Archive for April, 2015

Is Our Playground Too Safe?

School Playground

Source: Centennial Parklands in Sydney Australia – 1980

© 2015 By Bob Litton (except for quotations and photo above). All Rights Reserved. Yesterday, while driving past the only elementary school in this small town where I live, I glanced over at the fenced-in playground where children, in scattered groups, were talking, tugging each other, maybe bullying, and playing on and in a large plastic “gym”. I continued on home, wondering whatever happened to the swings, the seesaws, the slides and the merry-go-rounds that had dotted the school ground in Dallas where I and my classmates had played. Of course I knew the answer: later in the 20th century they had been judged to be too risky, even dangerous.

A statistical report published by the Center for Disease Control, last updated in March 2012, began with the following:

Each year in the United States, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries (Tinsworth 2001).

Occurrence and Consequences
About 45% of playground-related injuries are severe–fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations (Tinsworth 2001). About 75% of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001). Most occur at schools and daycare centers (Phelan 2001). Between 1990 and 2000, 147 children ages 14 and younger died from playground-related injuries. Of them, 82 (56%) died from strangulation and 31 (20%) died from falls to the playground surface. Most of these deaths (70%) occurred on home playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001).

In 1995, playground-related injuries among children ages 14 and younger cost an estimated $1.2 billion (Office of Technology Assessment 1995).

Wow! It’s hard to argue against those numbers. Nevertheless, I intend to do so.

This morning I heard on the National Public Radio program “Wait, Wait…Don’t tell me” the brief mention of a study by Cardiff University in Wales which reported that injuries from playground fights among children have dropped precipitously. The reason: children were spending most of their time inside watching TV and playing video games. Now, to me, that is just as much if not more dangerous than a kid getting his butt scorched on a hot slide or her arm broken from falling out of a swing.

While searching the Web for the Cardiff U. report, I came upon an article written by Sarah Boesveld for New Zealand’s National Post.  Ms. Boesveld’s report is about how Swanson School’s Principal Bruce McLachlan decided the era of “political correctness” was harming children’s development:

It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights. He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

You can view the full article at: The results astonished even the principal. Not only did parents not attack him; they commended him for reintroducing risk into their children’s lives. Also, the children revealed their own untutored creativity by building their own playground—including a seesaw—out of wooden blocks, a long pipe and other construction debris. Moreover, when they returned from the playground they were more rested, cheerful and eager to learn.

Now, I do not think that revolutionary pedagogical mode is likely to be copied in the ludicrously litigious U.S.  Damn near sure it won’t! But I feel that it should be. Sheesh!!! The modern playground is too boring to even look at, much less play in. I fondly remember the school playground of my own childhood and those at the parks as well. We had swings and seesaws and slides and merry-go-rounds. (Actually, I don’t miss the merry-go-rounds; they made me dizzy and I wondered what other children saw in them).

Also missing today are the non-playground games we used to enjoy. We boys would compete with marbles and with yard sticks imagined as swords; we would build forts out of discarded Christmas trees, and club houses out of old doors; with our BB guns we would venture into the woods on gameless hunting trips. The girls would play jacks and chalk-mark the sidewalks for their games of hopscotch, or dress in their mothers’ high heels and necklaces for fashion shows. On summer evenings we would all capture fireflies in mason jars with punctured lids. That is a lifestyle too precious to abandon.

The Swing


How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

I still admire that poem.

Not many years ago I lamented not having even one child of my own. Now I sadly note my good fortune in being childless.


NOTE TO NON-BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it. Thank you for reading.



On Being Seduced By Classical Music

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: This week, KBAQ-FM, a station located on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, is relating memories of first experiences with classical music sent in by their listeners during previous weeks. The station’s DJ’s (folks with the most pleasant voices) are sharing a reader’s anecdote each hour on the hour as well as the reader’s request for the DJ to play their favorite classical piece.

I emailed KBAQ the history of my seduction into classical music, but I did not request that they play any particular work. Since KBAQ expressly asked that viewers write about an individual or event that first made them aware of—and appreciative of—classical music, I doubt that they mentioned my email, which mentions several periods in my life in which I gradually came to prefer the genre. But I really do not know, since I do not listen to KBAQ all day long. Nonetheless, I thought my little biographical essay (edited slightly for the different venue) might make a suitable blog post…at least for those of my regular visitors who also enjoy classical music.

