how it works.  But then, the real world is also in a mess.

The Monahans News, January 27, 1983


Poetic Residue

By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS:  It has been several months now since I published a couple of my poems.  Most of the poems posted on this blog were written many years ago, when I was young and fancied myself a poet. One of two exceptions  is “Humanity’s Eye”, which I wrote and posted last October; I was surprised by its worthiness, since I have seldom felt any poetic impulse in many years and had concluded that I was all dried up in that art form. The other exception is “The Eumenides Revolt”, which was written last summer and posted in September.
My readers might not agree that “Humanity’s Eye” is as worthy as I believe it to be; that’s okay, for I have become accustomed to friends not appreciating my poetry as much as they do my prose. However, during my undergraduate years I wrote a couple of poems — “Blue Phoenix” and “The Cost of Living” — which drew some praise from a minor American poet who was a professor at one of our state universities (not one I attended). Those two poems were posted here last September.
     Now I have only two poems remaining from that long ago. Neither of them has earned nods, not even from my friends. Part of the reason for that, I believe, is their brevity: E.A. Poe argued that a poem can be too short as well as too long. However, some critics have claimed that Ezra Pound’s two-line verse “In a Station of the Metro” is one of the ten best American poems ever written: I do not agree.
     Another possible reason for my friends’ indifference is that they did not realize what I was trying to do. When reading any serious writer’s work, one should try to determine early on just what he or she is attempting to produce: What is its purpose? After doing that, one can gauge whether the writer has succeeded in reaching his or her goal. So, at the risk of insulting your intelligence, I will briefly relate what I intended when I composed these two brief poems.
     “The Cold War” is a bit of humorous whimsy. I enjoy puns and other extraordinary parallels in meaning. One day, as I was struggling mightily to conquer a severe cold, I realized that I was involved in a kind of war — a cold war — and how funny that imagery would be if conflated with terms of the geopolitical phenomenon so-called. Of course, my struggle with the head cold actually engendered images of a “hot” war, so one could mark that down as a demerit. But the point is that the whole production was done in fun and was meant to be funny.
     “Fantasia on the Sublime” was originally intended to be a longer poem — much longer. The idea for it came to me while I was reading a newspaper account about a whale that had wandered into an inlet near Seattle and apparently could not figure out how to extricate himself. For some reason I have forgotten, after I had composed the lines you will see here, I decided not to proceed any further. From a literary structural standpoint, I viewed the poem as an exercise in using “landlubber” imagery to describe phenomena on the ocean and in the sky. It is similar to my poem “How the Crow Conned the Owl” (posted in March of last year), where, in contrast to Homer’s similes, I used human images to describe bird behavior.
     I hope these clarifications will not impede your enjoyment of the poems below. Perhaps it is only because I am their “Daddy” that I cling fondly to them, but I will continue to do so to my dying day. I like them, and a writer is his own worst critic.
— BL  


©1995, 2011 By Bob Litton

          Villainous usurper!  You’re massed within,

            Abetted by a treacherous nostril!

           How you’ve gained on me in my old age!

           Used to rout you in a single night,

           Perspiring under heavy quilts.

           Now the nights are four.

           It isn’t fair you’re allowed an equivocal age,

           While I must admit sincerity.

            In the fiercest onslaught of your typical siege

            You make me tremble with ague

            Until only the added misery of suffocating heat

            Burns you from your trenches in my flesh.

            Slowly you drip away,

           Yet I’m no victor–

           But a sweat-drenched battlefield.

           Imagining it’s over isn’t permitted;

           For your insidious regrouping forces,

          Driven underground,

          Secrete charges in my head;

           And these, ignited by an innocent spring breeze,

           Explode with a damnable “Achoo!”


©1995, 2011 By Bob Litton 

            Pacific at peace

            Seems a varnished, rockless earth; a sprouting of waves;

            And the wind, an errant plow, tills at butterfly pace.

            Herds of white buffalo-clouds graze and move on,

            Quiescent, inexorable,

            With grey bellies,

            Through their fenceless range.

            The sun, in decline, reigns without rule.

            Still, the lazy monarch,

            His throne ribbed with apathy,

            Smirks like a full-fed lion,

            Stretches over his wrinkled bed,

            And warmly



What a Difference a Name Makes!