And that is what I hope you will do now: Enjoy!!!

∗  ∗  ∗  ∗  ∗  ∗

I am a child of the 1940s, and my only experience of classical music during those early years was a rather ignorant appreciation of the themes to radio dramas: “The Lone Ranger” (Rossini’s William Tell Overture), “The Shadow” (Saint-Saens’ Omphale’s Spinning Wheel), “The Green Hornet” (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee), and “The FBI in Peace and War” (Prokofiev’s A Love for Three Oranges). I enjoyed all of those themes, although I hadn’t the faintest idea what their titles were or even that they were of a genre called “classical”.

During my high school years, I would often listen to a Dallas, Texas, station whose call letters were KIXL, which played classical records. KIXL is now a religious-program station, I hear; and the only source for classical music radio in Dallas is WRR-FM, a City-owned station on the State Fair grounds. More regularly, I admit, I listened to KLIF, a Top 40’s music station then but now talk radio.

In 1958-59, while I was in the air force and studying Chinese at Yale, one of my room-mates was a budding neo-NAZI, although I did not recognize him as such at the time. He was all hung up in Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Richard Wagner. Despite our collisions of thought, we had a strange mental or spiritual connection—something like what Bertrand Russell claimed he felt during his first strolling conversation with Joseph Conrad:

At our very first meeting, we talked with continually increasing intimacy. We seemed to sink through layer after layer of what was superficial, till gradually both reached the central fire. It was an experience unlike any other… I have known. We looked into each other’s eyes, half appalled and half intoxicated to find ourselves together in such a region. The emotion was as intense as passionate love, and at the same time all-embracing. I came away bewildered, and hardly able to find my way among ordinary affairs.

Well, maybe not that intense, but something similar. Years later, a Congregationalist minister with whom I had had a conference, described the same type of reaction to our conversation the following Sunday during his sermon, although, thankfully, he did not mention my name. Oddly enough, although I had appreciated the talk, I had not detected the same feeling in myself.

My air force comrade and I had dubbed our mutual sympathy “bwo chang” (“wave length” in Mandarin Chinese). After our training, the friend was assigned to a base at one end of Okinawa and I to another, so we did not see each other often; we did, however, attend a viewing of a biopic about Franz Liszt in a theater at his unit’s base. Then, after we were both out of the service, I went up to his home town of Seattle, Washington, for a change of scene and to discover what the “bwo chang” really was, since neither of us was really gay. However, I couldn’t find permanent employment after two months and the “bwo chang” seemed to have dissipated, so I returned to Dallas.

Yet I still retained fond memories of that intellectual/spiritual connection—warped though it might have been—and read much of Mann, waded through some of Nietzsche, and listened to one of the first stereo recordings of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by Georg Solti. I loved it!!! I could not force myself to sit through the windy singing of the rest of the Ring music-dramas. However, I did enjoy for years thereafter Wagner’s more popular overtures and preludes—Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal.

Now my classical music interests have expanded, leaving much of Wagner behind. I love almost all the works of the Russian composers, especially Sergei Rachmaninoff. But I still enjoy Frenchmen Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel; and the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez has first chair, right now, in my favorite musical list.

I have written several blog posts about music—three about the little Dutch girl who won Holland’s Got Talent trophy in 2013, and one just recently that was an email dialogue between me and a local friend’s uncle who is a retired music professor residing in Louisiana. One other post concerns what some art-minded psychologist has christened “synesthesia”. Below, I have provided the URLs to those posts for any of you who have not already viewed them. Enjoy!!!


NOTE TO NON-BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.

The Day Congress Applauded Hypocrisy

By Bob Litton

In my April 7 post about “Extremism”, I mentioned that the late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, a Republican, was reportedly much saddened by the death of President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.

Now, although I obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and earned my living during 20 years as a community journalist, I cannot claim to be an expert in history. I had witnessed Goldwater on TV wiping tears away from his eyes when he realized that the Republican Party had been embarrassed by President Richard Nixon during the Watergate drama; I accepted then that Goldwater indeed loved his country more than he loved his party, and I respected him for that quality. My research caused me to wonder if there were any interesting anecdotes about him and Kennedy working together. I did not discover any, but my research was admittedly quite cursory.