©2011 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: The following column was originally published in 1982 in The Monahans News, during my term as editor there. In 2011, I included it among the 200 articles and columns published in my CD book collectively titled A West Texas Journalist.
Since it was written more than three decades ago and is solely concerned with Texas political figures, it is obviously very localized and dated now — actually, it is more of an historical document. However, it yet bears some timeliness, as the electorate is still vulnerable to confusion when looking at politicians’ names. (I was very frustrated during this current primary campaign because I could find so little information on some of the statewide candidates.) Also, I believe it retains some interest through its humor: hardly any Texas election campaign ever goes by that was not funny in various ways. We’ve got more political clowns than any other state in the Union…although South Carolina and Arizona are hot on our heels.
Anyway, sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it.

We received a political news release from State Comptroller Bob Bullock this week in which he thanks the press for their coverage of both primaries, Democrat as well as Republican.

“I feel I can appreciate it more than most,” said Bullock, noting that he had had as his opponent in the Democratic primary a man named Robert C. Calvert.  “The name ‘Robert Calvert’ is an honored and respected name among the people of Texas and has been for more than 40 years.

“Mr. Robert S. Calvert, now deceased, was state comptroller for some 26 years.

“The Honorable Robert W. Calvert is a former member of the Texas Legislature, former speaker of the House, former member of the Constitutional Revision Commission, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, and now a practicing attorney in Austin.

“Mr. Robert C. Calvert was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for state comptroller, as I was.”

The daily papers in Texas did, in fact, explain the differences in persons in an attempt to eliminate as much confusion as possible.  That particular situation in itself did not strike me as so remarkable as the number of similar instances in Texas’ recent past.

You perhaps remember the case back in 1976 when Don Yarbrough of Houston was elected to the Texas Supreme Court.  That happened because many voters mistook him—or rather his name—for either Ralph Yarborough, former U.S. senator from Texas, or for Don Yarborough, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

The state legislature held a rare hearing in early 1977 to consider Yarbrough’s removal because of charges of forgery and perjury against him.  In the midst of the hearing, Yarbrough suddenly resigned, and Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed Charles W. Barrow to replace him.

During this latest Democratic primary, Barrow himself was considered by some observers a sort of name-magnet for John M. Baron, who nevertheless failed in his attempt for a seat on the State Supreme Court.

Then we have the politicians with names nobody would wish off on even a politician—especially a politician.  But we shouldn’t hold them to account for what their parents do to them.

Take for instance Warren G. Harding, present state treasurer, who is bowing out of the runoff against Ann Richards, for Travis County commissioner.  Apparently, Harding was named after the 29th president of the United States, during whose term in office the Teapot Dome scandal occurred.  This latter day Harding, however, at age 61, was obviously born before the Teapot Dome affair (which began in 1922) and therefore was named after a man who was still considered ethical and moral in the minds of most Americans.  Ironically, the state treasurer is letting the runoff pass him by because he is under the cloud of two indictments handed down April 23rd accusing him of having two state employees work on his campaign.

Another judge, Woodrow Wilson Bean, had two names he could play with—Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the U.S.; and Judge Roy Bean, the so-called “Law West of the Pecos”.  He chose to play with the latter.  The modern day Bean, as a matter of fact, was the judge who unsuccessfully tried to defeat Texas Supreme Court Justice Charles Barrow in the Democratic primary.

Now, I can understand why Bean wouldn’t want to play up the Woodrow Wilson part of his name, because, rather than crooked, President Wilson has gone down in the history books as rather too virtuous and idealistic and uncompromising.  So much so that he eviscerated the Versailles Treaty.

But the present day judge’s use of Judge Roy Bean was getting a little too folksy, if you ask me.  (Which I realize you didn’t.)

All of these instances make me wonder if some parents don’t purposely name their children after historical personages with the idea in mind that such names will be of some assistance in the glorious political campaigns of the future.  As I’ve tried to illustrate above, however, that design can backfire.

I think it would be wiser — if one insists on endowing babies with historical names — to choose those of daring desperadoes.  That’s what the sage parents of former State Treasurer Jesse James did.  With a name like that, you can’t go anywhere but up in the world.

— The Monahans News, May 9, 1982

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