While engaged in that search, however, I found some remarkably telling and now timely paragraphs in Wikipedia’s article on Kennedy. I have included them below. Please note that I have deleted all the citation numbers; if you want to see supporting references, go to the Wikipedia article online:

Kennedy extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962 and, beginning in 1963, was the first US president to allow the sale to Israel of advanced US weaponry (the MIM-23 Hawk), as well as to provide diplomatic support for Israeli policies which were opposed by Arab neighbours; such as its water project on the Jordan River.

As result of this newly created security alliance, Kennedy also encountered tensions with the Israeli government regarding the production of nuclear materials in Dimona, which he believed could instigate a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East. After the existence of a nuclear plant was initially denied by the Israeli government, David Ben-Gurion stated in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on December 21, 1960, that the purpose of the nuclear plant at Beersheba was for “research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna”.  When Ben-Gurion met with Kennedy in New York, he claimed that Dimona was being developed to provide nuclear power for desalinization and other peaceful purposes “for the time being”.

When Kennedy wrote that he was skeptical, and stated in a May 1963 letter to Ben-Gurion that American support to Israel could be in jeopardy if reliable information on the Israeli nuclear program was not forthcoming, Ben-Gurion repeated previous reassurances that Dimona was being developed for peaceful purposes. The Israeli government resisted American pressure to open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In 1962, the US and Israeli governments had agreed to an annual inspection regime. A science attaché at the embassy in Tel Aviv concluded that parts of the Dimona facility had been shut down temporarily to mislead American scientists when they visited.

According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis set up false control rooms to show the Americans. Israeli lobbyist Abe Feinberg stated, “It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on [an inspection].”  Hersh contends the inspections were conducted in such a way that it “guaranteed that the whole procedure would be little more than a whitewash, as the president and his senior advisors had to understand: the American inspection team would have to schedule its visits well in advance, and with the full acquiescence of Israel.” Marc Trachtenberg argued: “Although well aware of what the Israelis were doing, Kennedy chose to take this as satisfactory evidence of Israeli compliance with America’s non-proliferation policy.” The American who led the inspection team stated that the essential goal of the inspections was to find “ways to not reach the point of taking action against Israel’s nuclear weapons program.”

Rodger Davies, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs, concluded in March 1965 that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. He reported that Israel’s target date for achieving nuclear capability was 1968–69. On May 1, 1968, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach told President Johnson that Dimona was producing enough plutonium to produce two bombs a year. The State Department argued that if Israel wanted arms, it should accept international supervision of its nuclear program. Dimona was never placed under IAEA safeguards. Attempts to write Israeli adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into contracts for the supply of U.S. weapons continued throughout 1968.

Now, what did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warn a joint session of the U.S. Congress last March 3? Read the pertinent paragraphs here:

Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.
The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.
Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.” Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

Born in 1949, Benjamin Netanyahu was in his early teens when Israel developed its nuclear arsenal; therefore, a wildly imaginative bit of leeway might be granted him as being “ignorant” of those events. Also, I do not wish to paint all Israel with a broad brush dipped in Netanyahu. Moreover, I have read of many Israeli youths who, viewing their own country as aggressive occupiers of Palestinian territory, have refused to serve in the military forces; and Israeli law allows them to do so. I applaud them.

I want to mention one other sorry episode in our partnership with Israel: the June 8, 1967, attack by Israeli Mirage jets and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty, an intelligence-gathering ship in international waters off the coast of Israel and Egypt. Thirty-four U.S. servicemen were killed and 171 wounded that day. Wikipedia has published online a lengthy but prodigiously well-organized and fascinating article about the incident.

There was much controversy concerning the attack on USS Liberty in the months immediately following, and it is still ongoing today. The story is too involved for me to include here, so I suggest that you go to Wikipedia’s account (URL above), which I consider remarkably balanced; hardly anyone other than the men on the ship come out of it unstained by ignorance, guile, and/or cowardice; it is a story full of elements fit for a Tom Clancy novel.

Although I cannot provide you with much more information, I will summarize the basic issue here: The Israeli military claimed that they could not see any flag on the ship and concluded that it was an Egyptian war vessel, so they strafed and torpedoed it until ordered to stop; the ship’s crew members claimed that their flag was easily visible on that clear day. Here is part of the story:

During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, the United States of America maintained a neutral country status. Several days before the war began, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed to the eastern Mediterranean area to perform a signals intelligence collection mission in international waters near the north coast of Sinai, Egypt. After the war erupted, due to concerns about her safety as she approached her patrol area, several messages were sent to Liberty to increase her allowable closest point of approach (CPA) to Egypt’s and Israel’s coasts from 12.5 and 6.5 nmi (14.4 and 7.5 mi; 23.2 and 12.0 km), respectively, to 20 and 15 nmi (23 and 17 mi; 37 and 28 km), and then later to 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) for both countries. Unfortunately, due to ineffective message handling and routing, the CPA change messages were not received until after the attack.

According to Israeli sources, at the start of the war on 5 June, General Yitzhak Rabin (then IDF Chief of Staff)  informed Commander Ernest Carl Castle, the American Naval Attaché in Tel Aviv, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. Also, he asked the U.S. to keep its ships away from Israel’s shore or at least inform Israel of their exact position.

American sources said that no inquiry about ships in the area was made until after the Liberty attack ended. In a message sent from U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Rusk asked for “urgent confirmation” of Israel’s statement. Barbour responded: “No request for info on U.S. ships operating off Sinai was made until after Liberty incident.” Further, Barbour stated: “Had Israelis made such an inquiry it would have been forwarded immediately to the chief of naval operations and other high naval commands and repeated to dept [Department of State].”

Israel eventually accepted blame for the attack but has continued to explain it as an accidental misidentification. Israel also paid millions in reparations.

Secretary of State Rusk, however, was not buying into the “accident” excuse; he wrote:

I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.

President Lyndon Johnson, though, bought the Israeli version. God, but I hate to relay this paragraph because, being mostly a Democrat, it puts President Johnson in an even dimmer light than he already exists in history books and the public memory, but here is what one author wrote about Johnson’s attitude at the time:

George Lenczowski notes: “It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic incident.” He notes that Johnson himself only included one small paragraph about the Liberty in his autobiography in which he accepted the Israeli explanation of “error”, but also minimized the whole affair and distorted the actual number of dead and wounded, by lowering them from 34 to 10 and 171 to 100, respectively. Lenczowski further states: “It seems Johnson was more interested in avoiding a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union…than in restraining Israel.”

I apologize for all the lengthy quotes. My primary intent in presenting all this to you was to show you that no Israeli—Netanyahu above all—has the moral authority to accuse another nation of subterfuge and deceit.




A Musical Dialogue

By Bob Litton and J.L.V.

Dear readers,

I have a real change of format to present to you today—a unique one as far as this blog is concerned: it is a dialogue between two men who have never met and never had a verbal conversation. Oh, what wonders the Internet has wrought!!!

But first, as usual, a little backstory.

Every other Friday morning, my artist friend Chris comes over to my apartment for a couple of hours of coffee and wide-ranging conversation. Our usual topics are my writing and Chris’ art (primarily comics), but we also wander on to literature, music, TV shows, Chris’ home improvement projects, and a sprinkling of politics.

In mid-March, Chris and I had an intriguing discussion of various questions involving classical music. Neither of us really felt confident to answer my questions. However, Chris suggested we ask his uncle in Louisiana, a professor emeritus of music whose own specialty is the bassoon. That afternoon, I emailed to my friend a list of the questions I had raised, and Chris forwarded them to his uncle J.L.V.

The professor did not respond until April 6 for reasons he supplies in the first of his half of this dialogue.

I was so pleased by J.L.V.’s informative and even, in some places, amusing comments that I asked Chris to request from his uncle permission for me to use them in a blog post, which J.L.V graciously granted.

Below is the result.


First, my email to Chris:

Hi again, Chris —

Here are the issues/questions regarding music we discussed this morning:

(1)   Why is it that violins—particularly scratchy violin solos—dominate music performances?  What makes a scratchy violin sound appealing to some people? A mass of violins working as “backup” I can appreciate, but hardly any solo or duet of violins is tolerable anymore. Tchaikovsky’s violin pieces are particularly grating.

(2)   Why are the majority of classical works—e.g., Beethoven symphonies—heavy-sounding? Is loudness a true value? Or is it just to make sure the percussion section has something to contribute? Or are the composers naturally as angry as Beethoven is always depicted in busts and drawings?

(3)   The oboe (or English horn) in the second movement of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez performs some of the loveliest phrases of that adagio. The whole concerto is a masterpiece, though, and I do not wish to imply differently by emphasizing the oboe. My question is, is that an oboe there or an English horn? I haven’t been able to distinguish much from the pictures I found in a Google search. All I can tell is that one is slightly larger than the other and produces a sound one octave lower(?).

(4)   The Russian composers are my favorites, especially Rachmaninoff. (I even like some of Tchaikovsky’s works: parts of his Swan Lake ballet are enjoyable.) I read that Rachmaninoff had an alcoholic, wastrel father who left the home after losing five estates to gambling and profligacy, thereby cheering up everybody. Was Rachmaninoff angry at his father his whole life, and did he express that anger in his music? His compositions are incredibly dynamic, but I can’t discern whether that energy is due to anger or to a hyper libido. Much passion there!!! Or was Rachmaninoff perhaps simply composing difficult, fast and loud works to show off his superior pianist’s skill?

* * * * * *

Well, Chris, I hope your uncle doesn’t find these questions too sophomoric to bother with.



Now, the professor’s response:

Hi Bob,

I got a response from my uncle!
Hi, Chris
Sorry I have taken so long to answer this. I could pretend that I have been too busy, but the fact is, I didn’t know what to say, and I still don’t. I will try to make some comments, however.
1. On scratchy violins: In the movie “The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr.T” , the evil piano teacher has imprisoned all the orchestra musicians with their “scratchy violins, screechy piccolos, nauseating trumpets”. Violins have been the primary instruments in the orchestra ever since Lully, the court musician for Louis XIV, organized the first professional orchestra: “The Twenty-Four Violins of the King”.
Like most orchestral instruments, violins are capable of many different sounds, and some of them are accented at the beginning of the tone. (scratchy). Pipe organs often have some ranks of pipes voiced with a short huff or pop, called chiff, at the beginning of the tone. I think most people like most of the sounds violins make (even the scratchy ones).
2. Is loudness a true value? I think historically it has been. Instrumental music in the renaissance was played on fairly soft instruments: lutes, viols, recorders, etc. Even the “loud instruments” – shawms and sackbutts – were not as loud as modern trombones etc. The violin dominated 18th century music because it was louder than the viols: Dryden’s “Ode on St Cecelia’s Day” has the line “sharp violins proclaim their jealous pangs and indignation”, and symphony orchestras were exciting because they were the loudest thing around. In the 19th century, the military band (think Sousa) became very popular, in part because its massed brasses and woodwinds were louder than the orchestra’s violins. Now, of course we have rock bands with their amplified guitars and drum sets. Percussion instruments in the orchestra were generally limited to kettledrums until the 19th century.
3. I am not familiar with Rodrigo’s Concierto, but regarding the oboe and English horn, the oboe is just under two feet long and has a small, flared bell at the lower end. The English horn is closer to three feet long and has a bulb-shaped lower end. It also has a short pipe at the top which holds the reed at a small angle, so it is not blown straight into. It sounds a fifth (half an octave) lower than the oboe.
4. Regarding the anger of composers, I don’t think they are so much angry as striving for excitement. They write music which is loud, fast, and intricate in order to convey excitement and “Wow” their audiences, as entertainers have strived to do for millennia. They use whatever tools are at their disposal, whether it be a violin, grand piano, or electric guitar. We now have tools which can play music so fast and intricately that it is indecipherable, and loud enough to deafen us. For many years I taught a music course in which I required my students to attend concerts, most of which were of classical music, and to write reports on them. These non-music majors were so steeped in the popular genres (rock, etc.) that they thought ALL classical music was “soothing”, even the “Dies Irae” from the Verdi Requiem!
I don’t think I answered your questions, but I hope my answers are interesting and/or useful.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

 In my email requesting permission to use J.L.V.’s comments I had included the YouTube URL to guitarist John Williams and the BBC Orchestra’s performance of Concierto de Aranjues. I also specified which musician was playing, in the second movement, the instrument I was curious about. And in J.L.V.’s permission email he said it is the English horn.




© 2015 By Bob Litton

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice….Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
— Barry Morris Goldwater (1909-1998), U.S. Senator from Arizona (1953-65, 1969-87).

The remark above was part of a speech Barry Goldwater made during the 1964 Republican convention, when he was nominated the GOP’s candidate for President of the United States. It was one of several of his comments which caused his landslide defeat as well as the clearing-out of many Republican members of Congress. Other, similar comments included “sometimes I think this country would be better off if we just cut off the Eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea” and, speaking of tactical nuclear weapons (which he referred to as “small conventional nuclear weapons”), “Let’s lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.”

Goldwater became known as “Mr. Conservative” during the 1960s; and he was in fact very conservative for his day, vilified by the Democrats and not a few Republicans as a “reactionary…out of touch with his country”. Yet he was reportedly much saddened by John Kennedy’s death and he ushered Richard Nixon out of the White House, later describing Nixon as “the most dishonest individual I ever met in my life”. He was vehemently opposed to the New Deal and labor unions and he was virulently anti-communist, yet he opposed the rising religious right and their views on abortion and homosexuals. In his last years in the Senate he was respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, being viewed as a “stabilizing force”.

I believe the Republican Party could use more representatives of Goldwater’s sort. I doubt that I would vote for him unless the Democrats could not come up with a better choice. I view his naivety as comical now: his attacks on labor and the United Nations and his notion that tactical nuclear weapons are just very big grenades that field commanders should be able to employ without presidential approval. (The fellow seemed to be abysmally ignorant of the huge and long-lasting effects of nuclear weapons.) On the other hand, he took what nowadays would be termed liberal stances on some legislation. He was not as extreme as he advertised himself to be. Yeah, we need more Barry’s.

It is true, I believe, that many, if not most, of us would like to hold standfast to our principles, assuming we have any. As long as we choose to live in a society where everybody wants to tolerate each other, even like each other, we will continually find it necessary to compromise. Sometimes our side will win; sometimes we will lose. Principle is a very vulnerable ideal.

As for extremism in the present, I am really spooked by what I see in Sen. Ted Cruz. In contrast to Barry Goldwater, who was a strong believer in the separation of church and state, smarmy Cruz does not hesitate to sidle up to the religious right: he announced his presidential candidacy on the campus of Liberty University—the school which far right preacher Jerry Falwell founded.

On secular issues, Cruz came close to single-handedly shutting down the national government through his filibuster in the Senate over the Affordable Care Act. He and his fellow right-wing extremists appear willing to destroy the country in order to impose their reactionary agenda—which actually amounts to the same thing: eliminate every national department and agency except the military and possibly the post office. Even the roads and bridges are less important to them than their wars and church services.

These people—and to a lesser extent, I believe, Barry Goldwater—disavow “moderation” or “compromise”. They hold up the Constitution as a sort of modern Bible, the words of which are eternally true as they were written. They are textualists, unwilling to reflect on the fact that the Constitution was not considered totally adequate even by those who argued all of one summer before finally signing it…as a product of compromise. They view it as a piece of stone on which the new commandments have been inscribed rather than as a living document. They fail to recall that many if not all amendments to the Constitution came about only after marches and riots as well as much civil disobedience had ignited the public conscience. They cannot accept the facts of changing times.


Addendum to “My Spiritual Journey”

By Bob Litton

In a certain way, you might view this essay as an extension of my previous blog post, “My Spiritual Journey (to date)”, and in another way you can see it as a small handbook to that post.

Firstly, I need to clarify my religion. I really do not have any in the sense of absolute belief in a dogma associated with a recognized religious organization; that should have been evident in my “testimony”, to alert and sensitive readers. However, the matter is complicated by my heritage, culture and past experience. I was born, raised and still live in a country which from its beginning has been predominately Christian. For many years I attended Methodist Church services. I have read the Bible in its entirety, much of it several times. Yet, I do not accept the Apostles’ Creed, I do not take the Communion “wine” (in the Methodist church, a jigger of grape juice) and wafer, I do not  believe in immaculate conceptions or the incarnation, I do not approve of every word Jesus reportedly said or of everything he did, e.g., condemning a tree because it had no fruit. I do like some of the things Jesus said, e.g., “no prophet is without honor except in his hometown” and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  I also like some of the sayings of Paul which are frequently quoted, e.g. Philippians 4:8, where he wrote:  “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (I had that saying printed, as my motto, on the back of my calling card.)

Like a growing number of people in America, I am largely disaffected with “organized religion”, yet I still am a “spiritual seeker”. I have not delved much into other religions’ texts. I tried reading the Koran many years ago, but it quickly bored me. I have read the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu’s book several times; I like them, but they calm one’s spirit more than arouse it; they are mystically cosmological rather than spiritual. I have not ventured into much Hinduism or Buddhism material, only a few pages in an anthology of religious texts I recently bought; and they did not touch my soul. No, I am a child of the Western world and feel comfortable enough with Christian literature; even if much of it is mythical, it is great literature and there is much wisdom in it, especially in the Book of Jonah. The point about other religions I wanted to emphasize was that they have their mystics, too, and that, if anything is valid in one religion’s mystical writings, a similar concept will very likely be found in the sayings of mystics who adhered to some other religion’s theology.

Many mystics were unconventional, some to the extent of being chastised by their religious leaders (St. Teresa of Avila, Jan of Ruysbroeck), some even imprisoned (St. John of the Cross), because of their individualistic natures. Their explorations into personal soul-development (considered by some to be Quietism), retreat from the world, and emphasis on Nature as one of the mirrors of God (judged to be Pantheism) aroused suspicion among dogmatic authorities.

I have indicated before in this blog that I do not know whether there is a “god” or not in the conventional sense. Even though I have accepted Christian language, imagery and concepts as a framework when writing my spiritual essays, and even though I am certain there is a spiritual realm out there with a specific Being who has “attended to” me, I do not know that my experiences involve the Being other people mean by their word “God” (with a capital “G”). And I acidulously try to avoid using that word in any absolute sense. Some of my experiences have been bizarre and some funny; I find it hard to attach the terms “bizarre” and “funny” to the doings of  the Holy Spirit. Also, my spiritual Being appears to have extraordinary powers, examples of which should have been apparent to the readers of my “testimony”. However, I cannot extrapolate from my personal experiences a correlation between them and the creation of the universe; nor dare I claim that they warrant a belief in eternal life (which I do not want anyway).

As for the extension I mentioned above, I gladly claim to have reached the goal of my spiritual quest: a primary source and authentication of the initial term that pushed me into the quest: yearning. Of course, there were other significant terms along the way: “lures”, “fragrance”, “spiritual gifts/talents”, “spiritual consolations/graces”, and “Dark Night of the Soul”. I believe I covered all of those and their sources (Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross) well enough in my “testimony”. The word “yearning” and its synonym, “longing”, were also used by several writers, going all the way back to Jeremiah and Paul.

But the source I came upon that “put the icing on the cake” was Jan of Ruysbroeck (1293 – 1381), a Dutch mystic and monastic. Of his several treatises, the best-known is The Spiritual Espousals. It is divided into three books, treating respectively of the Active Life, the Yearning Life, and the Contemplative Life. In the second book, Ruysbroeck uses the term “yearning” alternatively with, but before, “interior” so much that at least one translator (Eric Colledge) used “Yearning Life” as the chapter title in that book. (Other translators/commentators of Ruysbroeck’s treatises, e.g., Evelyn Underhill in her translation of Adornment of Spiritual Marriage, have preferred to emphasize the term “Interior” instead of “Yearning”; but “Interior” seems to me weak, lacking in the emotional impact Ruysbroeck wanted to convey. And, of course, I have a proprietary interest in “yearning”, since it first lured me into my study of mysticism; what I had initially perceived as a symptom of my spiritual awakening, Ruysbroeck had transformed into a stage in its development!

I gave up my expectation of “graces” or “consolations” long ago because, firstly, I had thought my initiation into the spiritual life had concluded and that the Holy Spirit (the only Person of the Trinity I can relate to) had withdrawn. Moreover, I had learned and accepted their purpose: to awaken me to the reality of the spiritual world and my belonging in the Holy Spirit’s presence; they should no longer be necessary. Also, I had begun to perceive inconsequential “spiritual messages” everywhere, even in the comics pages, and I wanted to dismiss those just as Martin Luther reportedly had, because they might just as easily have been sent by some teasing gremlin as by the Holy Spirit.


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